Explore Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is a pretty magical place, full of adventure and beauty. Our family spent part of a week in this national park and the memories we made won’t be forgotten. You really could visit multiple times and see something different every time. The highlights of our trip included short day hikes in the mornings and evenings and swimming since it was so hot.
We came into the park on the northwest side through the Big Oak Flat Entrance. Prior to that on Hwy 120, about 2 miles after passing through Buck Meadows we stopped at the Rainbow Pools. This 20 foot tall waterfall was the perfect place for our kids to cliff jump and for us to cool off in the heat of the day over a picnic lunch.
We opted to stay in the park so that we could have the most time exploring and less time driving in from accommodations outside the park. Yosemite is absolutely huge and the winding roads through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, make travel time even longer. Even with summer crowds, because we hiked in the early morning and evening, we missed most of them and took advantage of slightly cooler temperatures.
Our first night we drove up to Glacier Point to watch the sunset over Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. It was magical to watch the stars come out over this breathtaking valley.
We spent the majority of out time around Yosemite Valley since it was our first trip. As we drove into the valley, we first stopped at the Tunnel view scenic lookout which gave great views of El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls. Our next stop was the base of Bridalveil Falls. It was a short hike to the boulders at its base and then we started climbing over the rocks so we could get to the pools for a swim. Our kids loved this hike and felt pretty adventurous.
We continued on through the valley, stopping at the visitors center and museum to get out of the heat of the day and to learn about the history of the national park. I spent quite a bit of time in the Ansel Adams Gallery - one of my first photograph art prints was of Adams’ Half Dome and it’s what got me interested in photography as a teenager.
Another great hike was to the lower and upper Yosemite Falls. We didn’t want to miss seeing the tallest waterfall in North America. It was hard to believe that it was almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building, but everything in Yosemite is big. It’s like everything in this amazing valley got super-sized.
The Merced River cuts through the valley and we stopped at the Cathedral Beach Picnic Area along it’s shores. There are glacial deposits of sand along the river, which contrast with the vast amounts of granite you see everywhere. It was a perfect place to picnic and swim in the heat of the day. It was also right within view of El Capitan and the views form the meadow are so peaceful.
As you loop through the valley, on your way out you can stop at the Valley View lookout on Northside Drive and enjoy the peaceful view of the Merced River at the base of El Capitan on one side and the Cathedral Spires on the other.
We left the park through the south because we didn’t want to miss the Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoias. Their age (over 3000 years old) and sheer width and heights was fantastic and made you appreciate your place in this world as you hiked through this forest among the largest living things on earth.
Our family came away from Yosemite with a great appreciation for how incredibly vast, beautiful, and diverse this region is.