Yosemite is Situated near San Francisco, the Yosemite National Park a good three-four days to explore and trips here are often booked a year in advance. Still wondering whether Yosemite makes for the right vacation visit?
From Califomia’s City by the Bay – San Francisco – there are plenty of choices for a weekend road trip. To the north are the magnificent Redwood forests around Eureka, whereas to the south, the drive to Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway is a defining California drive. And exploring the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma form the inland are also a great option. But for wilderness and outdoor recreation or an adrenaline hit, venture 200 miles from San Francisco. The four-hour journey will take you to the Yosemite National Park.
A FANTASTIC DRIVE IN YOSEMITE
We started off on a brilliant spring morning with blue skies and just a smattering of cloud. Even though the navigation aid suggested the shortest route, I knew that I wanted to take the Highway 140 which is deliciously curvy and engrossing to drive, given that I had hired a Mustang – menacing in look and loud in voice. It was powered by a 3,71 engine that belted out 305 HP and had a roof that went down at the touch of a button. So there was no way that I was taking the short and boring road to Yosemite.
While the US highways are straight and featureless , what makes the San Francisco to Yosemite drive worth it all is the last section. Highway 140 enters the Sierra mountain region and swings its way along cliff edges and by the roaring Merced River. This mouth-watering road is a smooth ride, but highway patrol is omnipresent and they will pull you over and burn a hole in your wallet if you are speeding.
Covering approximately 3,110 sq km, Yosemite National Park was one of the first to be established as a wilderness park in the US. Designated so on October 1, 1890, the park was pronounced a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Every year, three to four million visitors experience the park. So huge and varying in altitude and vegetation is the park that when we arrived, the Tioga Road and the Big Oak Flat Road, that lead to some stunning locations such as the Mono lake and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, were still snowed in. That barely disappointed us actually, because the park has so much more to see.
FALLLING FOR THE FALLS
The afternoon saw us driving into the park through the EI Portal gate, headed towards the Mariposa Grove. On the way, we stopped at the Bridalveil Falls, so called because the sheet of white water shimmering down the rocks resembles a delicate veil of lace. The Ahwahneechee tribe that inhabited the area in the times of yore believed that inhaling the mist of the falls increases ones chances of marriage. Well, the park should have a priest at hand, because everyone who visits the falls cannot help but inhale the mist, as it surrounds the falls like a three dimensional humid halo.
You will find a rainbow, often, between the trees on the path leading to the falls, and it is this, along with the fine mist and the dull roar of falling water that makes visiting the falls a magical experience. We continued towards Mariposa Grove in Highway 41, which is also called the Wawona Road and were once again pleasantly surprised. This time, by a stunning viewpoint called Tunnel View at the east end of the Wawona tunnel. Probably one of the most photographed views of Yosemite, Tunnel View is a preview of the park in one pretty side. From here, we could see the park’s famous landmarks including Half Dome and EI Capitan, the two imposing granite mastiffs.
We finally got to Mariposa Grove which is near the park’s south entrance. No matter how tail you are, the Mariposa Grove will make you feel Lilliputian. Its 500 gigantic sequoia trees reach up so high into the sky that even when I titled my neck back to its maximum reach, I couldn’t see the top. The girth of some of the trees – which could easily be over 2,000 years old – was bigger than our hotel room. Mariposa Grove takes time to get to, but in my opinion, it is one of Yosemite’s highlights.
A PEOPLE’S PLACE
Back in the park by 10 the next morning, we headed to the Yosemite Village that is roughly the centre of the park. I was shocked, to say the least. The parking lot in the middle of the park was bigger than parking lots I have seen in malls in India. I couldn’t believe that those many people were already in the park. The Visitors Centre here a professionally run and they were able to help us plan our morning and afternoon activities.
You really don’t need your car once you have parked it. There are shuttle buses that run for free, doing loops around most of the popular spots. We hopped on to the Valley Shuttle Bus and spent the morning checking out lovely points like Mirror Lake, Vernal Falls and Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. The latter two were an invigorating trek to get to. By the time we got back to the Visitors Centre, it was early afternoon and the cafeterias, shops, the information centre and parking lots were teeming with visitors. At times like this, Yosemite may feel more like a little town than a national park. But, it is prudent not to forget that you are still out in the wild and you might just see a bear behind a tree.
THE WEDDING SEASON
It was a sunny day and rock climbers were gearing up to climb Half Dome. We took the EI Capitan shuttle and headed out towards other points like Swinging Bridge, Sentinel Beach and Cathedral Beach. That particular day, the mist of the Bridalveil Falls seemed to be working its magic, and there were many bridges and grooms rushing about. It seemed that Yosemite is a good place to get married.
Now that we had ticked off most of the places to see in and around the Yosemite Village, we rented bicycles. Cycling is a fantastic way to see Yosemite, we discovered. You can easily rent one for USD 9.50 for an hour or USD 25.50 for the day. Pack a picnic lunch and lots of water, and Yosemite is yours to pedal through at your own pace.
On the third day, weather took a serious turn and the mercury soared. Off came the fleeces and the jackets as shorts and T-shirts became the dress code. It was a perfect day for cycling and walking and we spent the entire morning doing just that. Needless to say, by afternoon, we were huffing and puffing like steam locomotives. An ideal way to cook down in Yosemite is to swim in one of its many rivers and water bodies. Swimming is permitted in all water bodies in the park except the Hetch Herchy Reservoir and above waterfalls. Much as I enjoyed jumping in the water, I realised with a rude shock that the water can be freezing cold, even is the day is hot.
In those three days at Yosemite, we packed in a heady adventure, burned a fair share of calories, spotted a bear and some very handsome eagles and stood by the gnarled trunk of a 2,400-year-old tree. I came back to San Francisco with a renewed body, refreshed mind and feeling more alive than ever. That is the magic of Yosemite.
Jet Airways, IndiGo, Air India, SpiceJet and Emirates are has flights to Newark. Several connecting flights to San Francisco are available from Newark.
BEST TIME TO VISIT YOSEMITE
Spring, summer, fall and winter, each season has its share of offering to the park visitors. The park’s website has details about highlights of the different seasons. Also, snow renders some roads unusable from November through May or June, so you want to watch out for that.
You can put up at hotels in areas near the park, or choose to spend nights inside the park. Lodging inside the park ranges from simple tent cabins to deluxe rooms at The Ahwahnee. Reservations are strongly recommended for busy summer months. Or else prefer Hotel Combined search window to Book your accommodation.
Visit the park office or tourist centre before you start exploring. The staff will guide you about how to spend your day to get the most out of Yosemite. Also, read up about what to do, should you encounter a bear.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Log on to www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm