TRANSPORTATION: The Park is open 8am to 5pm daily. The free Shuttle Bus in Yosemite Valley is still down. YARTS from the Bug into the Valley and Amtrak are still up and running.
FOOD: Get trail lunches from the June Bug Cafe to take with you for the day since nearly all services will be closed.
FIRST DAY YOSEMITE VALLEY: Sightseeing, Hiking, Waterfalls & Overlook Point In Yosemite Valley
Valley Loop Drive for sightseeing: Half day. About 1 hour + bus ride around. Try to make the Tunnel View just a bit south on Highway 41 (or better to avoid the crowds park along the road on the left hand lot and take the Old Inspiration Trail up and away). You will want to walk and see Bridalveil Falls and Lower Yosemite Falls if you are traveling with children or elderly or pets. Remember you can also stroll at least part of the Valley Loop Trail instead of all of the above!
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike: Park at Camp 4 and take the switch backs up to Columbia Rock for a lunch with a view. Go further until too snowy to see the impressive Upper Yosemite Falls close up. Possible it will have a snow cone at the bottom on cold days. It’s a south facing warmer and sunny hike.
Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls: You can easily walk from Half Dome Village Parking Lot or Hiker’s Lot beyond it. Take the Mist Trail up (if it is open) and the John Muir Trail down. You can take children and dogs just to the bridge on a paved trail for a view of Vernal Falls.
Mirror Lake and Snow Creek Trail: Mirror Lake appears really to be a lake right now and will diminish through the summer. Take the Mirror Lake Loop Trail for a couple of hours under the impressive Half Dome reflection. Consider going up the Snow Creek Falls Trail at the end of the canyon for impressive views of Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest on the way up and at the point near the top of the rim.
SECOND DAY SOUTHERN YOSEMITE: Waterfalls, Sequoia Grove, Hiking, XC Skiing, Snowshoeing, and Historical Interest. Use this route going out to Los Angeles:
Badger Pass Snow Play: So Badger Pass Ski Area’s Cross Country Ski lot is open! Great for snow play for families, snowshoeing to Dewey Point, XC Skiing to Dewey Point or Glacier Point. The road will not be groomed so be wary of warmer temperatures. There are no services or rental at Badger Pass.
Mariposa Sequoia Grove: We recommend doing this as a day outing. This big Sequoia Grove is worthy of all of your attention with the trophy tree littered Lower Grove and the impressive full Upper Grove with a look out at the top over Wawona and the High Sierra. Catch it after a snowstorm and cross country ski or snowshoe up. The road is usually closed in the winter or after 6am so that adds two miles each way to the trek but you will be rewarded with solitude.
Wawona Covered Bridge & Pioneer Center: The bridge is 150 years old! The assembly of the historical cabins from the first superintendent’s cabin to the Wells Fargo cabin do excite. The stagecoach rides start Memorial Day. See the elusive Chilnualna Falls nearby with a three hour hike.
THIRD DAY WHOLE DAY NORTHERN YOSEMITE: Waterfalls, Sequoia Groves and Lake, Hiking. Use this route going out to San Francisco:
Tuolumne Sequoia Grove: This lesser grove is a mile in and a mile out on an old coach road. It may be busy but it’s worth the trek to see the trees. If just after a snowstorm take snowshoes. Merced Sequoia Grove is further out on Highway 120 toward San Francisco and is best done when snowy with cross country skis or snowshoes a mile and a half each way.
Hetch Hetchy Valley: An excellent warmer option for winter, Hetch Hetchy is a reservoir that serves San Francisco, but the lake and waterfalls against the cliffs are spectacular. Park near and walk across the dam and through the tunnel for the easy trail along the south facing sunny shore to view the three waterfalls!
FORTH DAY AROUND MARIPOSA: Merced River, Historical Interest, Hiking, Bicycling and Food.
At The Bug: Take the two hour Bug Loop trail in the daytime. It can be very difficult, slippy, wet, steep and narrow. Look for the green diamond marker directionals on the trees every 20 feet about 7 feet up and at intersections. Red markers are trails back to the lodge. The blue marker is a short cut halving the walk. The swimming hole is getting slower but listen for the water falls and trail that zig zags down to see anyway. If you get lost head back down to the Bear Creek and look up the taller slope at the Lodge. The arrows all start at the Amphitheater.
Merced River Wild and Scenic Area: From Briceberg Bridge upstream there is a single track trail for dogs or Mountain Bikes. You can also mountain bike or dirt bike up the Burma Grade going up right there or cycle downstream on the dirt road (5 miles each way) but go at dawn.
Mariposa Old Gold Town & Museums: Shop along the old 1850’s era block and see the Old Jail and the oldest operating western Courthouse. The Mariposa History Museum takes you back to the Gold Rush, whereas the California State Gem and Mineral Museum at the Mariposa Fairgrounds shows what was dug up here and the rest of California. Goings on around weekends at the bars and saloons in town, too. Do some road bicycling on the Old Toll Road from Bear Valley to Hornitos for some fun!
Unlike Galen Clark, I couldn’t tell you an Ash or a Blue Elderberry if it slapped me in the face during a hike. There are many trees in the Sierra I will not know for years. But I bet I am not much different than you for we all have our favorite trees, yes?
You can read a ton about Mr. Clark or his writings, but his inspiration for me is the determination to protect the Mariposa Grove of Sequoia trees he stumbled upon near his Wawona settlement. Outside of the immense respect I have of another hotelier making something from nothing, he clearly loved the land and the living trees around him. When you wander about the Upper Mariposa Grove where he had a cabin, still standing, you cannot help but be immersed in another plane of existence. It seems after the Lower Mariposa Grove and the drive, I am dragging others through the pre-dusk Sequoia forest when the orange red colors of the bark seem to glow in the half light. It is enchanting and worth any camera, including the most sophisticated, your eye.
For more colorful tales, you must come in the autumn. Sure, in California this season doesn’t seem to show up until the last minute in late October after a warm Indian Summer. But you know instinctively the color changes as the cold slowly spreads down from the peaks of the High Sierra into December. Yes, we have heard recently that the broadleaf trees are always yellow or red underneath the green at all times. That the chlorophyll the trees make is the green you see, and when the sunlight gets thinner the tree makes less of it to cover the other colors. Romantically, I prefer to believe the trees are giving their last shimmering display before the deep winter breath puts them in hibernation.
Outside of the Quaking Aspens & Cottonwoods up the Eastern Sierra’s canyons you must see when driving to or from LV or LA in October, you will find yourself focusing upon Yosemite Valley. This is for good reason since the fall colors in the Big Leaf Maple, White Alder, Black Oak, Pacific Dogwood & Black Cottonwood are easily accessible there. The first maple section on loop road alone makes you want to double park and walk down the centerline for the view. Give yourself the time and explore the entire or a few sections of the underrated Valley Loop trail to find the secrets you desire. Spend extra time at quiet & still sections of the Merced riverbanks.
At the Tunnel View parking area you cannot miss the lush spread of evergreens that appear to be freshly laid dark green shag walk-to-wall carpet of Yosemite Valley. Hiking up around Tuolumne Meadows during summer the Lodgepole, Mountain Hemlock & Whitebark Pine show you how they thin out and shorten closer to the tree line. Yes, in fact, you can never escape the cloaking, reassuring presence of the conifers about Yosemite. But it is winter that shows how very much alive they are. The mixed conifer forests about Wawona and Crane Flat trails are the most fascinating.
The Rockefeller Grove is a case in point. Though I want to send you there to look for a hidden grove of sequoias, what you must always be paying attention to are the specimen Sugar Pines, Jeffrey Pines, White Pines, Dogwood, Douglas Fir, White Fir, & Incense Cedar. The frosted Sugar Pine foot long cones are irresistible to touch. Rub and smell the sweetness of the sugary sap that drops off them and be happy. The nearby trail to Merced Sequoia Grove is also outstanding.
What comes down must go up, no? It is unclear why I see summer as the midpoint of the year, but I feel that is the way California is. The warmth slowly moves up from the blooming pink fruit & nut trees in the Central Valley. The first line of Blue Oaks come into view with the most true fresh green leafing buds opening up as you drive past the old barns & grazing cattle. The evergreen Live Oaks even have new bright red & green serrated leaflets further up the hill. Of course, the Black Oaks leafing above the Bug is what makes me the happiest, you can feel youth flowing in your veins. The flowers litter the ground everywhere shortly afterwards. Just follow youth all the way up to the highest peaks in July to hear the tiniest alpine flowers trumpeting for all animals to drop by for a visit.
In the land of fire we all understand the risks. The forest seems to to want to embrace the flame for health because regular low burning fires do help California forests. Look at the relationship the Sequoia and the Bristlecone pines have with fire. Both have seeds that need fire to open and help germinate. The red bark on the Sequoia has so much tannin it can resist the regular fires throughout it’s long life. Burn areas open ground to a variety of tree seeds that would find it hard to penetrate the forest floor cover. unless another tree fell over. You know you are in a healthy Western American forest when it is easy to wander through and get lost in your mind rather than in person. Well then at last, summers hot wind brings out the earthy resin-piney smell that Sierra forests emit just for you,
Yep, that’s what I like most about all these trees. The air is so fresh and healthy because they exhale the cleanest oxygen ever! Even the water seems to breath in all that sweet air while spraying over cliffs and sloshing whitewater over boulders to get as much of it is possible before becoming meandering laggard rivers on the flatlands and out to sea. But not before I get to frolic about in it’s refreshing and clear eddies below my home here at the Bug.
So there tends to be an itinerary in every summer visitor’s mind of what to see on their Yosemite vacation: A waterfalls, an elevated view of Yosemite Valley & a sequoia grove. This is, in fact, what we would recommend to any guest staying for 2-3 days. However, you might find such an itinerary reduced to this: Walking up to Lower Yosemite Falls (or Vernal Falls if you are adventurous), driving to Glacier Point for a scary look over the cliff, and walking through the Lower Mariposa Sequoia Grove to the Grizzly Giant and back.
We would like to believe our average guest may be somewhere between this description and a recreational rock climber. And though you may wish to climb up the cable to Half Dome once or twice in your lifetime, really you are looking to avoid the tidbits in summer every other chicken in the yard is crowding in on. Well read on then.
Yosemite’s High Sierra. TaDa!
There’s one day, at least, in your trip to enjoy in the rarefied air of the high country. You may encounter many hikers, but it is joyous. You come to say hello, or, er, chat, with another soul enjoying the sun and 12000′ mountain tops in your view. You are all here to be the 11% of park visitors who make it our of Yosemite Valley or off the road.
Let’s talk about he the Tioga Pass Road. Sure, it is two and a half hours over the Sierras, plus a bit more from the Bug. But you have made a wise and fulfilling choice. This road is closed up to 6 months of the year. You can stop and do the Tuolumne Grove near Crane Flat. A mile in and a mile out on the old road surrounded by 300 year old Sugar Pines to the Grove. There’s Olmstead Point & Tenaya Lake. My first sighting of a cute little Pika was in the scree below the viewpoint looking down on the lee side of Half Dome. You should take the little hike out to the real viewpoint. Note, at the other end of the carpark is a great view of Tenaya Lake & Piwiak Dome, my favorite in the Park.
Tenaya Lake. Hmmm. How many times have I asked myself to bring a sea kayak and paddle out onto that for hours to soak in various aspects of the view. On one occasion I have ice skated out and around, and it isn’t the same as from a car on the road. Eat lunch on his shores if a casual traveller. The walk about the lake is fantastic as is the Sunrise Lake Trailhead which is a starting point for Cloud’s Rest, my superior & easier replacement for Half Dome’s hike. Take the kids and lay upon the sunny beach at the far end while they romp and play in the water (just take your suncream since you will get more UV up here). The low angle granite rising from the lake can make a good future mountaineer of anyone well prepared.
Further up into Toulumne Meadows you have quite a few options. Take the time and plan this hike as your one hike of the day: Lembert Dome. Park at its feet and take the 2-3 hours left up and around. Take the short spur to Dog Lake for a refresh. Once on top you will see what Lembert does for Tuolumne Meadows: An elevated view of the High Sierra over a huge alpine meadow with the Tuolumne River running through it. Can’t be explained. Don’t leave your pack to far away in your reverie since you may find a marmot has found it and taken all of your lunch. Walking down and crossing the road a bit follow the meadow back and see Belding Ground Squirrels popping up to take a look at you. We love to mimic their bark to have them stay a few moments longer up on their hind legs.
There is Cathedral Lakes hikes if you have more time. Cathedral Peak will change faces for you on your journey. There are multiple Park views from points above & around the lakes worthy finding. You can go a bit further for views of Tresidder Peak and sit upon Columbia Finger for an inspiring rest above the world. Glen Aulin is a High Sierra Camp below White Cascades. It is a long hike but you have no need to complete it, you can turn around along the meadow at any time or you can make prior arrangements to stay there. Most of the elevation loss on this trail is near the end. Stop at Soda Springs and Parson’s Lodge on the way for a bit of history from the darks ages before the Park Service! Everyone should plan a 3-4 day backpacking trip further down the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne for one of the best backcountry hikes in the US in my estimation. Think a longer narrow Yosemite Valley all to yourself.
Mono Pass trail is the ancient Paiute trading trail with a view of all points east including Mono Lake with a small alpine lake at the top. Lyell Canyon heads in the direction of Devils Postpile near Mammoth as a backcountry hike, but I love the perfect glacier valley shape, the wildlife & the peace of the canyon itself. Perfect place to stare up into the clouds for hours (if there are any). There’s close by Elizabeth Lake and Gaylor Lakes from Tioga Pass.
We can talk all day about the steep East Side of the Sierras. It’s towns, hot springs, historical sites, ghost towns, canyons and bristlecone forests. If you are going to Tahoe, Vegas or LA, do NOT miss the summer opportunity to circle around the east side around after Yosemite. You will be happy.
We can still finish with the alternative options for falls, elevated views of Yosemite Valley & sequoia groves. So here it is: Vernal Falls runs all year, so take the Mist Trail up, and/or down with the John Muir to lunch up on top of the falls. You can go further for the just-as-beautiful Nevada Falls. Sentinel Dome is a nice one mile in and one mile out cheat for avoiding Glacier Point. It is spectacular for sunset and a bottle of wine. And lastly, yes, go the extra mile for the upper Mariposa Grove with to be surrounded by the giants and on to Wawona Point.
OR, take the easy similar walk down to the quiet Merced Grove, with its log cabin you will want to spend the rest of the year in. Maybe the rest of your life like me.
Hardly five months after we opened in ’96 we were cut off from Yosemite upstream because of a raging Merced River. On a very warm New Year’s Eve we were playing pool in t-shirts on the covered deck, both now gone, drinking great beer in celebration. The corrugated tin roof shot a stream of water from each low curve of the corrugation, making it like the old Tonga Room Hurricane Show. The storm was easily recognizable to a native Californian to be a Pineapple Express. This one had barreled up from Hawaii direction with a special blessing from El Nino and was now raining up to 12000 foot elevation where a early and large snow pack had already been dumped. You see old timer pictures of Central Valley towns under 20 feet of water and folks upon the roofs, but after a century and a half of taming the Sierra and Valleys you don’t think much of this kind of disaster. The first guest off to the park returned in short order to make it clear the river was up over the highway and impassable. What with tent cabins floating down the river, roads washed away and visitors in the Park cutoff for days because of this “100 year flood” it was a disaster to us. I hunkered down alone for three months awaiting an open road hoping to make it through without guests.
My favorite stories though were about water flowing on all parts of the Yosemite Valley floor. If not from the river, then from water flowing down from all the granite walls. Now THAT would have been a truly wondrous boast to say you had seen a waterfall stretch around the whole valley like a end of the world sci-fi flick! The rest of us, however will make due with the water falls that the late winter and spring provides us every year. For all the times a traveller will go out of his way to see one, a waterfall is clearly one of those entrancing natural phenomenon humans cannot resist. Now time that by dozens and you have a happy traveller!
Where to begin? Once you have seen tall waterfalls about the earth, you tire of looking up in wikipedia which is tallest in what way on what continent and how a new one has changed the boastful line-up. Sort of like Amundsen, Scott, Dawson or Shackleton, who remembers, they are all great!? Even in deference to storied Angel Falls, Yosemite Falls still holds my attention whenever I visit the valley. It’s the water mark on the cliff face when it’s gone by October that requires you to envision it anyway that makes me laugh at my own stare. The snow cone that develops through deep winter cold as water turns to ice on the falling journey. I have yet to carry a scoop, cup and cherry soda syrup up the upper Yosemite Falls Trail and clamber across the rocks at it’s base to make a statement but don’t count me out. Catching it at it’s highest flow and watching how it angrily shoots off that first outcrop trying to defy gravity and tossing out thunderous roar of water bashing itself against the cliff and talus must be experienced. Yes, you may think that taking you grandma or your dog to the Lower Falls paved trail is boring, but you must do it first! The Upper Falls trail is popular in winter because is is south facing and stunning from Columbia Point, it also leads you close to the Upper Falls in winter. In summer go to the top peering every other moment at the falling water and cross it at the top (over a bridge always for smart humans of course) and peer over victoriously! Until you see someone slack-lining nearby to the Lost Arrow Spire…
Now I could write a book about all the Falls in Yosemite so we will stick to my favorites, sure. Too bad so many are everyone else’s favorites like Vernal & Nevada Falls! First off, everyone who visits wants me to go see them too can any time of year. But in early summer on a hot day will I fail to tell them they will be soaked getting to the top. Only through having your sins washed away will you receive an epiphany about your existence at the sunny top. There you will ogle at the water rushing over the clean straight edge into the abyss clutching wisely at a steel pipe rail. A form perfect falls it is. For those who are adventurous, catch the Glacier Point shuttle bus from the Valley and do the Panoramic Trail from the Point, stopping to see Illilouette, Nevada and Vernal Falls down to the Valley in one stunning half loop.
Another exceptional falls walk is to the Wapama Falls in Hetch Hetchy. This place is a warmer, lower elevation,more winter than late spring excursions. These falls, like Yosemite Falls, make a warm winter day seem summery as only California can. Though this dam should have never been placed here, that event should not be held against the beauty it still offers. Any child inside would love the skip across the curved 1920’s design dam, into a dripping and puddled long tunnel perfect for laughing and whistles and exit upon scenes really made by artists like Parrish and Hopper. The Native Indian signage adds depth & wonder to the trek through their flooded home. As you pass the Tueeuala and then the more substantial Wapama. You can go further on the trek to Rancheria Falls, our favorite as swimming holes when the current is near nil. Possibly one day you could plan a five day Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne backpacking trip from Tuolumne Meadows mid-summer, stair-stepping all the way down through different unspoilt ecosystems, cooling off on the various holes and cascades, through burnt forests until you glimpse the super massive guard Kolana Rock reflected on the lake before it. Learn to keep an eye out for rattlers!
We could extend this blog upon the virtues of flaming Horsetail, sculpted Bridalveil, hidden Chilnualna, stair stepped Sentinel Falls and exhilarating Ribbon Falls, but you wouldn’t have much to explore for you next time! It seems everywhere you travel in this mountain range there are going to be cascades to entrance that basic part of you.
The other story I liked about New Years ’97 was about watching boulders the size of small houses bounce and smash against each other while being pushed down the steeper part below Arch Rock Entrance. The colossal rock vs rock collisions made bright blue sparks seen from deep below the raging grey water. You could hear the thunder each episode made through the wind, rain and whitewater decibels. Like the dangerous rockfalls that happen regularly enough in Yosemite, I am not sure I want to see that in person at all.
Any winter at Yosemite has snow. But the tiny sparkly glitter vying for your attention from the white blanket as you ski through a sunny meadow is the best that it gets. For all the stunning views you can get around this park in winter you still appreciate the true mountain meadow framed in hefty lodgepole pines and a cloudless cerulean blue sky the most. Surely it doesn’t hurt that the stunning silence interspersed with your heartbeat in your ears while looking about during the pause. It is all thrilling to embrace.
You can play at different venues nature has made available to you. Some have cool man-made perks to round it off. Let’s talk Badger Pass first. This old small ski resort is an oddity. Really not up to super wonderful mega resort standards or price, this place is still a little gem. Sure a fast pro downhill skier could get down that slope in a matter of seconds. Who cares? This place is made for the those who absorb rather than gulp.
I like bringing along someone who is need a new adventure, be it child or adult, to learn the basics in the universe of snowsport. An excellent place to learn and to goof off. Build your own jump before the staff makes a big one or find a tree zone with powder only you can get through. After you, of course, have thoroughly upset your pupil at the lift tops before he heads off to a more considerate and professional ski class offered much nearer the lodge. Don’t forget the extra refreshing beer stop somewhere in the day at the Snowflake Lounge.
For those adventurists who plan well you must look up Ostrander Hut, Dewey Point and Glacier Point Ski Hut starting at Badger Pass. All of these are worth the time and effort that will be extracted from you! Ostrander Hut has that winter hostel warmth, chatter and cosiness that make the eves and funs as the ski days. My best memories is a hilarious themed charades game we played once. After summiting the squat Horse Ridge you can see the stunning Mt Starr King and Clark Range in the High Sierra before you ski back down to the hut. When the lake outside the hut is frozen, circuit it in your skis during a pink and purple sunset or bring your skates if there has been little snow.
Dewey is a snowshoe destination from the Badger parking lot done in a day starting at dawn. We have taken many tours there to the narrow but spectacular winter Yosemite Valley view point. Everyone roundly comments upon the cool meadows we pass through near the beginning, grumbles under the heavy breath about a half mile from the point, ogles with joy and exuberance upon arrival, find new and imaginative words about their guides the last grueling mile back and then; showers us with accolades and beer upon our return to the Bug. We smile and laugh throughout. After all, if they just knew how to use touring XC skis, it would be half the time; but would you stop to see if the tracks are from Pine Martin, Deer Mice, Chickaree or White-tailed Jackrabbit?
Glacier Point Ski Hut is at the end of the 10.5 mile snow covered & groomed road from Badger. This trip on track skis or fun skate skis is exhilarating! Upon arrival at the hostel style ski hut, take your time with exceptional company that night, and track about the starry sky with cocoa in your hands. The stunning winter views of Half Dome and environs make the summer views seem cheap and unworthy of your heart.
The reason the Bug rents snowshoes is really for the Groves. Tuolumne Grove is the easiest on an old gradient road. For those inclined and do not get lost, go off trail downslope and stay above the creek until you wander into orange and green monsters in full contrast to the white powdery blanket. Merced Grove is half as much longer and steeper in part. But the peace and quiet with the nifty log cabin nestled under the big trees that draws you to investigate are worth the trip. For those who need something new, try the Rockefeller Grove of old sugar pines a bit further down the road.
In the Valley just after a heavy winter storm, yes, you can ski about the meadows and take the best pictures of your long life. In absence of that, however, the Curry Ice Rink is makes happiness several times a day. Where else can you skate under a Half and North Dome painted red with sunset! Take a break with coffee next to the fire pit and push yourself out for more happiness under the stars in a twirl.
Lastly and sadly, are the winter adventures I have not yet done. Years of stories about an old ski hut above Snow Creek, used commercially in the 20’s, squatted by hippies in the 70’s , boarded and locked up for years, this old place holds my imagination as a cross between Hansel & Gretel’s Gingerbread Witch Cabin and Sound of Music Meadow on Fungi. I ran into a friend who invited me up to the place midweek to ensure a spot to crash using skis and snowshoes. If this part is NOT updated by next February, you will know to join Yosemite Winter Club and do the Trans-Sierra Ski Trip which uses this cabin enroute from Tuolumne Meadows to find out what happened to me!
Well the Park Service generally closes the the Half Dome hike mid-October and opens mid-May, but since the forecast is so nice let’s talk about the other Domes. Just a reminder when you begin to look at conquering Half Dome after about May 15th, know that you will need to plan for a whole day, get a Permit and make beeline to the Spa’s hot tub when you return…
Many of you may not understand fully what a Dome is. It is a part of a large magma formation made underground generally near seismic subduction zones. When it slowly cools under pressure you get granite, usually mica(black), quartz(white) and feldspar(pink). The mica is usually identified down the watershed as fool’s gold. Anyway as that granite formation pushes up and/or eroded away on top. The pressure differences can help form Domes that bulb up and fracture like an onion peel. Think of the stone and ice layer pressure differencials causing this, also think of the steep Rio de Janiero domes that were under layers of salt and other stone.
Getting to the subject: the easiest Domes to reach for excellent views in summer and fall is Sentinel Dome off the Glacier Point Road & Lembert Dome off the Tioga Pass Road. The Turtleback Dome is the best for winter off Highway 41 Wawona Road up past the Tunnel View.
Sentinel Dome is the easiest way to get to a 360 degree view for the least effort. It’s still a mile in (unless you know the cheat parking area) and out. It’s worth giving yourself an extra two hours to see Taft Point as well on a loop. This is better than Glacier point in my mind, and less the crowds. Bring a lunch, dinner and a bottle of water and maybe wine. If a marmot eats through your unattended pack and takes your food, consider yourself lucky to see one. Any time of day really is great, but when there are cloud formations and a sunset looming don’t dawdle somwwhere else. You would swear you could see the entire park and every angle has something identifiable. And don’t forget the stars.
Lembert Dome is the largest Dome smack in the middle of Tuolumne Meadows. This four hour adventure has 600 foot gain. My fave route is parking below off highway in the Lembert lot in front and going left around to the top, then down the other side across the highway and follow trail along river back to car. That last section has Belding Ground Squirrel towns. They bark, whistle & stand like prairie dogs or meerkats. One day maybe I’ll be arrested for whistling back at them. Pop over to Dog Lake halfway through for a pristine alpine lake setting for a cost of 45 extra minutes. Do take your meal & water to the top and enjoy the elevated view over the Meadow and surrounding High Sierras. It is always amazing to me this part of Yosemite is taller and bigger than the Valley and the Sierras are still rising.
Lastly, when the snows close first the Tioga Road, then Glacier Point Road look for Turtleback. It is a diminutive cousin, but snow or no, worth the 2 hour trek and a few hundred feet gain for an elevated & super winter view of Yosemite Valley and west towards the Coast Range. Take good boots or snowshoes, a meal and a camera. Few others have this perspective of a shoot, and remember looking west is usually clear in the winter with the Central Valley under a white fog blanket. There is a weather/communications station atop all this but it’s gotta be somewhere. Park on the long curve just past the Tunnel View tunnel southbound and look for the gate at the far end of the curve. Follow the small road to the top.
Okay, lastly, let’s talk about Half Dome. I do love that rock, and enjoy watching those hikers clinging to the cables either shivering in fear, sobbing, or flying up the cables and 2×4’s while on that last stretch. Frankly, no one like permits, but when peer pressure puts hikers who freeze and cling to the cables and holds up 300 others it is much better of a hike. Those who take the trouble to get the permit mean it. It is much more pleasant now. Go in May, September or October if you need to bag the trophy.
My advice in summer is to bypass Half Dome and do a daytrip or overnight on top of Cloud’s Rest. Cloud’s Rest is a fantastically staggering blade looking around the High Sierra at almost 10k feet any time around the clock counting domes at your feet. Most importantly it looks down upon Half Dome like a Mama Bear over a Cub. Start at Tenaya Lake and take a dip in Sunset Lake or a take throughway to Yosemite Valley. On the way down you can amuse yourself counting all the hikers on the way up to to bag a peak for Cub Scouts.
As you know there are tons of places to stop and check out Dome formations but they are especially easy to find from other Domes. Remember the top of El Cap is a Dome so maybe you should alter your Half Dome trek schedule next year. Tuolumne Meadows & Tenaya Lake with Olmstead Point give you picturesque Domes to frolic about and stare at.
And lastly, my secret happy place is up past Mirror Lake and up Snow Creek trail to the tree-line or to the rim depending upon time of year and stare down a massive Half Dome up close & face to face staring contest. It brings a tear to my eye every time, so I have to blink.
The magic intonation I did the night before to wake up before dawn happened without my taking it seriously enough to set an alarm! Wow. A sign from the river pixies to go cycling along the Merced: I hear thee. Anyone familiar with Briceberg, the super cool mini Bay Bridge there, it’s great swimming beaches and it’s raw natural beauty know where I am going. A few miles downhill from the Bug. Park at the Day Use Area this side of the Bay Bridge.