During our 2-week road trip of the West Coast, we decided to take two nights to go inland east to visit the beautiful Yosemite National Park! I have heard nothing but AMAZING things about this National Park of ours and of course everyone knows about the infamous El Capitan and Half Dome, so those were “must-sees” of mine. I wanted to see all of it in just 2 days and nights, but I quickly learned that this beautiful park deserves much more time. Yes, you can technically see “the highlights” of Yosemite in two nights, but to truly experience it the way it deserves to be experienced; I would highly recommend at least five nights, if not a full week as this park is HUGE. Next time my husband and I go, we will be there for at least seven days! As after visiting this first time, I have added things to do in this park to my mile-long bucket list.
What is Yosemite National Park? Yosemite National Park became an official “National Park” on October 1, 1890. This massive park is in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and is famed for its giant, ancient sequoia trees and for Tunnel View which is an iconic vista point of towering Bridalveil Falls and the granite cliffs of El Capital and Half Dome. Within its nearly 1,200 square miles resides more than 400 species! Some believe that Yosemite National Park was our nation’s first national park, when it was our nation’s third national park, but it did spark the idea of national parks. Continue reading for a breakdown of our incredible visit and for some amazing facts about this beautiful park of ours.
Our drive from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park was about 4-hours long or 170 miles. We started our day at 5:00 AM to make sure we arrived at the park with more than enough time to explore at least one part of the park and enjoy our lodge for a bit.
Once we got to the park, we drove directly to Glacier Point where the views of the infamous Half Dome were said to be the best and boy was that true!
What is Glacier Point? Glacier Point is an overlook with amazing views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Yosemite’s high country. All the below photos are taken from our visit to Glacier Point.
Even though we did not want to leave here, we departed for our stay at the beautiful Tenaya Lodge. Tenaya Lodge is located just 2 miles outside of the southern area of the park (as there are only a handful or places to stay within the park itself) and was about a 45-minute drive from Glacier Point. More about this wonderful resort below. We had a very early morning the next day, so we enjoyed ourselves the rest of the day at the lodge.
The next day we woke up at 5:00 AM to get out into the park early to enjoy this full day of ours. Driving through the park is quite the destination within itself. We could have driven around for hours taking in all the views. At times, we drove through devastated areas of the park which have been burned by wildfires which was sad to see. Our first stop in Yosemite was Tunnel View!
What is Tunnel View? Tunnel View is a scenic viewpoint that Ansel Adams made famous. Ansel Adams was an American landscape photographer and environmentalist known for his black and white images of the American West. He ended up living most of his life in Yosemite.
Tunnel View is a MUST stop for anyone visiting Yosemite Valley. To get there, you must drive through Wowona Tunnel which is the longest highway tunnel in California at 0.8 miles long. Construction of the tunnel began in 1930 and cost $850,000 at the time which is equivalent to a cost of $12.5 million today! The tunnel was blasted through solid granite bedrock on the mountainside requiring 275 tons of blasting power. This famous tunnel transports you to Tunnel View and Yosemite Valley and let me tell you, there is nothing more spectacular than driving through the tunnel and ending up on the other side with the most majestic views of Yosemite appearing right in front of your eyes.
Tunnel View gives you views of El Capital, Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Valley all with Half Dome in the background. It was truly remarkable! After taking in the views of Tunnel View, we decided it was time to make our descend into Yosemite Valley.
What is Yosemite Valley? Yosemite Valley is a glacial valley in the park. This valley is drained by the Merced River, and several other streams and waterfalls that flow into it including Tenaya, Yosemite and Bridalveil Creeks. It is famous for its many famous cliffs and waterfalls. Within the valley, there is also a visitors’ center, a Yosemite Museum, a Valley Wilderness Center, the Happy Isles Art and Nature Center and the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center. There are several beautiful viewing points within the valley along with hiking and biking trails!
By the time we made it to Yosemite Valley it was lunch time, so we figured why not take in these beautiful sites with a little picnic in the valley? Before we left Tenaya Lodge for the day, we stopped at one of their cafes and grabbed a couple of drinks, sandwiches, chips and fruit to take with us for lunch as we knew we were going to gone all day. After walking around the valley for a bit we found the perfect spot by the river.
Did you know that in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln took time away from military matters long enough to sign a two-paragraph bill that would change the course of American landscape forever? The Yosemite Land Grant was the first ever to set aside land for preservation and the public’s enjoyment. It set the precedent for the creation of Yellowstone as the nation’s first national park in 1872. This Grant Act is seen as the birth of America’s national park system. Lincoln never got to visit Yosemite, but he did gift this Maple Tree to the park and it still stands extremely beautiful in the park today!
After walking around the valley, we decided it was time to watch some rock climbers climb the infamous El Capital. We could have sat in front of El Capitan and watched these climbers ALL day… even though you can BARELY see them without binoculars. Without binoculars, they looked like tiny specs that you can almost not see unless they were wearing some kind of bright clothing.
Did you know that at more than half a mile high and 1 mile wide, El Capitan is the tallest exposed vertical face of granite on earth? It is more than TWICE the height of the Empire State Building which is 1,250 feet tall!
Did you also know that in 1957, El Capitan was first climbed by Warren Harding? It took him 45 days over the course of a year using fixed ropes and gear air to conquer the wall. Today, climbers average 3-5 days to reach the summit using ropes and hanging cots attached to the wall for sleep and resting purposes. BUT in 2017, Alex Honnold was the first climber to ever ascend the face of the wall 100% WITHOUT ROPES! It took him only 3 hours and 56 minutes from base to summit. You can watch his amazing story in the popular film/documentary, Free Solo.
After watching these amazing climbers make their way up this wall of granite, we walked down to a view of Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan to take in this different vantage point. Have you noticed a trend here? There are many unreal views throughout this beautiful park. That is what makes this park so very special. It is pure, natural, untouched beauty.
In the distance from this view is Bridalveil Falls which you can BARELY see the falls this time of year because the water was beginning to freeze with it being almost wintertime.
These views were up there with being my favorite of the park but there is NO way for me to choose a favorite here. After taking in this beauty, we made our hour drive back to the lodge for an early dinner and night since we had another early morning of driving the next day but boy was it hard to leave this place.
Tenaya Lodge is where we resided both nights of our stay. The lodge is an all-season resort nestled in the mountains only 2 miles from Yosemite’s south gate. Tenaya offers lodge rooms and suites, cottage rooms and two-bedroom cabins, multiple restaurants, spa services, indoor and outdoor pools, and millions of acres to explore right off the property.
The hotel fits in perfectly with its surroundings and the décor has you feeling like you are in a true mountain lodge (because you are!). The staff at the hotel have noted that they have seen mountain lions and even bears right in front of the hotel but do not worry! They always have security out there making sure the guests are safe.
If I have not yet convinced you that you need to visit this park ASAP, I am not sure what will! To reiterate an opinion of mine from earlier, this very special National Park deserves MUCH longer than just a 3-day visit and that is why I am so very excited for our next visit because there are so many hikes, so many animals to see, so many other insane views to take in and this trip was just the beginning for us!
Yosemite is “By far the greatest of all the special temples of nature I was ever permitted to enter” – John Muir
Interested in learning more about Yosemite National Park or ready to plan your own visit? Contact Christine Wolff to start planning your trip today! Call 314-439-5700 ext. 134 or email her!
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