“The mountains are calling, and I must go”
Standing and gaze at the awe-inspiring scenery in Yosemite National Park and you’ll understand why John Muir, founder of the US National Park, uttered these beautiful words.
As you begin your journey to Yosemite you’ll find yourself wanting to stop at every opportunity to take in every inch of your surroundings. We were awe-struck before we even got there, the landscapes just kept getting better and better.
We were on a 16 day road trip around California and had a very big list of things we wanted to see. In all honesty, we weren’t expecting Yosemite National Park to be quite so breath-taking. We put it on the itinerary mostly because of my lifelong love of Ansel Adams’ photographs – we were in the area so we may as well make a quick stop in Yosemite.
I’m not ashamed to say we massively underestimated the beauty of Yosemite. Mark my words – we will be back!
In one day we were only able to scratch at the surface of what Yosemite has to offer, but if one day is all you have then read on for my tips on how to make the most of it.
Where to stay
We stayed outside of the National Park (due primarily to our limited budget!) in a cabin to the West of the park. Part of the Yosemite Ridge Resort, our cabin was modest and simple but gave us everything we needed.
We arrived late and found our food options were very limited. We had planned to have a BBQ at the cabin, but didn’t come prepared and found the only options in the local store were canned hotdogs. After a quick change of plan we found ourselves in a quaint little diner down the road – Buck Meadows Restaurant and Lodge – where I discovered the wonder of a Philly Cheesesteak!
Get up early
We were up and on the road at about 5am – it was a struggle that was more than worth it! It was about an hour’s drive before we got to the really good stuff.
On the ascent up to Glacier Point we kept pulling over to take in the view. I can’t tell you exactly where we stopped or what we saw, but I think that’s part of the magic. No expectations just embracing every moment.
We did stop at Tunnel View but unfortunately timed it at the exact same time as a few coaches, so we moved on and vowed to stop again on the way back down.
Just before we reached our destination, we stopped at a lesser known viewpoint – Washburn Point. I might be biased here, but I think the view from here was more spectacular than Glacier Point.
Okay, confession time – Washburn Point is actually where Rich asked me to marry him, so it’ll always be very special to us – but trust me, it’s stunning.
There’s no two ways about it. Glacier Point is stunning.
Had we had more time, we would’ve done the 4 mile hike from the valley. If, like us, you don’t have time for that – you absolutely have to drive up there.
Not only was it the most spectacular view, we saw so much wildlife. Deer walking through the woods, as brave as anything, and so many birds it made me wish I’d packed binoculars (tip – pack binoculars).
I can’t describe it. Just make sure you go.
Tunnel View and Bridalveil Fall
We made a few quick stops on the way down from Glacier Point. Again, we didn’t have a specific plan but we managed to pick out some really great places.
Tunnel view is an obvious but essential choice. It’s a bit of a cliched and overly photographed stop, but the nice thing is it’s right on the side of the road so really you can stop off, tick the box, take the photo and be back on your way in a matter of minutes.
We followed signposts to somewhere called Bridalveil Fall having absolutely no idea what to expect – a waterfall, perhaps?
It was stunning. A quick scramble over some rocks and we were at the foot of the waterfall. We also had a bit of a wander through the woods here, I just love the giant redwoods, they’re like nothing I had ever seen before.
Our next stop was Yosemite Village for breakfast. We went into the General Store and then picked up Muffins and Juice for breakfast. By this point the temperature had really picked up so we had a quick change of clothes and carried on exploring.
We had a look around the exhibitions in the village – learning about the geology, history and how to identify local wildlife. Of course, we also had to have a look at the photography exhibition, including images from the man who first sparked my interest in photography – Ansel Adams.
From the village we took the short hike to Yosemite Falls. Again, it was starting to get busy with other visitors but it’s still worth the stop.
The next stop on our big road trip was South Lake Tahoe, so we were exiting Yosemite to the east. That meant we got to drive the awesome Tioga Pass! It’s a road that’s closed half the year due to snow – and you can really see why. As far as beautifully maintained American roads go, this one is wild.
The route we took went from west to east, right through the middle of Yosemite. The diversity of landscape is phenomenal and we just wouldn't have seen that if we stuck to the village, so make sure you get out and explore!
We actually got held up at some roadworks and were parked up for a good 45 minutes waiting for our turn to go. This turned into one of our best stops as it really made us just hop out and explore. We weren’t in a particularly picture-postcard part of the park, but we spotted all kinds of flora and fauna. It really allowed us to step back and soak it all in.
If you can, find a spot to just relax a bit. Look at your surroundings. Reflect on how tiny they make you feel. Think about lucky you are to live on a planet that is so breathtakingly beautiful.
Embrace the journey
Just being able to drive through this incredible National Park should be seen as an adventure. Embrace the road trip attitude, it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey.
Partly because we were just winging it and partly because I had no intention of ever really writing about it… I don’t know where we stopped.
We just kept pulling off the road when we saw something that looked interesting - from little lookout points with great views to ice cold lakes to paddle and swim in.
It was on these stops that we found a marmot just chilling in the rocks, and spotted all kinds of beautiful birds.
Sometimes the best stops are the ones you don’t plan.
Yosemite, you are incredible. We’ll be back.