In honour of the U.S. National Park Service’s 100th Anniversary, I’ve introduced a feature called “Find Your Park,” named after the popular hashtag the NPS has been using this year to promote the parks. Each unique post will feature one of the U.S. National Parks that I have had the chance to visit.
Park: Yosemite National Park
Location: Yosemite Valley, California
Established: October 1890
Size: 748,036 acres
Annual visitors: 4,150,217 (2015)
Entrance fee: $30/vehicle/week
Times visited: 2
The first time I drove into Yosemite Valley I had some standard expectations. I had seen pictures and even videos of the area. My husband had certainly talked it up a lot and was very excited to bring me there. I figured I’d see the big walls, some rock climbers and lots and lots of tourists. What I didn’t expect was to fall so deeply for Yosemite, as so many visitors inevitably do.
Yosemite National Park is immense. Both times I’ve visited I’ve seen the high and the low country, and so am splitting my posts about this park into those two sections. There are two more areas of the park that I have yet to see: the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias in the South and the Northern section of Hetch Hetchy and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne.
For this week’s post I’m going to focus on Yosemite Valley, the central heart of the park that also draws the most tourists.
Yosemite Valley was first protected under theYosemite Grant in 1864 by Abraham Lincoln. It was the first instance ever of land being protected for nature’s sake by the U.S. Federal Government and would set precedence for future land protections.
We have John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson to thank for the Yosemite we know today. Yosemite was first governed as a California State Park. Muir and Johnson worked together lobbying the federal government to protect Yosemite as a National Park. In 1890 Yosemite became a National Park, however, the park remained under state control and therefore under reduced state-led funding.
With John Muir at their helm, the recently formed Sierra Club lobbied for increased protections for Yosemite. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Yosemite Valley and was rather infamously toured around by John Muir. A few years after his visit, President Roosevelt signed a bill returning the Yosemite Grant to federal control, and thereby increasing funding and protections.
As dry as history can be, these pieces are vitally important for the National Park Service we now know today. It also laid the foundation for other countries, like Canada, to create their own National Park structures.
When you first drive into Yosemite Valley it is easy to see why it became the first federally protected park in the U.S. Both times I’ve visited the Valley, I’ve approached from the north-west along Highway 120. While not as iconic a viewpoint as Tunnel View, I still love the first look at El Capitan and Half Dome as we wind down to the valley floor.
The first time I visited Yosemite Valley was in August 2014, and the second time was this past summer during the July 4th weekend. I’ve had about 5 days total now in Yosemite Valley, and still feel like I just scraped the surface.
For those thinking about visiting Yosemite Valley, my best piece of advice is to plan your visit well ahead. It is worthwhile to stay within the valley, which offers accommodations at campgrounds, tent cabins, or lodges. However, even the campsites need to be reserved well in advance of summer holidays. Our first visit we didn’t know just how busy it would be, and ended up camping a good 45 minute drive away.
There are a couple other activities that are best planned and reserved ahead of time. These include reserving a bus ticket to get up to Glacier Point, and renting bicycles. I also wish I’d known to bring my own inner tube to float down the Merced River (they sell them in the gift shops, but for a very unreasonable price!)
However, both our trips were planned a bit more spontaneously, and we still found a ton to do!
Our first visit to the Valley was after a backpacking trip from Tuolomne to the Valley. We were pretty tired and were looking for an easy way to spend our day. We decided to do some of the Valley Loop Trail. We left from Curry Village and headed toward Mirror Lake, which unfortunately was more of a puddle than a lake that year.
We tacked on the Mirror Lake loop, which brought us a short ways up Tenaya Canyon and below Half Dome. Next we visited the magnificent Ahwahnee Hotel (now known as the Majestic Yosemite Hotel). One day we hope to stay there!
After our visit to the hotel, we had lunch at Yosemite Village and wandered through the Valley Visitor Center. Finally, we caught one of the free shuttle buses to take us to a popular swimming hole along the Merced River.
For our second trip to Yosemite Valley we planned some bigger hikes, as we were in the last few days of training before leaving on our trip along the John Muir Trail. We hiked up to the top of Yosemite Falls, hiked the Mist Trail to the base of Nevada Falls, and of course swam in the Merced River. You can read more about those adventures HERE.
Yosemite Valley is unlike any other National Park area I have yet visited. It can be busy and crowded along the main thoroughfares, but you can still find surprising moments of quiet amongst the trees and meadows. There is a ton of hiking to do, as long as you’re willing to climb up and out of the valley floor. It is also not unreasonable to find a quiet place to relax and watch as the day’s light shifts on the walls and waterfalls. Do plan ahead, and don’t go in with any particular set of expectations. You really can’t know what Yosemite Valley may offer you on any given visit.
Bonus – Waterfall Videos