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Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking to Denise Carrera, an Expedition Leader with Extranomical Tours. She is passionate and loves to talk about one of our country’s most beautiful national parks—Yosemite National Park. Even though Denise guides tours from San Francisco to Yosemite several times a week, it still doesn’t feel like work. As you emerge from the highway 120 tunnel and catch the first view of Yosemite Valley, Denise says, “It still takes my breath away.” I was so honored to speak to her and get the best tips for visiting Yosemite National Park. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home and that wilderness is a necessity.
– John Muir
Every year more than 4.1 million people visit Yosemite National Park and use its roads, hotels, tour guides and trails. If you are planning a trip at the peak of the summer, start planning your Yosemite vacation six months or more in advance. You want to give yourself plenty of time to book everything you plan to see and do. Hotels located in Yosemite Valley (e.g., Yosemite Valley Lodge and Yosemite View Lodge) are highly sought after and fill up well in advance.
Denise’s favorite time of year to visit Yosemite is in the late winter and early spring, when the snow blanket is melting and the park feels like it is coming alive. Waterfalls are peaking, flowers are blooming, and animals are coming out of hiding. The bears are up from a long sleep foraging to satisfy their famished bellies. More than 75 different species of butterflies call Yosemite home and they are fluttering all around during the spring. There aren’t many people in the park, so it is such a beautiful and peaceful time to visit Yosemite.
Winter – When you feel the stillness and majesty of Yosemite. It’s time for fun activities like skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and cross-country skiing. This season brings challenging driving conditions so it’s probably least stressful to hire a professionally driven tour bus. If you plan on driving, check the Yosemite weather forecast in advance to avoid closed roads.
Spring – This is the best time to visit Yosemite if you want to avoid the crowds and see waterfalls, wildlife, and flowers at their most abundant. Denise’s favorite waterfalls to visit are Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls, and Twin Falls. The Yosemite National Park weather is delightful at this time of year.
Summer – A great time to visit if you’re interested in physical activities. You can go white water rafting, horseback riding, paddleboarding, kayaking, and hiking. The clear summer nights in Yosemite are spectacular for stargazing.
Fall – As the crowds dwindle, the park becomes a tapestry of red, golden yellow, and orange. There is a constant soft breeze as the park cools and living things begin to sleep. You also might get to see bears looking to get their fill before their winter slumber.
Bridalveil Falls in the Spring – In the spring, Bridalveil Falls is so beautiful and stunning. It is about a 10-minute nature walk to see the waterfall and you will get wet because the waterfall is so powerful. There is an old Native American tale that believes if a woman breathed in the waterfall mist, then she would soon be married. Bridalveil is one of the few falls still flowing in the summer and fall, although it is much lighter.
Yosemite Falls – Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in the park. It is one of the most popular falls and is at its peak during the spring. It is a one-mile trail to the waterfall and you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock. Then, you can hike another 0.5 miles to get a stunning view of Upper Yosemite Fall. In the spring, Yosemite Falls sounds like roaring thunder. It kicks out 135,000 gallons of water per minute!
Olmsted Point – This trail is so spectacular with unique rock formations that look like God must have placed them there himself. From here, you can walk around Tenaya Lake, which is so clear that you can see the rocks underneath the surface and the reflection of the mountains around it. Olmstead Point is one of the best panoramic spots, you can see Clouds Rest and Half Dome from here.
Half Dome View – This is the lookout point just after the first tunnel when you enter the park. This is especially beautiful in late winter/early spring. It gives a view of the entire Valley from 5,000 feet elevation looking down to 4,000 feet. I’ve heard people on the bus express awe quite audibly!
Make sure to have sunscreen, a camera, and a water bottle. The only time you have access to clean water is on the valley floor. If you start at higher elevations, there are very few facilities, so you need to be prepared and have your own water. There are also very few modern conveniences outside of the accommodation areas, so bring a backup battery for your phone and antibacterial soap to clean your hands. Be sure to dress appropriately for hiking in dirt and uneven terrain.
Black bears are shy, so they usually run away from people. Keep a distance of 150 feet and do not make the bear feel threatened. Remember though that bears are wild animals, so they can be unpredictable. They love to climb trees, especially apple trees in Curry Village and they can run 30mph. They also have a keen sense of smell and incredible vision. Keep all of your food in a bear-proof locker to protect the bears and your property!
Disconnect from your phone! Enjoy where you are and take it all in. Look around at where you are and don’t just view it from behind the camera lens. It will be so refreshing and relaxing to disconnect and be at one with nature.
If you’re feeling inspired to visit Yosemite National Park, I highly recommend booking a tour with Extranomical Tours. They have multi-day tours as well as day trips from San Francisco. Their tours have a great balance of guided-time with plenty of free time. Their passionate and knowledgeable guides will share the best-kept secrets of Yosemite and make sure you don’t miss anything important. You will still have plenty of free time though to choose your own adventures. Thanks for reading and enjoy your vacation to Yosemite National Park!
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We are Jacob and Taylor. Travel is our passion and we love sharing our experiences here at The Travelling Souk. Our hope is that you would be inspired by this little blog to try something new, embrace an adventure, and live life to the fullest.