“No temple made with human hands can compete with Yosemite,” John Muir once wrote. And I have to agree. I lived in California until I was 21 and have no idea how I managed to miss out on this heaven on earth National Park in my youth. I can’t emphasis how incredible and beautiful it is, most of the time I felt a rush of awe to my core as if my soul was being wiped clean. I know this sounds outrageous, it just really had an effect on me that I’ve never experienced. I climbed to the top of Vernal Falls, took in the scenic reservoir scapes of Hetch Hetchy and hiked Four Mile Trail admiring the fall palette of cinnamon, rust, citron and lime; there were fire scars, but it didn’t diminish the epic beauty of the place. Going in the off season gave the park an aura of peace that added to my wonder…Here are my thoughts, if you’re looking to plan a trip!
We stayed at the Evergreen Lodge, a delightful rustic-chic property that offers cabins of all sizes, plus a lovely heated pool and hot tub area with views. We adored this place, though it's about a 70 minute drive from key attractions and hikes. One day, we’ll consider staying at the posh Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly called Ahwahnee) or the more low key, Yosemite Valley Lodge because they’re near so much and that will save us hours of driving so we can focus on hiking. Honestly, the driving wasn’t bad, as the vistas were pretty, but in peak season, I can’t imagine what the traffic is like.
Restaurants in and outside the park are limited, but one bonus, most of the places have vegan and other very healthy offerings, which was a great surprise. We had a nice lunch at the Priest Station Cafe on the outskirts, before we made our way to Hetch Hetchy. After a 7 mile hike, we had a leisurely lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Dining Room; this turned out to be one of our favorite experiences. We were amazed by the intact vintage lodge interior, were seated in the sunny alcove with huge windows and they had a pretty impressive wine list. Also, for film trivia buffs, interiors of this hotel were adapted for The Shining; the designers incorporated the lobby, elevators and Great Lounge into sets for the Overlook Hotel. Finally, another reason we enjoyed staying at the Evergreen Lodge is because they have a tavern, restaurant and general store, all of which had pleasing options. After long days of driving and hiking, having a hearty, delicious meal before catching some z’s was essential.
- Glacier Point and Four Mile Trail - it’s a long drive and there are major fire scars, but the summit is out of this world and the hike highlighted some of the park’s most gorgeous attractions.
- Vernal and Nevada Falls hike - this was a rigorous, but wildly rewarding hike with beauty all around.
- Tunnel View at sunset - it’s a very worthwhile stop. I learned that late afternoon is better for photo opps; it was true and I was happy we heeded this advice, as we got great pics.
- Hetch Hetchy, the dam and hike to the Wapama Falls - a less popular stop, but not lacking in jaw dropping sights. It’s free to get in and way less crowded than more famous park attractions.
- Teyana Lake and Tuolumne Meadows - stunning wide open spaces that take your breath away.
- Mariposa Grove - bummed we missed this stop, we're planning on going next summer.
- Visiting the area in the off season has a lot of benefits. First off, booking a room at an affordable rate is easy and great for budgets. Second, the fall colors are spectacular. Thirdly, there is no road traffic and the trails are relatively quiet.
- My favorite resource for researching our trip was Earth Trekkers, this amazing family puts a ton of time into describing how to have the best Yosemite experience, loved it!
- Bring snack bars for the hikes, we enjoyed munching on Epic and RX bars.
- Wear real hiking shoes not just sneakers, it made the trekking so much more safe and comfortable.