“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” – John Muir
There are few things in life that have had the power to bring me to tears on first sight; those special and sacred moments have generally been reserved for the births of my children. That is, until we emerged from the Wawona Tunnel and into the glorious light of the Yosemite Valley. It is truly an experience like no other, driving through, standing in the green-gold of nature, God’s glorious creation. Its sheer beauty brought tears to my eyes. And then I had to remember to keep driving.
I didn’t think that we would make it to the Valley on this trip, as our plan was to stay to the east in Tuolumne and then head to Devil’s Postpile National Monument. But a Google Maps misstep on the way up to Yosemite had us remapping our routes and so we entered from the west at Big Oak Flat. From there, it was only about 20 miles. Being so close, we had to pay a visit to one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Yosemite Valley is the most visited area of the park, and for good reason. Powerful granite walls and evergreen dominate the valley landscape, with massive waterfalls cascading down imposing cliffs. Many of Yosemite’s most famous landmarks are found in the Valley. Even the Tunnels on Wawona Road leading in are iconic. In every direction, there is great beauty- and much exploration fun.
Half Dome is probably what one thinks of when they think of Yosemite. This towering granite structure was formed by geologic uplift and erosion and is a prominent feature in many Valley views. We didn’t even get close to it from where we were, and we were still in awe of its size. At 8800 feet above sea level and 5000 feet above the valley floor, it is a sight to behold. Half Dome can be hiked by permit only and is an incredibly strenuous hike. Emily and I were supposed to attempt it last year, but the Yosemite fires made it impossible. We hope to one day attempt it; though as I write this, the part of me that fears heights is quivering.
El Capitan is the other massive granite structure in the Valley. El Capitan rises over 3500 feet from the Valley floor. El Capitan is also a popular climbing spot for experienced climbers. To me, it looks terrifying, but for those more adventurous, visit nps.gov for more information, along with a guide to do’s and don’ts.
Bridalveil Fall stands opposite El Capitan. These falls are truly spectacular and took my breath away. It is the first waterfall we saw as we came into the Valley. An easy hike starting at the Bridalveil Fall parking lot will take you to the base of the falls.
Yosemite Falls is, at 2450 feet, the highest waterfall in North America, and one of the tallest in the world. The falls are visible around the Valley, with especially good views at Yosemite Village. We took the easy hike to the Lower Falls. The mile-loop trail was gorgeous and green, and best of all flat. The girls and I were pretty tired from the day’s activities, but a trip to the Lower Falls was refreshing. It was amazing feeling the spray from one of the world’s tallest waterfalls.
The photos don’t even begin to do justice to the beauty of the Yosemite Valley. It is truly a special place, and one that is best experienced.
Some things to consider:
Shuttle service runs during the summer months, with stops at landmarks and trailheads. We were lucky to find a parking spot at Camp 4, but parking is scarce compared to the number of visitors. I would strongly recommend using the shuttles as much as possible.
All of Yosemite is bear country. This national park is home to a few hundred black bears. Be sure to follow proper food storage. For a day trip, keeping food out of sight in your locked vehicle is okay. If you’re camping, be sure to store your food and anything with a scent, such as soaps and toothpaste, in a bear locker or bear canister. Bears will go to great lengths to obtain delicious people food so these precautions are to our benefit as well as theirs. For our day trip, we kept our supplies hidden in the trunk.
Please follow Leave No Trace principles. It took millions of years of geological, hydrological, and biological processes to form the Valley. It won’t take that long to ruin it if we are not stewards of this beautiful land. Be sure to dispose of trash properly. Stay on marked trails. And please keep wildlife wild. Don’t feed the animals and respect their habitats. Remember to take only photos, leave only footprints, and kill only time. May we keep it for future generations to explore and enjoy.
Have fun and enjoy the adventure. Yosemite National Park is a place like no other. There’s a lot of park that we want to visit again as well as places to explore for the first time. We’re already planning our trip for next year. Maybe we’ll see you there. Happy trails!
Photo credits: Emily Haas
For more information:
The information cited here came from both our experience and the guides given when we entered the park. These Park Service guides have been really helpful as we plan routes and explore our National Parks.