Author: Judy P.
Date of Trip: January 2001
Things to do and valuable tips for the Yosemite and Wawona areas as written by Judy, aYosemite-loving “Princess*” who enjoys a relaxing vacation (i.e., no camping, heavy-duty hiking, bear hunting, or rock climbing!)
*Judy’s “Princess” Tour is in no way affiliated with Princess Cruises. (Maneuvering a cruise ship along the Merced River could be extremely hazardous to your health!) This is merely promoting maximum enjoyment (and shopping and eating) for minimum effort.
Disclaimer: I have never thought about writing all this information down, so please be aware that some of it may be incorrect (gasp!). I THINK I have it down pretty well. It’ all from memory (huh?).
This is a compilation of my many trips to Yosemite.
My favorite place to stay in Yosemite is The Redwoods. It’s a small community in Wawona, just inside the south entrance of the park. There are probably 100 or so homes nestled in a wooded area–some of them are occupied year round and some of them are rented out for vacationers. They have many different styles and sizes from which to choose, with varying rates. There’s lots of wildlife– wake up in the morning and go sit on the deck and chances are you’ll see deer meandering around your “yard.” The Stellar blue jays and squirrels are everywhere.
One nice thing about The Redwoods is that you have a kitchen and a BBQ. I usually figure out what meals I want to have while there, then take it all up with us in an ice chest. (I drive there.) That way you don’t have to pay a lot for a meal, and you can enjoy eating it out on your deck while taking in the scenery, blue sky, and fresh air. How often do you get a chance to each fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies or potato chips and dip in that kind of environment?
Check-in time at The Redwoods is 3:00 p.m. Unpack, relax, go to the small grocery/liquor/drug/souvenir store and maybe the Pioneer Center during the last few hours of daylight. Thoroughly familiarize yourselves with the deck chairs, the munchies, the bbq, the trees, and the fireplace.
If you happen to be driving from the south (Los Angeles or San Diego areas), before you even get to Yosemite, after the long, boring drive through ugliness, and after you drive through Fresno, you’ll go through more boring, wide-open flat land for a while (30 minutes or so?). But then it turns beautiful. Enjoy the gorgeous landscape (depending on the time of year) of rolling (green?) hills, large rocks/boulders deposited by glaciers many moons ago, wild flowers(?), oak trees, and an occasional cow or horse. It’s beautiful!
In Oakhurst (just south of Yosemite) you may want to stop to fill up your gas tank and/or grab a small bite to eat. There is only one gas station that you will see (on this particular tour route of mine) in all of Yosemite; luckily it’s in Wawona. (It’s a Chevron.) There used to be one in the middle of the valley, but it’s gone now. When you leave Oakhurst, you’ll be getting to your cabin in about 30 to 40 minutes.
If you’re leaving Wawona and going into the valley for the day, take a flashlight with you. When you get back to your cabin, it will probably be very dark and getting to the cabin from your car is not always easy due to pine cones, branches, uneven ground, etc. Besides, before you leave the safety of your car, you may want to check for bears, raccoons, or Sasquatch!
In order to prevent splinters and/or spider bites while carrying firewood to your cabin (it’s usually stored outside the cabin), take some heavy work gloves with you. Fires in fireplaces have been outlawed during June, July, and August. (Due to too much smoke in the air.)(Bummer!)
You may want to take a fan if you’re going during the summer. Very few places in Yosemite Park are air-conditioned (including the cabins in Wawona), and it can get very hot and stuffy!
Most of the cabins will have a fan, vacuum, broom, ironing board & iron (please — who wants to iron on vacation?!)in the hall closet, and extra blankets and pillows in the bedroom closets.
If you’re going during fall, winter or spring, you may want to take some newspaper for starting the fire. The front office will give you a little fire-starter kit (one for each night) when you check in, but if it doesn’t work, you’re out of luck.
It may be a good idea to take some of your favorite pots & pans, kitchen/bbq utensils, spatulas, steak knives, paper plates/towels, baggies, & Tupperware. The kitchens are “fully” stocked, but one man’s “fully” is another man’s “what were they thinking?” There’s usually an empty drawer in which to store your own stuff. Don’t forget charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid if you plan to barbeque!
Make sure you take lots of film and/or memory cards and your camera. You’ll need to take billions of scenery shots and gazillions of dumb shots of everyone in the cabin. (Use your camera self-timer and get in the photos too!) And for great outdoor shots, a split neutral-density filter helps a ton!
How can I put this gently? In a small cabin, a spray can of air freshener can help save lives.
Take some playing cards, books, magazines, and games. (Don’t forget pens and paper to keep track of your high scores, or even dice and chips if you’re wishing you went to Vegas instead).
Most cabins will have checker/chess boards with 7% of the pieces missing … and decks of 49 or 50 cards.
Take a pair of binoculars for viewing scenery or wildlife or particularly good-looking mountain people.
Always wear comfy walking shoes.
Whenever you leave the cabin for the day, be sure to take a jacket and an umbrella. Some of the points that you’ll be stopping at are quite cold and windy, and you never know when rain might happen!
Make sure you have tire chains if it’s winter. The rangers will make you put them on if there’s snow. The law says you must carry them while traveling during winter.
When you’re at the cabin, the night before you go into the valley, you may want to plan/pack for a picnic lunch to eat somewhere along the river. (Perhaps at the Swinging Bridge picnic area in the Valley — there are picnic tables there, and toilets, but beware, only pit toilets.) Or just picnic anywhere. Take a blanket with you so you can enjoy sitting on the dirt next to the river. And plenty to drink. (Don’t forget the bottle opener or corkscrew. Are there laws regarding outdoor alcohol consumption? Does anyone care?)
I like to have a picnic lunch one day, and the next day have lunch at Degnan’s Loft pizza place near the Valley Store. (See below — The Valley Store, Day Use Parking, Food, Cash, etc., in the Valley.)
As many times as I have been there (30, 40, 50?), I always tend to feel lost in the valley. The mountains are so high around me, and there are so many trees, it seems like you just keep seeing the same things over and over. Hello!! That’s because the streets in the valley are just a loop. If you take a wrong turn or want to go back to something, just keep going and eventually you’ll get there again. No big deal. Unless you leave for one of the other main highways at the west end of the valley. The scenery is always awe inspiring — no matter how many times you see it!
Bathroom facilities: As you stop at places around the valley, you never know if there’s a pit toilet or flushing toilets. Here are some pointers: (Personally, I HATE pit toilets and would rather wait for a flush one!)
There are no bathrooms on the 45 minute drive into the valley (well, a pit toilet very soon after you leave the cabin, at the Wawona Campgrounds).
If you need to go to the bathroom in the valley, there are flush toilets located next to the Valley Store, at Yosemite Lodge (off to the right around the corner of the check-in desk), and at the Ahwahnee Hotel. If you’re in a hurry for one, park at the Valley store, (or have someone drop you off in front of the store), run through the store to the back side of the store, exit, and turn to your left. There’s a hamburger stand and a rest room. That’s your best choice for a “quick,” flush bathroom.
If that bathroom is being cleaned (seems to happen quite frequently), go back towards the store. As you were leaving the store, instead of turning left, walk straight towards the road, turn right on the walkway just before the road, walk 30 or so, then turn to your right again when you see a pair of buildings parallel to each other just down the way. Another restroom is in the main wide walkway between the buildings (to the left). There’s also a soda machine there in the middle near the bathroom. (This bathroom is usually cleaner, warmer, and less crowded than the one next to the hamburger stand.) Both of these bathrooms are good-old flush toilets.
The nearest bathroom at The Ahwahnee is upstairs on the second floor, in the corner near the dining room. Far away from the front door and the bar. Dumb place for a bathroom. Desperately running from the bar, across the lobby, and up those stairs is not fun!
A note about phones: Very often cell phones do not work in Yosemite — no antennae in national parks. A few pay phone locations: In front of The Redwoods main office, at the Wawona Hotel behind the lobby (just outside to your left), in front of the Village Store in the valley, and just before the entrance (outside) at Degnan’s Loft pizza place in the valley.
Entrance to the Park
When you approach the south gate, prepare to be charged $20 for a one-week pass. Hold on to that receipt; you’ll need to show it when you leave the park. (They usually staple it to the map that they give you.) They will give you a map and a little newspaper. The newspaper may have some interesting things for you to do or see.
The Redwoods cabins will not let you check in till 3:00 p.m. So if you’re early, there are some things to do in the general vicinity to bide your time.
The first place you may want to visit, just inside the gate is:
Mariposa Grove Of Big Trees Just inside the South Entrance (turn right at the T intersection just inside the gate) and go about 15 or 20 minutes or so. Lots of huge Sequoia trees. There’s a tram ride that they charge for, but I don’t remember how much ($6?). I’m not sure, but the tram ride may only operate during summer. It’s pretty to walk around a bit, but it’s hilly and how far do you want to walk to see tree after tree? (The old “bridge” tree that you may be familiar with and hoping to see is no longer standing. It was struck down by lightning in the ’60s or ’70s, I think.)
The Wawona Hotel
Built in the mid-1850’s The hotel is in Wawona, 5 to 10 minutes after you enter through the South Entrance (and turn left). Parking is scarce, and you may have to walk a little bit uphill to get to the hotel. The main lobby is sort of charming, feminine, 1920ish. Imagine your bustle swaying as you sashay along the wooden planks outside the rooms. You can sit and have a drink and listen to a pianist in the lobby or play chess or checkers in front of the fireplace. Or sit on a wicker chair on the veranda while you await the stage coach (just kidding about the stage coach!). The dining room is pretty nice. Expensive. Reservations recommended, maybe required. I’ve had really good and not-so-great meals there. At night the parking lot is very dark, and much of it is not paved, so take a flashlight with you so you don’t trip on your way back to the car — especially if there’s snow or it’s raining. The restrooms are outside the back door of the main lobby and to your left, just past the pay phones. (Fun when it’s freezing!) They are inside and are flush toilets, are there are even some showers too since some of the rooms don’t have bathrooms. There are no restrooms inside the dining area or lobby.
Also, to your left (just across the street from the hotel) is a golf course. There are often deer meandering there to welcome you into the park. Take a glance over that way while you’re driving past.
The Chevron Gas Station
STOP THERE AND FILL UP IF YOU DIDN’T ALREADY IN FRESNO OR OAKHURST! It’s the ONLY gas station anywhere around in Yosemite! There is not one in the Valley at all.
The Wawona Store And Post Office and the Pioneer Center are located right next door to the Wawona Hotel. This little store has a pretty good (small) selection of groceries and “artsy-craftsy” things. I think it may be open later than The Pine Tree Market that’s closer to your cabin. (See below.) The Post Office is also attached.
The Pioneer Center is on the other side of this parking lot, a little farther back off the road. I love to walk around this place. When you first approach the center, there’s a covered “barn” that has lots of old farming equipment, etc., on display. It’s interesting to read the information plaques. Then go on to walk through the covered bridge. I think it’s pretty neat to imagine how they built it and to picture stage coaches riding through it. Then there are about 10 or so old structures to look at/in. Sometimes on weekends there are folks dressed up as Pioneers giving demonstrations, and also stage coach rides (for a nominal charge — probably only in summer.) As you enter the Pioneer “Village” through the covered bridge, let’s imagine that particular spot is 6:00 o’clock on a clock — there’s a cute little old creepy jail cell at 4:00, and at 11:00 is a structure (I don’t remember what — a house I think), that has an old-fashioned water pump outside, just to the right back side of it. It’s fun to give it a pump and have water come gushing out and imagine living that way in the past.
At The Redwoods
Walk by the River. It’s a nice area for a leisurely stroll. At the intersection where the main lobby is located, Chilnualna Falls Road (chill-nwall’-na)- or also known to me as “the Main Road”) and River Road, if you head down River Road (south towards the river), it goes to the end (a few blocks or so) and veers to the left. Go around the “U” a little bit, and off to your right you will see a cabin that’s built up on the hillside, overlooking the river. You can park around there somewhere (not really marked), and walk down to the river. It’s very pretty and peaceful. Not too difficult to get down there, but I wouldn’t do it in high heels. Darn — you’ll have to take them off!
Everywhere you go in Wawona, be on the lookout for deer. You might even see some little Bambis with their moms during springtime. You may see a raccoon at night, or even a bear. I have seen both, but only once — in 1972!
Trail to Lower Chilnualna Falls
(Chill-nwahl’-nah — easy for you to say!) The trail to Lower Chilnualna Falls is a little steep. If you feel like walking a bit, it’s very pretty along the Chilnualna Creek. The trail to the Upper Falls is way too steep for my liking. As you drive on Chilnualna Road to the falls/creek, there’s a bridge that you can drive over. There are quite a few more homes/cabins beyond it. And a trail to something they call the swinging bridge (no, not the same one as in the Valley.) I’ve never been on that trail.
The Pine Tree Market
This is located to your left on Chilnualna Road (the smaller main road off of Hwy 41, a few blocks before you get to the The Redwoods office). It’s a very small market with food, booze, drinks, and touristy stuff. This place is very handy, but it closes very early, so be careful. Don’t figure you’ll pick up ice or drinks on your way back from the valley … chances are it’ll be closed at 5:00 p.m.
The Valley is a 45-50 minute drive from your cabin.
Along the Way to the Valley
As you leave The Redwoods to head out for the valley, you’ll turn right onto the main highway (41). About 1 or 2 minutes onto the highway, there’s the Wawona Campgrounds to your left. The Merced River runs through there and it’s a pretty place to get out and stroll along the river a bit.
Yosemite West, Glacier Point Intersection/Chinquapin, and Badger Pass Ski Area Along the way into the valley, to your left, you’ll pass a turn-out for Yosemite West. That’s a pretty fancy rental home/residential area. You’re now about 2/3 of the way to the valley.
Very soon after that, you’ll pass the “T”-intersection for Glacier Point. There’s just a couple of small buildings. This intersection/city(?) is know as Chinquapin (cheenk-a-pin). This road leads to Glacier Point and Badger Pass Ski Area. If you can take that road (it’s closed during winter due to snow), it’s about an hour’s drive up to the top. It’s pretty neat, but it takes a while. There’s a couple of gift shops and a small food place and a major lookout spot that looks over the valley (to one side) and Half Dome and two large waterfalls (on the other side) — Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls (those are MAJOR hikes to get to — see below). For years the rangers did the “Fire Falls” from Glacier Point, down to Camp Curry below. That stopped in 1969. Too many people were trampling the meadows and polluting the air with their cars, camp fires, and trash. L
As you approach The Valley — Lookout Point a.k.a. Tunnel View a.k.a. Inspiration Point Three-quarters of the way to the valley, you’ll drive through a badly burned area (the big fire in ’95?). There isn’t much space to pull over (I think only one spot on the other side of the road). It is starting to grow back and get green again. Soon (maybe 5 minutes or so) after that area, you’ll come around a big sweeping curve to the right, and as you approach it, you’ll see a valley below and mountains on the other side, and as you round that curve, ahead you’ll see “The Valley” (El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, etc.) It’s quite spectacular. If it’s safe enough, you can pull over to the other side of the street and park to look. But if not, don’t fret — there’s a major overlook spot just ahead with lots of parking. You’ll go through the Wawona Tunnel. (It took them 2 years to dynamite through and they were lucky that they met in the middle!) At the very end of this long tunnel, you can turn left into the parking lot to the major overlook area. Everybody stops there, so it’s crowded and crazy. People are everywhere and are totally oblivious to cars in the parking lot. Sit on the little wall and have someone take your picture (with your camera!) in front of the magnificent scenery.
It’s about another 5 minutes into the valley from there — maybe 10 minutes to the store.
As you drive around the Valley, notice the “Flood Level” signs from the 1997 flood. (About 7 feet high or so!) Amazing to think that the water was ever that high in the Valley. (Except for during the Ice Age, of course!)
This is one of the first things you come to when you enter the valley. Drive into the parking lot. The walk to the falls is a little steeper and more difficult than I like, but a lot of people do it — you be the judge. The walk up to it is very pretty, with the river meandering through the area. As you get closer to the falls, it gets steep, cold, wet, and very slippery. You really see it better just standing in the parking lot! And it’s a lot more comfortable! Well — maybe just walk a little ways up the trail — it is very pretty.
Beyond Bridalveil Falls (5 minutes?) is the Swinging Bridge Once you leave the parking lot of Bridalveil, the Swinging Bridge and “beach” area show up suddenly on your left side, while you’re just driving through some trees in the valley before you get to anything else, with not much parking available. As soon as you see perpendicular parked cars to your left, slow down and try to get in there with them. There isn’t a parking lot, per se, just some head-in-only parking on the side of the road. There’s a pretty walking bridge that crosses over the Merced, some pretty river and mountain scenery, a “beachy” area, and picnic tables. There are some pit toilets there. It’s pretty to walk over the bridge and look around.
The Chapel, built in 1879, it’s the oldest building still in use in Yosemite. It’s somewhere along the road on your way into the valley in an open meadow. (I’m not exactly sure, but you can’t miss it off to your right.) It’s very cute — very popular for weddings. But the inside is kind of ugly and very musty smelling. I was disappointed. I wonder how many brides have passed out in there during the summer. It was pretty much ruined during the Flood of ’97, so they had to do some major refurbishing.
Follow the signs to the Village Store. You will be making a left turn that will instantly take you over Sentinel Bridge. Look to your right. It’s a beautiful view of Half Dome and the Merced River. A big attraction for photographers at sunset, as Half Dome lights up sort of orange (alpenglow) and reflects in the river. It’s gorgeous! There’s a parking lot just beyond the bridge, off to your left if you want to get out and look. If you’re thinking about getting a picture, to do it any justice, you’ll need a split neutral density filter to darken the sky. Otherwise, it washes out and just goes blah.
The Main Store, Day Use Parking, Food, Cash, etc., in the Valley There are signs everywhere directing you to the Day Use Parking Lot. You can take shuttle busses from there to just about everywhere in the valley. If you just need to go to the store, I think it is a two hour time limit to park in the store parking lot. (The two parking lots are a long block away from each other.)
As you approach the main store, there’s a wooden kiosk out front that sells tickets to the “Two-Hour Valley Floor Tour.” (I think they charge $18 per person or something like that.) This is an open tram ride with a guide. It’s wonderful! But again, I think it’s only open during the summer. If it’s cold out, make sure you are bundled up! It picks you up across the street from the ticket kiosk, in front of the Garage. And it also stops at The Ahwahnee Hotel and the Yosemite Lodge.
It goes up to the Lookout Point and your guide will point out many fascinating facts. It’s just about the only way to cool off on a hot summer day if you don’t care to don a bathing suit and go play in the slightly frigid river.
The Valley Store is the place to get lots of good Yosemite touristy stuff! And food. It has a pretty large grocery store and a large souvenir store. There’s a decent bathroom around the backside (you can exit out the back of the store and turn to your left) and to your right is also a hamburger stand (pretty crummy actually). You can eat there only outside on the patio. It may be too cold, but the blue jays and squirrels are fun to watch. There is also a sporting goods store (keen on mountaineering and camping equipment, or course), an art/book store, and an ATM at the end of the buildings. If, when you exited the rear of the store, instead of turning left, head straight for the road, turn right at the sidewalk, and walk a ways (a block or two?). There are many more buildings, including a Degnan’s Loft (pretty good pizza, up a flight of stairs), a semi-deli/store for sandwiches with only a few tables and chairs, some shops, a post office, an Ansel Adams gallery/store, and an Indian museum and an old graveyard.
The Degnan’s Loft pizza place is the best deal in town. (See above for location.) Everywhere else is either a crummy hamburger or cafeteria or a hopelessly overpriced so-so meal. Hope you like pizza. (You wait in line to order, then they bring it to your table. Not fancy, but it’s pretty good and has large picture windows so you can enjoy a pretty view.)
A nice walk across the street from the main store, you’ll see a “Garage” and a Fire Station. Walk to the intersection at either end of that block and go around the corner and get on the walkway (not really a full-on sidewalk) that runs parallel directly behind the Garage. You’ll walk about 1/4 to 1/2 mile on a nice walkway, with a gorgeous meadow and view of Half Dome on one side of you (to the east) and some neat privately-owned homes on the left. You’ll just be walking around the block, back to the store parking lot. Get back in your car and leave the parking lot and follow the signs to The Ahwahnee Hotel.
The Ahwahnee Hotel
Opened in 1927, it’s another nice thing to do. It’s at the northeast end of the valley. On the street, you will pass through a “gate” that says “Ahwahnee.” Then a few seconds later look to your left and you will see what’s left of a large rock slide that happened quite some time ago (I don’t remember when). One of the tour guides once said that it happened in the early morning and the noise woke up all the guests in the hotel. Everyone panicked, but it stopped short of burying the hotel. Rumor has it that the maids had to change a lot of sheets that day! Park in the lot (it’s kind of weird, but I always find a space). When you get out of your car, look up at the mountains right there across from the hotel. Incredible. Walk to the main entrance of the hotel. (It’s a wooden overhang and walkway.) Go inside — to your left is a nice bar to sit and enjoy a drink and look out the windows. To your right is a “foo-foo” junk store. If it’s nice outside, you can go sit out on the patio and have a drink. I suggest that you walk outside (around the “back”) a little ways away from the hotel so you can see the “whole picture.” It’s really quite stunning — the hotel architecture, the trees in front of it, and the mountains behind it. The hotel is made out of concrete, not wood, as it appears. Then there’s the famous 4-star restaurant in the other end of the hotel. (I didn’t care for the service or the food, but it’s famous! Very hoity-toity — need to be dressed up to get in.) At least take a peek inside. Also, walk beyond the dining room (to the left of it) and look at The Grand Room. Old Indian décor and a fireplace that an army could stand in. (The price to stay there is up to $360 per night for a standard room!)
Leave there and follow the signs to Yosemite Lodge (or The Lodge.) About half way to the Lodge, you’ll approach Yosemite Falls. (It’s the big double-decker falls on the north side of the valley). Turn into the parking lot.
Stop to look at Lower Yosemite Falls While you’re driving, approaching Yosemite Falls on your way out of the valley (to your left going into the valley — to your right going out of the valley), drive very slowly when you are about to pass it and look down near the bottom of it, in line with the sidewalk. (Or pull over, park, and walk.) There is a perfect clearing of the trees right in front of the lower falls so that you can see it from the street. If you blink you’ll miss it! There is a meadow across from the falls and in that meadow used to be a hotel. The owner thought that it would be neat to clear a path to the falls so his guests could enjoy the view. Mysteriously, soon after he did that, his hotel caught fire and burned to the ground, never to be re-built. How sad.
You’ll be driving along through the valley and come across a turn-out to a parking lot on your right for Lower Yosemite Falls. Park in the lot.
Lower Yosemite Falls Trail — Mild hike/walk — Maybe 1/4 to a 1/2 mi. loop? 30 to 45 minutes? Pretty easy and beautiful scenery. Park in the lot and follow the trail up to Lower Falls — You’ll be right in front of the falls. There is a slight/medium incline up to the falls — take your time — it ain’t goin’ nowhere. But then keep going around to the right, beyond the falls — the trail loops and ends up back at the parking lot. About 3/4 of the way through, as you’re heading back to the parking lot, (sort of in a straight-away, “ferny” area), keep a lookout to your left; there’s a break in the trees and you will see Half Dome in all its glory. Spectacular surprise photo shot. A little bit further is a bench where John Muir had built a cabin with a view of Yosemite Falls. History big time. This trail was “under construction” and the falls and riverbed were completely dry when I was there in September 2002. Hopefully, the river isn’t taking over the trail in springtime. But there were a couple little bridges, so I assume it’s passable.
The Yosemite Lodge
The lodge is rather spread out, blah, and nothing spectacular. But just behind the main lobby is a small amphitheater and restaurants and stores. The Mountain Room Restaurant (in the middle corner) is a semi-decent, sort-of-over-priced restaurant (nothing spectacular, except for the view of Yosemite Falls). There is a bar next door to the right (which I’ve never been in), a nice little junk store further to the right, a few more tourist shops in between, and a very mediocre cafeteria at the left end.
You can drive around and follow the signs to Camp Curry, Housekeeping Camp, and Upper and Lower Pines campgrounds, just to look around at the camp sites if you want. You might get lucky and see a bear in the campgrounds. I never have. But I have seen many coyotes and deer.
Leave there and follow the signs to exit the Valley and head towards Wawona (Hwy 41).
Valley View a.k.a. Gates of the Valley One of my faves! On the way out of the valley, you’ll be heading towards Wawona (while you’re heading out of valley). You will pass a large rock-slide to your right, then a little while further, as you’re approaching the Wawona Turnoff, all of a sudden to your left when you come around a curve, you will see a little clearing and a small parking lot with about 10 spaces at an angle to the road. There is no sign or warning, so drive slowly. Turn left into it and get out and look! You’ll see a gorgeous view of Bridalveil Falls and Cathedral Rocks on one side of the valley and El Capitan on the other side, with the Merced River running by you in the foreground. This area is especially grand at sunset (the alpenglow lights up El Capitan in an orange/yellow glow, which then reflects in the river.) If you look at this as the sun is setting, you will still barely have time to get back to the cabin before it’s totally dark. Don’t put your sunglasses away, though. The setting sun will suddenly peak out here and there at weird spots during the curvy road and blind you!
At this point you can either head back to your cabin, choose the Wawona Hwy 41 turnoff, or you can go see Cascade Falls for a 45 minute detour (if sunlight time allows): (See below for Cascade Falls.)
World’s Smallest Waterfall — Just beyond Valley View, you will approach a fork in the road where you will turn left to head back to Wawona — Hwy 41. You’ll immediately drive over a bridge and the Merced, then about 5 seconds later is the “World’s Smallest Waterfall” to your right. Look down near the road, about three or four feet back from it. You can pull over right there and look — not necessarily a big thrill, but it’s cute. It’s called Fern Spring.
Then it’s back on the curvy road again to Wawona Hwy 41. Watch for animals — they like the sunset hours. When you get home, light the fireplace, bake some cookies for dessert, and barbeque something wonderful to eat! Have the men clean up dinner while the ladies play Crazy 8s. Then play games with everyone. Have a good night’s quiet, restful sleep in the mountains.
Side Trip to Big Oak Flat Road and Cascade Falls
Instead of taking the road to Wawona as you leave the valley, you can take the Big Oak Flat Road (which heads west out of the valley) for about a 20 minute ride that winds up through a couple of short tunnels and a spectacular waterfall (Cascade Falls) just off the right side of the road. There’s a parking lot on the left side of the road as you’re approaching. But you don’t know that the waterfall’s coming up. The parking lot is before you see the waterfall. So park in the small parking lot to your left, and then walk a minute and cross the street to view the falls. There’s a sidewalk there with a guard rail for you to view the falls safely.
Two other neat places to go in the Valley:
If you have more time, go to Happy Isles. It’s at the very end of the valley, and can only be reached by shuttle bus. You need to park your car in the Camp Curry Day Use Parking Lot (follow the signs), then on the road right next to the parking lot, the shuttle bus will pick you up (every 10 minutes or so). Take the bus to the Happy Isles stop (maybe a 10 minute ride, if that). Get out and walk around. The scenery is gorgeous. The river rushes through there and they have pretty bridges to walk over and a nature center. And lots of Dogwood trees. This is also the beginning of the trail up to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. (About 2 miles to Vernal, practically straight up to heaven, then another 2 miles to Nevada. Not for the faint of heart!) I went to Vernal Falls twice; it took me about two hours to get up there. I stopped a lot to rest!) Towards the back of the Happy Isles area, there was a massive rock slide in 1996. It’s amazing to see how it snapped off trees like toothpicks. Just a reminder of the serious side of Mother Nature! Always be aware!
You can also take the shuttle bus to Mirror Lake. (It’s the only way to get there.) Unfortunately, it doesn’t drop you off at the lake. You still have to walk (I think it’s one mile) on a paved road with a slight incline. If you’ve never seen Mirror Lake, I think it’s definitely worth going to see at least once in your life, especially in the spring time. They say that it’s not really much of a lake anymore; more of a meadow, but the last time I went during the spring (about 2 years ago), it was beautiful. I was surprised how much water was there and how gorgeous the surrounding scenery was.
Horseback Riding Stables
In that same vicinity are horseback riding stables. I have never ridden there. One thing I don’t like about it is that they make you wear a helmet. We don’t need no stinkin’ helmets!!! Ever see John Wayne wear one? Besides, the older I get, the bigger and meaner those horses get! Who needs them anyway?
During the Summer Only
It’s a nice drive to the top, about an hour or so? Beautiful scenery. There’s a very nice overlook area, store, cafeteria, and even bathrooms. It is an incredible view. (I think that about a third of the way to Glacier Point is Badger Pass Ski Area.)
Tioga Pass/Olmsted Point/Tenaya Lake
This area is beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s up so high (almost 10,000 feet), that the road there (Tioga Pass) is only open during summer. Too much snow the rest of the year. It will take you most of the day to drive up there, look around, and get back to Wawona. My favorite stop along the way is Olmstead Point. There’s a parking lot and you just walk out to the “cliff” and look at the view. Breathtaking. You will see the back side of Half Dome, among other cool stuff — like cute little marmots, too. It is at a very high altitude, so remember when you’re walking — you’ll notice it!
Tenaya Lake is very pretty. Get out and walk around. It’s a good size and it’s turquoise blue.
In the Tioga Pass is a small/medium-sized lake called May Lake. It’s quite the hike. I let my boyfriend and his son talk me into this adventure once. Not again! We parked on the road at the trailhead marker and started climbing. I’m too old for that stuff! It was gorgeous though. We came upon a meadow that was down a hill. It was so gorgeous, that I just had to go run through it. While I was posing for my boyfriend to take my picture in the meadow, I realized that my sunglasses were filling up with mosquitoes! Yuck! So you may want to resist the urge to do some serious meadow running! Then when I thought I could hike no longer, we came upon a parking lot! Gee, we could have parked in the lot, much closer to the lake, and saved myself all that wear and tear! But then, just past the lot, the terrain got steep and rocky. The lake was very beautiful when we finally got there, but I won’t be doing it again! Save it for the young and/or physically fit. Did I really see families with back-packs and sleeping bags passing me like I was standing still??? I need to eat more spinach!
Driving through Tuolomne Meadows is beautiful. July is the best time for wildflowers galore, but even without them, the creeks and mountains are spectacular.
I went there once, and don’t quite remember the details. It was pretty neat, but it takes a day to drive out there, hike to the closest (and I use the term loosely) waterfall, and drive back. The waterfall was gorgeous and the dam is interesting to see, but I couldn’t help but get depressed that it had been another beautiful valley back when until the 1920s, when it was filled with water and was dammed to serve the San Francisco area. Poor John Muir fought so hard to keep it pristine, and he actually died trying to preserve it.
When you leave Yosemite — a good place for brunch When the fun is over and it’s time to get back to reality, you won’t feel like cooking breakfast and cleaning it up before you leave — you already have enough things to do! Pack up your stuff, clean the cabin, take your trash to a bear-proof can (located throughout the area), load up the car, and don’t forget to set up your tripod and your self-timer camera to get a nice shot of you all in front of the cabin. Go check out at the office, and wave good-bye. If you happen to be heading down south when you leave Yosemite, as you go down the winding road, beyond the park entrance after about 10 miles(?) of winding through the woods, just before Oakhurst, you will start to come to an area that’s a little inhabited and the trees have thinned out. Just before the Bass Lake turnoff (or maybe it IS the Bass Lake turnoff) (to your left at the intersection) there’s a cute little wooden restaurant (The Mountain Grille or something like that?) on the corner up against a hill. It’s cute and homey inside and they have pretty good food. And even the rest rooms are very nice. Now get ready for the boring ride back home!