Yosemite is an icon and one cannot think of the national park system without thinking of this park. Yosemite was photographer Ansel Adams’ inspiration and one of his most famous photographs was of Yosemite Valley. Filled with waterfalls, towering cliffs and sequoias, one can understand why this is a special park.
Yosemite is most known for mountain climbing and picturesque waterfalls. El Capitan is the tallest exposed vertical face of granite on earth and is 2.5 times taller than the Empire State Building. That’s over 3,000 feet tall! El Cap is a world famous rock formation that was thought to be unclimbable but was first conquered in 1958 by Warren Harding, taking him 45 days to climb. There are a few documentaries about climbing this famous face, including Free Solo, where Alex Honnold climbs rope free (!!!) all within 3 hours and 56 minutes. Today, the average climber takes 3-5 days to reach the summit and that is with ropes.
The other popular attraction in the park is Yosemite Falls. This waterfalls stands at 2,425 feet, is composed of 3 sections and is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America, pretty impressive! There is a hike to the top of the falls that is suppose to be pretty awesome and maybe one day we will return to complete that hike. We opted to walk around the lower falls and take it easy on the paved walkway, where the waterfall was framed nicely by large trees.
We first visited Yosemite last March and we were all ready to deal with the crowds, tourists and craziness that is heard about when visiting this park but we never had that experience. It was quite and calm with only a few dozen people in the park on our first visit.
At first we were confused and than we put it together: Covid. Other countries had started to shut down and the US was about to, as we visited about week before the official shut down began. We were actually very lucky to have been able to visit this famous park and not deal with the crowds. We were required to make day reservations a month in advance to visit but that was easy enough. We visited this park three times during the spring and summer months, each time experiencing a different area in the park and each time enjoying every minute in this stunning park.
Here is a recap of the hikes we did:
Mirror Lake: This was a pleasant short and easy hike to small lake with views of the base of Half Dome and the surrounding cliffs. This loop trail took us through the forest and opened up to the small lake, that is actually not a lake but a shallow pool from the river. Mirror Lake is known for creating a nice reflection of Half Dome that is different from other views in the park.
North Dome: Thank you to the park ranger who recommended this hike as it was perfect! If you want views that compare to Half Dome without the crowds, this is your hike. This hike is located in Tuolumne Meadows, the less popular area in the park but still worthwhile. Once on the forest trail, we took a quick detour to see Indian Rock Arch, a cool natural arch that gave us the first glimpse of Half Dome. This is a semi-long hike, 4.5 miles each way, through the forest that opens up for a far away view of Half Dome. The next part is downhill (and oh so fun to hike back up!) and once on the dome’s summit, views of Half Dome, Clouds’s Rest and Yosemite Valley is seen. And what a view it is! A pano view that makes you feel pretty small and in awe. We were lucky enough to have the summit to ourselves for about 20 minutes before we headed back. We took a longer and steeper trail back, saw an adolescent bear and were pretty hot and tired from the days adventure but it was so worth it!
Cathedral Lakes: This hike took us to a upper and lower lake with two completely different views. The hike started in the woods and wound past a large rock formation, Cathedral Peak. This 10,911 foot peak was impressive and we saw it from many different angles through out the hike. We headed to the lower lake first where the trail went through an open meadow and before us the beautiful lake surrounded by granite slabs. The handful of other hikers were sitting and having a snack but we decided to walk around a small portion of the lake and than head to the less popular upper lake. The upper lake was a little tougher to find as you sort of just look for the lake through the trees and make your way down to the shore. This is where we set up our hammock and chilled, enjoying the nice summer day. We were more enclosed by the cliffs at this lake and the wind picked up out of nowhere. We packed up camp quickly and almost made it to the car before we encountered light hail and rain. It thankfully didn’t last long as the sun was shining brightly again when we reached the car.
We hoped to return to Yosemite in February to get photos of the valley covered in snow (hence why this blog post is so late as that visit was going to be talked about too). But since we decided to leave California in January and will be close to Death Valley National Park, we decided not to head back to Yosemite at this time. But one day we will!
Till than, happy trails!