An All Access Day Guide to Yosemite

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I’ve never walked amongst giants, but I imagine that experience to be nearly half as epic as a day well spent in Yosemite National Park. I’ll come right out and say it - I’m not a nature gal. I lived in cities all my life (what’s up Singapore and New York)! My first hike? Probably when I was about 15 years old in Aspen, Colorado. Or perhaps it was at Arches National Park in Utah where I suffered a nose bleed. I was not built to be one with nature.

Over the years, I’ve made decent efforts to appreciate nature. Some of my friends are the most advanced wilderness explorers that I constantly find myself wondering, how are we even friends? (looking at you Jonathan). Regardless, I loved nature like my first celebrity crush - unattainable but pretty to look at.

I’ve lived in California for 7 years now. I’ve been on a handful of hikes, thanks to said nature loving friend, but give me a chance to travel somewhere and I’ll most likely pick a city. I’m still not sure what got to me, but on my 27th birthday, we decided to take a spontaneous trip to Yosemite National Park.

GETTING THERE

Starting off in San Francisco, Yosemite is a 3 and a half hour drive away. We left the city around 4pm, stopping over in Jamestown for a good night’s rest. We booked a room at the Sonora Country Inn. The booking costs $80 per night and a $15 pet fee.

The stay was decent. Nothing great, nothing terrible, just the necessities to get us through the night. What I did appreciate was the isolation of the location. It was quiet, peaceful, but not too far away from restaurants and take-out chains.

Although splitting the trip up is not necessary, we decided not to pack too much in considering we would only have one full day in the park.

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AND WE’RE OFF!

Our drive from Jamestown to Yosemite started at 7am on April 7th. It takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to make it to the park from the Sonora Country Inn. On the drive, we passed quaint little towns, but the real kicker are the hills you have to drive up. The views here are out of this world. Never mind Yosemite, just drop me off a pull out point for the rest of the day and I’ll be happy (only half kidding).

WE’RE HERE!

HOLY. MOLY. It’s real you guys. You know the wallpaper that comes with your Apple computer? It’s real. All jokes aside - Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. The park was still covered in snow, but it was closer to solid blocks of ice, rather than soft, fresh, powder. Still, it was gorgeous so long as you didn’t trip and fall.

READY, SET, GO!

OK. We had just this one day to get as much done as we could. Realistically, you shouldn’t limit yourself to one day in this park. It is way too vast to be explored in 24 hours. But Jared and I had to make do with what we’ve got, and if you only have a day to spend in Yosemite, I’ve got you covered.

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TUNNEL VISION

So you have 24 hours to tackle this beast. The first stop I recommend is TUNNEL VIEW. It gets packed quick which is why you should arrive early to beat the crowds. Luckily for me (and maybe you), no hiking is required. Simply pull up into the parking lot and walk up to the vista. From this point, you’ll be able to see El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall. The best time to visit would be in early spring, when we went! Not only is Bridalveil Fall at peak flow, but the domes are covered in snow.

Location: Wawona Rd, California.

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Be aware that cell service will be limited on your drive up there so plan accordingly!

THE BRIDALVEIL

Want to go chasing waterfalls? This is the simplest, easiest, hike that’ll achieve your waterfall goals. More like a nature stroll, the walk to Bridalveil falls and back takes approximately 30 minutes total. There’s a parking lot at the trailhead but it fills quickly! Just a hop, skip and jump away from Tunnel View, this hike will put you at the base of the falls so be prepared to get wet! There are paved walkways but be cautious, as it might be slippery due to the mist from the falls. Dogs are allowed on this trail but be sure they’re on leash!

Location: Wawona Rd, California. You’ll pass it on your way to Tunnel View, so just back track!

BATHROOM BREAK ALERT: Owner of a small bladder like yours truly? This is a great stop for that bathroom break before you head on for the rest of the day!

Wheelchair accessible: No, due to its grade.

BEYOND THE TUNNEL

Since we only had a day, we wanted to keep the hiking to a minimum and enjoy the views from the comfort of our little car. After our short hike, we headed back in the direction of Tunnel View and crossed the tunnel. From that point on, the views are just spectacular. There are plenty of points where you can pull off and enjoy the view. If you packed a lunch, this would be an amazing option for you to enjoy your meal with a view!

There are some great spots before your arrival to Tunnel View, but not a lot of options to pull over and relax in your car. These are more great photo opportunity spots!

Wheelchair accessible: Yes.

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SENTINEL MEADOW AND BRIDGE

Want to experience Yosemite Falls without enduring the long hike? Sentinel Meadow will give you that gorgeous view from the comfort of your vehicle! Sentinel meadow is vast and beautiful at every turn, it’s a great place to drive through to get a different view and feel of the park. If the opportunity allows, pull off to the side of the road near the Sentinel bridge and park. Walk along the bridge for another view of the majestic Half Dome.

Wheelchair accessible: Yes.

GETTING HANGRY?

I thought it would be important to include it in this post. My recommendation? Pick up some food, drive around the park, find a view you love (which will not be difficult), and chow down. We stopped at the Meadow Grill where we each ordered a sandwich and fries. Here’s a breakdown of your food options in Yosemite.

Meadow Grill

Meals: Lunch/Dinner

What they serve: Fries, burgers, sandwiches, soft drinks, hotdog, salads.

Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten-free options: Yes

Price: Most expensive item is $8, making this a reasonably priced option.

Pizza Patio

Meals: Lunch/Dinner

What they serve: Specialty and custom built pizzas, fresh salads, cold drinks including alcohol

Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten-free options: Yes

Price: Most expensive item a la carte is $8. Price varies on custom built pizzas.

Coffee Corner

Meals: Breakfast/Snack/Sweet treat

What they serve: Coffees, oatmeal, pastries, and ice cream in the summer months.

Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten-free options: Yes, but unsure about gluten-free.

Price: N/A

Half Dome Village Bar

Meals: Drinks/Cocktails

What they serve: Alcoholic beverages

Vegetarian/Vegan/Gluten-free options: Yes, but unsure about gluten-free.

Price: N/A

I highly recommend packing your food if you’re able to. Not only is this a more environmentally friendly option (if packing in reusable containers), it is also budget friendly!

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MIRROR, MIRROR.

Hiking to Mirror Lake was probably the most involved and physically demanding thing we did in Yosemite. But after that lunch, we needed it! It’s a gamble with this hike, but you have options!

Option 1: 2 miles round trip to the lake and back.

Estimated hike time: 1 hour

Difficulty: Easy

Option 2: 5 miles loop around the lake.

Estimated hike time: 2-3 hours

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Option 1 ends at a paved trail, whereas option 2 keeps going into more rocky terrain.

We went with option 1 due to time constraints and Lila. Mirror Lake has little water throughout the year, but it’s at its fullest in spring to early summer. When the water is calm and still, the lake reflects the surrounding cliffs and trees, giving it its name. To be quite honest, the hike up was not that pleasant since it was pretty muddy and wet. The lake itself is gorgeous so in the end, it was all worth it.

This trail is dog friendly (leashed) only for the first paved mile. Because we went in the spring and it was tick season, we decided to carry Lila for the entirety of the hike. 11 lbs will feel like 100 after 1 hour and rocky terrain.

Wheelchair accessible: No, but those with accessibility needs can take the restricted road to the top of the trail. This road runs parallel to the hiking trail.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Alright guys - before I wrap this post up, I’d like to mention a couple of more “must-sees” of Yosemite that we did not get to experience due to the snow. It is ALWAYS important to check for updates on trail/road closures if you’re travelling to Yosemite from autumn - spring. Here are a list of attractions you should check out:

  • Glacier Point

  • Mariposa Grove

  • Yosemite Falls

    • Lower falls hike is wheelchair accessible

    • Upper falls hike looks insane but so beautiful (YouTube it)

  • Tioga Pass

MONEY TALK

In total, our day trip to Yosemite costs us under $100 per person (for 2 people). Here’s the breakdown!

1 night at Sonora Country Inn: $40 per person + $7.50 pet fee per person ($95 total)

Gas to and from San Francisco - Yosemite: $40 per person ($80 total)

Food: $10 per person

Total: $97.50 per person.

Where you can save: skip the night over in Sonora Country Inn + pet fee and you’re down $47.50 per person. Want to travel with friends? You’ll be able to cut down on gas costs. Want to spend more time in the park? Consider camping for cheaper lodging options.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I can’t believe it took me this long to finally visit Yosemite. I’ve always made excuses like “I’m too busy” or “It’s too far”. Thankfully, Jared was down for a quick adventure and though I wish I had more time to spend in Yosemite, I’m glad I had this one day! If you’re planning a trip to San Francisco, I could not recommend taking a day trip to Yosemite more! Yes, it might be a lot of driving (6 hours total if you decide to do it all in one day), but it’s unlike anything in the world.

Til next time!

xx

Clare

PS: For road closures and more information, check out the National Park Service page on Yosemite here (click link)!

PPS: Please be respectful while visiting the park and clean up after yourself. If travelling with your dog, make sure they are on leash at all times and that they stick only to the trails that are permitted.