Yosemite in a Weekend from San Francisco
“We wanted to go to Yosemite, but didn’t have time.” I’ve heard this refrain from several San Francisco visitors and they all have said it with regret. Yes, the reverent national park is outside of a short-drive comfort zone – it’s more of a weekend adventure than a wine country day trip. But with a little stamina and the right timing, a trip to Yosemite can be done in a weekend from San Francisco. The weekend won’t be all rush-rush or budget breaking either. You can do this weekend getaway and see monumental sights like Half Dome, take relaxing walks and hikes, and get a taste of camping at Curry Village.
By Kristin Zibell, AFAR Local Expert
Hike the Natural Wonders of Yosemite
Endless trails, towering sequoias, soaring vertical cliffs, and the grand, glacier-carved valleys leave everyone speechless in this legendary park. During the Backroads Walking and Hiking Yosemite trip, you'll stay with us at the Tenaya Lodge, Awhanee Hotel, and the Evergreen Lodge by night and hike the trails to breathtaking vistas by day.
By Bronwen Gregory, AFAR Local Expert
Upper Falls Trail Hike
The Upper Falls Trail hike is a great day trip in Yosemite during the quieter months of spring, fall, and early or really late winter (when the heat, crowds, and mosquitoes are gone). The distance is 7.6 miles (12 kilometers) round-trip from the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead, or 9.4 miles (15 kilometers) if you include Yosemite Point. Your elevation gain will be 2,600 feet (790 meters) to the top of Yosemite Falls and 2,969 feet (890 meters) to Yosemite Point. The trip can take six to eight hours. It's a significant workout and you'll need to have plenty of water and snacks to fuel you on the panoramic hike. This photo was taken in February and the ice and snow at the base of the falls was a special treat. Charge those camera batteries!
By Bronwen Gregory, AFAR Local Expert
Sheer cliffs, trees reaching for the sky, plunging waterfalls and puffy clouds - just another Yosemite vista. Even in spring the valley looks amazing. Make sure you arrive before the masses and take in some of the many paths. With a little luck you'll come across some of the park's people-friendly wildlife... but as the ranger brochure suggests: "don't try to take food off a bear". Uh huh.
By Guy Needham, AFAR Local Expert
ABOUT YOSEMITE! (part 1)
HOW MANY DAYS IN YOSEMITE VALLEY? Allow at least 3 days! Add more days if you want to really see everything! It also depends on how active a hiker you are. There are great day trips with varying degrees of difficulty in and around the park. WHAT ARE “MUST SEE” SIGHTS AND THINGS TO DO? In the valley, ride the Shuttlebus, walk the valley paths, raft/inner tube down the river, tour in an open air tram, hike to Mirror Lake, picnic at Sentinel Beach, hike to the top of a waterfall or to the top of Half Dome, climb El Capitan. Visit the Village. See the Visitor Center and the Ansel Adams Gallery, shop at Curry Village. Check out the Ahwahnee Hotel. Other areas within the park or just outside: Tuolumne Meadows, Mariposa Grove, Giant Sequoia Redwood Trees, Wawona Point (and historic hotel), skiing at Yosemite’s Badger Pass in winter), Bass Lake, Oakhurst, and many others. Allow 1-3 days or more for each area depending on how active a hiker/camper/skier/snowboarder you are. To experience the backcountry as a backpacker/camper take 3-14 day trips. I’ve been to the Tiltill Valley above Hetch Hetchy Loop and down the South Fork Merced River in the Sierra National Forest, both were excellent backpacking trips! Learn the necessary skills, rules & regulations before entering the wilderness. You are also close to Lee Vining, Mammoth Mountain and Mono Lake State Preserve which are near the east entrance to the park. More info at the John Muir Trail and the Yosemite Park websites.
About Yosemite! (part 2) Where to stay?
WHERE TO STAY? Accommodations range from tent & camp sites, RV sites, covered campsites, tent cabins and hotel rooms. Make reservations a long time in advance at nps.gov (there are many rules & regulations) The Ahwahnee Hotel is a luxury resort. The Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is a family hotel/motel. Curry Village has tent cabins and some rooms as well. There are covered camp sites, tent sites and rv sites for the experience of “roughing it”. The historic Wawona Hotel and Tuolumne Meadows Lodge (tent cabins/campsites only) are inside the park on the rim of the valley. Near Wawona is the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia Redwood Trees and skiing in winter at Badger Pass. Toulomne Meadows and Tenaya Lake are worth the trip when the roads are open. There's a grove of Giant Sequoias there as well. There are also number of hotels, condos for rent, cabins and campgrounds just outside the park too.
About Yosemite! (part 3) Camping in Yosemite Valley?
You need a reservation! Most of the campsites in Upper, Lower & North Pines Campgrounds for summer are “sold out” before May! You can try for a campsite in the valley on the day you're there, or there’s “Backpacker’s Camp” (Camp 4) which is “first-come/first-served”. From the NPS website: There are “13 campgrounds, of which up to seven are on a reservation system. From April through September, reservations are essential and even the first-come first-served campgrounds often fill by noon from May through September. CAMPGROUND RESERVATIONS? Reservations are required from about Mar-Nov for the valley’s car campgrounds and summer-fall for Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat, Wawona, and Tuolumne Meadows. Campground reservations available five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 am PST. Be aware that nearly all reservations for the months of May-Sept and for some other weekends as soon as they are available, usually within seconds or minutes after 7 am!” www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/camping.htm NOTE: Check the Housekeeping Camp in the valley! If you can’t get camping in the valley, there are camps on the rim (about an hour away) and just outside the park as well. Camp Wawona is near the Wawona Hotel, Yosemite’s Badger Pass, Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and Glacier Point. Wawona is also close to Oakhurst which is a real town with markets, laundromats, restaurants, etc. Soquel Campground and Crane Flat Campground are farther away.
About Yosemite! (part 4) Cooking in Yosemite?
COOKING IN YOSEMITE PARK? INFO FOR CAMPGROUNDS From the NPS.gov website: “Each campsite contains a fire ring, picnic table, and food locker [33"(D)x45"(W)x18"(H)], and is near a bathroom with potable water and flushing toilets. You are required to store food properly in order to protect Yosemite’s bears. In out-of-Valley campgrounds, fires are permitted at any time. Fires must always be attended and put out completely with water when not attended (do not let them smolder). Firewood collection (including pine cones and pine needles) is not permitted in Yosemite. We discourage visitors from bringing firewood from more than 50 miles away to prevent spread of forest pests. You can purchase firewood at stores near most campgrounds. Camp wastewater must be disposed of in designated utility drains.” Fire rings may have a grill, but plan on bringing EVERYTHING you want to have for cooking. There’s lots of information online about camping and camp cooking, so spend a little time researching “camp hacks” etc. so you’ll have some ideas. Plan your meals! bring ingredients & spices. If you’re car camping, you'll have room, so bring the comforts you want. Keep it simple! Things you can cook in and with boiling water, things you can grill over a fire, things you can wrap in foil/cook in the fire, and things you don’t have to cook are best. Bring bottled WATER, cooking and eating utensils, can opener, corkscrew, trash bags and cleaning stuff that isn’t harmful to the environment!
Yosemite: the power of the planet
I try to visit Yosemite every two years because it is truly one of those special places in the world. The drive from San Francisco is about five hours and the roads can be white-knuckling but beautiful. My first impact is wow plate tectonics are powerful. You can understand the power of the earth when you visit Yosemite. It doesn't have the robust wildlife like Yellowstone, but it has majesty in abundance. The valley is a great visit because you are surrounded by some of the highest rock cliffs in the world and you can, in the spring see and hear some amazing waterfalls where you can feel the power of the water slamming onto the rocks far below. (photos of the valley: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcgrayjr/sets/72157606886366612/) And to watch people climb El Capitan and see their lights on at night as they sleep hanging onto the cliff, truly amazing. I heard wolves howling at night, which I always find to be a beautiful sound. The days during the summer can be pretty hot, in the 90's, but you can enjoy the slow moving streams and rivers because the waterfalls are just at a trickle. If you've done the valley, next try the high Sierras as that is a completely different feel and experience where the lowest points are still over 6,000 feet above sea level! The hiking is spectacular and you have times when you never see another person other than your hiking partner (never hike alone!). Yosemite, an American treasure!
Winter in Yosemite means no crowds....
If you weren't able to hop over to a warm, tropical place for December, get up to Yosemite National Park and experience her Winter face, and no crowds to speak of! I've been doing some work up there this month, and I am amazed how little amount of travelers make it there this special time of year. you'll feel like you're the only one among the 1100 sq miles of park. of course some of the roads are closed due to snow, but all the amenities are working like clockwork, the village roads are kept clear. take a run on the snow covered roads and trails, snowshoe the pristine meadows or snowboard at Badger Pass, the park ski resort. stay at the historic Awahnee Lodge or try the less expensive hotels near the Three Western entrances on hwys 120, 140 or 41. remember to bring chains for your car and fuel up before you get into the park. Truly magical to experience this winter wonderland, and have it completely to yourself ! www.nps.gov/yose/
Yosemite Falls after a winter storm
I've lived in the SF Bay Area about 20 years, and love visiting Yosemite (about a 4 hour drive) in all seasons. You can never go wrong visiting Yosemite, it's just one of the best places on earth. For anyone doubting the beauty of the Sierra's in a deep winter freeze, let me say, I was once a doubter too. I have been stuck in a few blizzards, and yes, I knew bad weather was coming. But after this particular storm cleared in February 2011, about 100 photographers from all over California came out, and took photos all over the valley. It was hard for me to pick just one for this Afar Highlight, but the falls are so iconic (like many features in Yos) that I choose this photo. Thick snow had coated everything, but the sun came out and produced a spectacular blue sky and prisms off of the ice all day. I say brave the roads - the tourists are few, the snowshoeing is a great work out, there will be stew, and beer and cheer near any public fireplace. Yosemite in winter. I love it.
By J.P. Panter
This place was absolutely magical! The drive to Yosemite was full of so much visual scenery! We loved the fact that it snowed beyond belief. We loved ice-skating, hot cocoa, sledding down the hill, and our ride through the forest! This is a must go if you have kids!
Yosemite in the winter is like a dream...a snowy wonderland. The waterfalls cascade down icy cliffs and snow cakes the valley, bringing with it a heavy quiet...plus the massive crowds that are ever-present in the summer are significantly fewer. Winter activities include xcountry hut ski treks, snow shoeing, snow camping or even just cruising along staring up in wonder :) Check the forecast though, they often close roads into the park if the snow is dumping too hard.
Frozen Paradise in November
Yosemite is beautiful at this time of the year
By Ronak Rao
Visitng the Sights of Yosemite
There are plenty of attractions to keep you in the valley for a few days. However, make sure to check out these highlights on some of the top destinations. Yosemite is one of my favorite national parks in the US (outside of Denali). The steep canyon walls and rock formations are jaw-dropping. Make sure to catch the sunset at Glacier Point and check out the wildflowers in early summer. It is possible to do a whole waterfalls sightseeing visit in itself with viewing some of the highest waterfalls the country has to offer. Head to Camp 4 if you are a climber to talk all things climbing with the "residents" of the campground who are attempting El Cap or Half Dome. Grab a bike rental and park the car to speed past the bus system and pedestrians throughout the park. It might be the quickest option!
Looking way down from Mt. Hoffman in Yosemite backcountry
Yosemite is a only a few hours from San Francisco, but it seems like worlds away while you are standing up near My Hoffman and looking down at the immense granite landscape. It truly feels as if you are on top of the world..... Once in the park, get out of the crowds and head up Tioga Pass toward the east end of the park. A two lane road, which is only open in spring and summer, winds through some beautiful, pristine forest and leads all the wat to Eastern entrance and passage to Mono Lake. after a little over an hour from the start of Tioga Pass you 'll come to a pull out for May Lake. Park the car, hike in about 30 mins to this gorgeous high altitude lake of a deep blue color. You can fish, camp relax. You do have to be aware of bears and treat your food accordingly with the bear boxes. At the lake begins the trailhead to Mt Hoffman above the lake at over 10,ooo ft and 360 degree views of the whole Sierra Nevada range. Its about 1.5 to 2.5 hours to the top depending on your experience. Once there, the reward is amazing. A ton of marmots are running around looking at you with little old men faces....... The photo is of a buddy, on one of the crags 5 mins opposite Mt. Hoffman. A great view and backcountry escape.....
yosemite national park
inspiring natural surroundings... camp inside yosemite at camp four. no reservations needed. wall-in, pitch tent and chat with amazing climbers under el capitan
El Capitan at midnight....
I was at yosemite for the super moon and shot El Capitan with a 2 minute exposure from the meadow in front. the super moon provided great fill light on the face. there was a bunch of climbers on Rock, and we could see a ton of headlamps high on the face, under a perfect starry sky. it's only a four hour drive from San Francisco through sierras and it's a beautiful drive. reserve your campgrounds early because they are full this time of year. you can also stay at yos lodge or awahnee lodge in park. you can also travel down hwy 140 just 20 mins past park entrance to stay at a few hotels and a campground called cedar lodge campground. if you want to photograph, now is the time for clean night shots with such clear skies. remember pack it in, pack it out~
Watch the Sun Set in Yosemite
The great thing about Yosemite is, there is SO MUCH of it! Don't limit yourself to the valley, where crowds are sure to follow, but branch to some of the outer areas. One great spot to spend the evening is up Glacier Pass. A bonus for staying till sunset, you may be lucky enough to be greeted with one of the most beautiful sunsets you've ever seen. Even a regular old evening casts colors on the walls of Half Dome and the surrounding ranges that is truly appreciated at their altitude.
Surrounded by beauty
During a recent trip to Yosemite national Park to take my daughter ice skating for the first time I was instantly reminded that no matter what time of year you visit the park, you are guaranteed to be in awe of its majesty! I found myself pulling over every few minutes to get out and take it all in, at one point I thought we might miss the next ice skating time slot because I was literally stopping more than I was driving. During one of my many stops driving thru the park that day, I did what I always do, I looked in my rear view mirror to make sure I would not be holding up traffic before I stopping in the middle of the road. I originally just wanted to stop and snap a picture of the waterfall to my left only to have my breath taken away by the mountains and trees that I saw in the rear view mirror as well. There was/is literally beauty in EVERY direction! Perfect day! As expected! :D
Moonlight Tour of the Valley
Our first night in Yosemite we decided to jump on the moonlight tour tram ride around the park. It was absolutely stunning! They brought us around to many of the famous landmarks like, El Capitan (we could see the lantern lights way up on the cliff where the rock climbers perched for the night), Yosemite Falls, and to the most picturesque spot in the valley to see the Half Dome lit by the moon in the night sky. We had a chance to jump off and take pictures all the while offering a cup of hot chocolate and a cookie. The ride took about two hours and was rather cool in September so definitely dress accordingly. This was by far one of the best ideas we had during our trip. Family pricing is available otherwise it's $25 per person but well worth it.