Just warning: this post contains tons of pictures!
A (relatively) short four-hour drive from San Francisco will get you all the way to Yosemite National Park. But before you hit the park, you drive through Stanislaus National Forest. We didn’t have the time to stop here, but we did pause at the vista point Rim of the World, which is worth it!
“No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.” – John Muir
First inhabited by the Ahwahneechee people, Europeans didn’t discover Yosemite until the mid-1800’s, when the gold rush brought many miners and settlers to California. Today, almost 4 million people make the journey to view Yosemite’s natural wonders every year! On October 1, 2015 the park celebrated it’s 125th anniversary. I was so excited to experience this park!
After entering the park from the west, we took Big Oak Flat Road all the way into Yosemite Valley, pausing along the way to enjoy the views. One of the best we saw was when we pulled off to the side of road before the tunnels. You can see Half Dome and El Capitan off in the distance.
The drive through Yosemite is pretty incredible. You’re surrounded by walls of granite, forests and the Merced River. You begin to feel pretty small; mother nature is a force to be reckoned with and deserves your respect. I think that’s my favorite part about national parks; realizing not only how vast the world truly is, but how much beauty surrounds us if we choose to leave our homes. There’s nothing like standing near a 3,000 foot monolith to make you appreciate the world around you.
Fern Spring is a small spring near the beginning of Yosemite Valley. We stopped here to enjoy some pre-packed snacks and some fresh, naturally filtered water
Not many people know this, but I’m obsessed with Theodore Roosevelt; he was such a patron of national parks! Under his administration not only were five new parks created, but also 18 national monuments, four national game refuges, 51 bird sanctuaries, and over 100 million acres of national forest! So when we were able to get out of the car and stand where he and John Muir sat and discussed the future of our national parks I died a little bit inside.
I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves in this next section. By this point we reached Yosemite Valley
We had planned on taking a break in Yosemite Valley to maybe get out and walk around. I wanted to check out the Visitor Center and see if there were any interesting exhibits. But one thing we have mastered in this trip so far is that you have to just go with the flow when your plans go awry. There were SO many people in Yosemite Valley! There wasn’t any parking and the traffic had come to a standstill to let pedestrians cross. We decided to sneak our way into the exit lanes and just head back to Hodgdon Meadows, on the eastern side of the park.
After spending the night in one of the park’s campgrounds we took Tioga Road through the upper section of park. The Tioga Pass is often closed through May so it was lucky that we were able to take it. Nothing up this way, such as campgrounds and the lodge, was open yet, so there were often stretches where we were the only car around. We did see a bear walking through a meadow; by the time we realized it was indeed a bear it was too late to snap a picture.
About halfway through our drive, we came across Olmstead Point, which was by far my favorite view of the entire park!
I could have stayed here all day.
Tenaya Lake was just past Olmstead Point and was a pretty mountain lake. It came right up to portions of the road! Further on is Lembert Dome, situated right by the Toulumne Meadows. The Meadows were pretty flooded when we went past and the visitor center was closed.
More mountain views. We soaked it in while we could, since we would be heading to Death Valley in a few hours!
Tioga Road travels all the way through Yosemite National Park, ending in Tioga Pass. The elevation? 9,943 feet! This makes the pass the highest in the state of California and in the Sierra Nevada. Climbing the pass from the west was slow and gradual, so when we came around the bend to this section, dropping so dramatically in elevation, it was terrifying. Stunning once we reached the bottom, but with the wind and the dust blowing during the drive there were moments I closed my eyes.
Most people probably wouldn’t try to go to a second national park in one day. But we’re not most people. Onward to Death Valley!