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Yosemite for newbies
A suggested one-day guide for a first-time taste of Yosemite

There are six words when uttered by anyone who has lived in the Northern San Joaquin Valley for at least a year that never cease to amaze me — “I have never been to Yosemite.”

I find it unfathomable that someone within 150 minutes travel time of arguably one of the world’s most incredible and accessible natural wonders have never taken the opportunity to check it out. 

I’m sure that the 3 million plus annual visitors to Yosemite— many who came from Europe and Asia — would probably think the same thing.

 I’ll be the first to admit even in the year I racked up 10 trips to Yosemite that I avoided Yosemite Valley — the place where perhaps 95 percent of the visitors are drawn for obvious reasons — like the plague between May and October except when I want to hike out of the valley to the rim. It’s when 75 percent of the annual visitors descend on Yosemite. 

Although the national park has 747,956 square miles, almost every one of those visitors heads to the main attractions within the walls of the six square miles that make up Yosemite Valley. 

Now that you’ve heard my reservations for going this time of year, ignore them. The reason is because of the late snowfall that has created a unique summer opportunity in Yosemite Valley. 

It means the waterfalls are running like it is still early spring.

What you’re about to read is basically a one day whirlwind tour of the top draws of Yosemite that can be done with mostly flat walking and driving or catching the free trams. 

The only suggestion that requires a bit of exertion is a walk at least part ways up the Mist Trail to see Vernal Fall from a footbridge across the Merced River. Go a bit farther and climb the stone steps to the top where you are likely to see a rainbow along the way or go all the way to Nevada Fall.

Even after 14 trips up the Mist Trail to primarily to show Yosemite newbies its beauty, it never loses its charm. It helps of course that I fell in love while being sprayed with mist from the crashing water over Vernal Fall and a rainbow was arching across the Merced.

Before you go make sure you wear comfortable clothes and shoes meant for walking, a change of clothes (or at least socks) if you decide you want to get wet walking near a waterfall, and water that you can carry.

 You’re better off packing a lunch and bringing in your own ice chest of drinks. If you have a backpack bring it along especially if you end up taking the tram or heading off to take more of a hike as you will need to  carry extra water, snacks and such.

 There are a few concessions but between the crowds and the price means bringing your own makes sense. Also make sure you have a full tank of gas as there is none available in the valley although you can gas up at Crane Flat if you enter the park on Highway 120.

The quickest way from Manteca is Highway 120 as it takes you directly to the park. From Turlock it is going to be Highway 140 out of Merced. 

The entrance fee is $35 for a seven-day pass. If you have an inkling you may need to go the bathroom in the next four to six hours, I’d advise using the ones right after you get past the pay stations. The rangers will provide a map that you can use to reference stops that I’m suggesting.

Keep in mind a reservation is required from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. on some dates through October 27, 2024 to drive in or thru the park — Thru June 30, weekends and holidays only; July 1–Aug. 16, daily; and Aug. 17 thru Oct. 27, weekends and holidays only.

After you emerge from the second of three tunnels as you head to the valley via the Highway 120 entrance you will be tempted to pull over to get a picture of the first dramatic granite views. After going through Yosemite the view from this point will look mundane but it is still worth the stop.

The first stop once you are in the valley is Bridalveil Fall. It may take a while to find a parking space in the lot or along the road leading up to the world famous Tunnel View but it’s worth the wait. It is about a quarter mile hike to the falls.

From there I would go straight to the dirt parking lot at Curry Village.

 You can access the tram from here or walk a little over a half mile to Mirror Lake. It’s called Mirror Lake for obvious reasons. You are also below Half Dome. This the way to head up Snow Creek Trail to the southern rim but if you stay in the valley the walk to the lakes and the surrounding meadows is fairly flat.

Walk back to the valley loop road and catch a tram to Yosemite Falls. Hiking to the lower falls is a treat. Heading to the top takes an effort but it is worth it, especially being able to hold you smartphone over the granite edge — there is railing — and snapping video as Yosemite Creek plunges from 6,936 feet down to the valley 3,000 feet below.

You can take the tram back to Curry Village. 

Once there you can do two things. Try the Mist Trail hike that starts about a half mile away or get in the car and drive toward the western end of the valley to near El Capitan. 

This is a perfect stop for a picnic lunch. You can head toward the Merced River and find a spot suitable to enjoy both the water and searching the granite walls of El Capitan for climbers. The imposing El Captain is a vertical gain of 3,000 feet from base to top. It is the world’s eighth largest monolithic (single) rock.

From there, get in the car and head back as if you’re going to Bridalveil Fall. Instead head up to the Tunnel View. Parking is a challenge but it’s worth seeing the view that Kodak in its heyday said was one of the most photographed in the world. Doing this later in the day puts the sun in the right place.

From there continue onto Glacier Point Road.

Once you reach Glacier Point you will be treated to views of the glacier-carved valley from 3,100 feet up and a stunning view of Half Dome. 

As an added bonus, can make a trip to Tuolumne Meadows once Tioga Road is reopened for the season and see conditions and flowers that resemble early spring in July or the first few weeks of August. The sub-alpine meadow us at 8,619 feet. The only meadows I’ve been to that are more stunning are above 10,000 feet in the eastern Sierra requiring a half day of hiking to reach.

Take my word, if you haven’t been to Yosemite you need to go before you die.

That way you can make sure you caught a glimpse of heaven on earth to use as a comparison.