Happy Trails - Yosemite

Phillip Brents

Thu July 7, 2016 11:05am

Yosemite National Park is the crown jewel of California’s natural park system. The 747,956-acre (1,200-square-mile) wilderness preserve is located approximately two hours from Fresno and is about an eight-hour drive from anywhere in San Diego County. The 450-mile journey from Chula Vista is well worth the time and money.
The park is open 24 hours year-round and reservations are not required to enter the park. However there is an entry fee of $30 per car ($25 in November and December) and the pass is good for one week. It is advisable to arrive by mid-morning during summer months to avoid traffic. It is possible to enter the park at night, though you’ll have to pay on your way out.
An annual pass providing free entrance to Yosemite for 12 months from the date of purchase is $60.
The most direct route from San Diego County is Interstate 5 to Highway 99 (over the Grapevine) to Highway 41 (Fresno).
There are 13 campgrounds in the park, seven of which are on a reservation system. It is essential to have reservations from April through September. Reservations can be made up to five months in advance. If you are unable to secure a reservation, the park has six non-reservation campgrounds available on a first-come, first-served basis.
However, due to the park’s extreme popularity, these non-reservation campgrounds usually fill by noon. Call (209) 372-0266 for campground information or visit the website at www.recreation.gov.
Private campgrounds outside the park, including hotels, are also available (www.yosemite.com/where-to-stay).
The first view of Yosemite is usually through the Wawona tunnel entrance on Wawona Road (Highway 41) and the overlook. Once exiting the 4,233-foot-long tunnel (the longest highway tunnel in California), the view is spectacular. One can take in a striking panorama of Bridalveil Fall, the famous Half Dome in the distance and the massive granite monolith El Capitan that straddles the white rapids of the Merced River below.
The overlook is especially popular at sunrise when the sun lights up various landmarks as it climbs higher into the sky. On some chilly mornings, ground-hugging mist defines the course of the Merced River that meanders through the valley.
Noted naturalist photographer Ansel Adams made the tunnel view famous with his iconic monochrome photograph taken in 1935 (the tunnel, bored through a granite mountain, was completed in 1933 and a $1.5 million upgrade was completed in 2008).
High cliffs, deep valleys, tall waterfalls, ancient giant sequoias, mirror lakes and vast wilderness tracts beckon the visitor.
There are three groves of giant sequoias in the park, including Mariposa Grove near the Wawona entrance and two more at higher elevations. Wawona Grove, which is accessible by automobile, is currently closed until spring 2017 due to a restoration project. The Toulumne and Merced groves require two- to three-mile hikes to reach them.
The glaciers that carved Yosemite Valley more than a million years ago left many hanging valleys that spawned the waterfalls that pour into the valley. Bridalveil Fall, one of the park’s most prominent waterfalls, stands 617 feet in height and flows year-round. Visitors can access its base but be advised that a sudden shift in the wind can lead to a thorough drenching.
The even larger Yosemite Falls can be viewed on the way to and from the visitor center. This is the highest waterfall in the park with a drop of 2,425 feet. The falls consist of three sections: the Upper Yosemite Fall (one of the top 20 highest waterfalls in the world with a 1,430-foot plunge), the Middle Cascades (a series of five smaller plunges that total 675 feet) and Lower Yosemite Fall (the final 320-foot drop that flows into the Merced River and which provides the most accessible view of the falls).
The vertical El Capitan rock formation, emplaced about 100 million years ago and carved by glaciers about 1 million years ago, rises about 3,000 feet from the valley floor and has become the standard for big rock climbing and BASE jumping. There are other spectacular viewpoints in the park.
Glacier Point, at an elevation of 7,214 feet, may be the most spectacular viewpoint anywhere in the world with breathtaking views of the surrounding high country and Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome and three waterfalls. Glacier Point Road is usually open from June through October when it closes due to snow.
Olmstead Point, along Tioga Road in the park’s high country, offers an intriguing reverse angle viewpoint.
Tioga Road is open to cars from late May or early June to sometime in November. It is important to note that snow can be present well into early June and several upper-elevation areas of the park may be closed at any time due to inclement weather. Snow can be present above 9,000 feet and several alpine lakes are still frozen or partially frozen in June.
Tenaya Lake, located between Yosemite Valley and Toulumne Meadows, sits at an elevation of 8,150 feet and is a popular attraction for water activities. Visitors can kayak, canoe or sail on the lake and various species of trout can be caught in the lake.
Tioga Road also serves as a convenient exit route for a return trip to San Diego and further exploration of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountain range, nearby Mono Lake, Bodie ghost town, Mammoth Lakes resort, volcanic outcroppings and high desert Joshua tree panoramas.
There are more than 50 trailheads both in the valley on along the rim. Overall there are 750 miles of scenic trails to explore in the park. Special wilderness backpacking permits are required.
The Toulumne Meadows scenic area is popular with back-packers, rock climbers and hikers. The John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail — long-distance backpacking trails — cross through Lyell Canyon into Tuolumne Meadows. More than a dozen granite domes dot the region. This area is a gateway to the surrounding mountains in the Sierra Nevada at the park’s eastern boundary.
Mount Lyell is the tallest point in the park at 13,114 feet. The Half Dome cable ascent route has become extremely popular for climbers who wish to reach the top of the iconic park landmark. Permits are now required. The granite crest rises 4,737 feet from the valley floor.
Wildlife is everywhere in the park (95 percent of which is classified as wilderness) and includes bears, coyotes, mountain lions, bobcats, foxes and even bighorn sheep among numerous rodent, amphibian, and insect and bird species. There are special bear-proof trash disposals at the campsites and it is advisable to use them unless you are seeking an unwelcome visit during the night due to food left out on tables or in cars. Bears can easily rip open a car if they can get a whiff of something they find delectable.
Gas is available at Wawona, Crane Flat and El Portal 24 hours a day with a credit card. Gas is no longer available in Tuolumne Meadows nor in Yosemite Valley.
Besides the Wawona and Tioga Pass entry points, State Route 120 (Groveland) and Highway 140 (Mariposa) also provide gateways into and out of the park.