It’s been over a year since we visited our last National Park in Joshua Tree. We started looking into a trip to Yosemite shortly after Joshua Tree, but soon realized we needed to reserve a place almost a full year out. So, with Logan being deployed for most of 2020, we planned our trip for the fall, right after he returned home.
Yosemite is about an eight hour drive from San Diego, so we packed up the truck and left at the crack of dawn, which put us arriving in the park early afternoon. We were all ready to stretch our legs and so, upon entering the Southernmost entrance by Wawona, we took an immediate right to Mariposa Grove, the largest grove of giant sequoias in the park.
The trail head said 3 miles, but we ended up walking about 7 since we decided to go deeper into the groves to see more of the giant sequoias. I don’t think any of us were expecting to walk that far on the first day and let’s just say we were all thrilled to sit back down in the truck again!
The one thing I wasn’t expecting was how spread out things were in the park. There are multiple entrances into Yosemite and it was at least an hour drive from the Southernmost entrance, into the valley where our hotel was. We were greeted with some beautiful sights though! El Capitan was front and center after driving through Tunnel View. We stopped and used binoculars to see the climbers on the side of the mountain which was pretty cool to see. El Cap (as it is usually called) is about 3,000 feet from base to summit along its tallest face, and is highly sought after for rock climbers.
We then checked into our room at the Yosemite Valley Lodge (which had some pretty impressive views itself) before dragging ourselves to the Base Camp Eatery for dinner. We ordered the most expensive pizza we’ve ever eaten and were glad that we had brought dinner for the rest of our stay! It was good pizza, but definitely overpriced, so something to keep in mind if you plan on visiting.
Hiking miles logged for day 1: 7 miles
After passing out soon after arriving back to our room and getting a full nights sleep, we were up bright and early to cook breakfast in our room, thanks to a camp stove we brought along. With our bellies full, we headed out to our first trail for the day.
One great thing about visiting Yosemite in the fall is the lack of crowds. We had no problem finding a parking spot at the trailhead but I have heard that during the summer, it is nearly impossible unless you arrive super early. Some popular hiking spots require you to wait for a shuttle that will bus you to the trailhead due to lack of available parking.
We took a short trail from the parking lot that weaved its way around to the Mist Trail. (We did have a map with us but still got turned around a few times looking for the trailhead. It was a good thing we weren’t in any time crunch, and bringing a plethora of snacks for the little ones was key!)
The hike up to the footbridge on the Mist Trail was beautiful and easy. It was uphill for most of the way there, but the trail was paved and shaded. Once we got to the footbridge we had a beautiful view of Vernal Falls way back in the distance, which I was stoked about since most of the water features in the park are dry during the fall and winter.
After our morning hike, we headed back to our room for lunch and rest before adventuring on. Our next hike was the Mirror Lake Loop. The lake is only full of water during spring and summer, but with that being the case we were able to stand in the middle of the once-full lake and have an amazing view looking up at Half Dome.
We finished the hike with enough time to swing by our room and pick up our food and jet-boil for our sunset “dinner with a view” hike! The drive to Taft Point takes about an hour from the valley, but most of the really amazing hikes take place here via Glacier Point road. We were all pretty tired at this point, but the hike to Taft Point was easy and scenic. Hiking at sunset was worth it!
We made it to the overlook and OMG! I don’t think I need to tell you that this is a very popular wedding shoot destination. In fact, we saw several brides and grooms with their photographer out on the rocks while we were there. For going at a “less busy” time of year there were still quite a few people there, and I’m not sure we could have gotten a photo out on the rocks unless we had bombarded a wedding party!
But alas, we found a secluded spot on the rocks and set up camp. Logan used his jet-boil to put hot water inside some pre-made camping food bags and we were able to eat dinner with the most breathtaking views of El Cap and Yosemite, despite it being hazy from fires up North. I sure hope our kids remember experiences like this forever.
Hiking back to the truck with headlamps in the dark was probably not the highlight of the trip for the kids, but I’m happy to report that no bears ate us for dinner and we did get to see a big beautiful moon.
Hiking miles logged for day 2: 9 miles.
Probably the most exciting thing for me during our trip to Yosemite was driving back to our hotel in the dark and seeing lights glowing on the side of El Cap. We quickly realized that they were from the rock climbers who were spending the night on the side of the giant mountain! If you’ve spoken to me since our trip, you’ll know that after seeing this, I became quite enthralled in learning more about what it entails to climb something so big. I highly recommend watching The Dawn Wall, followed by Free Solo (in that order!). Most people have watched Free Solo on Disney, but if you watch The Dawn Wall first, you’ll know some key characters that reappear in Free Solo to help him. Totally fascinating, I promise!
We crashed hard that night and got up once again with the sun. We needed gas, and since there are only 3 gas stations in Yosemite, we took a scenic drive and rested our legs. We luckily stumbled upon Tuolumne Grove, which was a shorter hike through more giant sequoias.
The kids did better than we thought they would on this trip, but by day 3 Amelia was complaining that her feet hurt. Shoot, my feet were hurting! We thankfully didn’t have much planned in terms of hiking this day, and once they made it down the hill into where the sequoias were, all was mostly forgotten. We even got to walk through this giant sequoia known as the “Dead Giant Tunnel tree” that was tunneled out back in 1878 to attract tourists. (Originally tunnels were cut to stimulate automobile tourism, but tunneling inflicted severe damage to the health and strength of the trees and the practice has long passed.)
But what was even cooler was the fallen sequoia that we were able to actually walk inside of!
We spent the rest of the afternoon getting our National Park cancellation stamps from the visitor station, walking around the valley to include a bear sighting (*pro-tip: If you see a National Park ranger standing outside with a crowd of people around, stop and look because there’s usually something cool to see), and visiting the Ansel Adams Gallery exhibit.
Probably the greatest disadvantage of going to Yosemite National Park in the fall is that Yosemite Falls is bone dry. We were able to park right in front of where it would have been (perk of going in the fall) and I can only imagine the awesomeness of seeing such a powerful natural source that close.
Since we didn’t want to drive the hour back up to Glacier Point Road for another sunset hike, we decided to campout right in Yosemite Valley, 5 minutes from our hotel room. Logan cooked up another gourmet meal with his jet-boil, the kids were able to run around, and I got to photograph a beautiful view of Half Dome at sunset. This just may be my favorite picture from our trip. Always bring your tripod, folks!
Hiking miles logged for day 3: 4 miles-which brought our total miles hiked to roughly 20 miles in 3 days! If you’re contemplating whether or not your child can do it (Amelia is 5 and Easton is 8), I assure you, if they can walk for days on end at Disney World, they can make it at a National Park which has way more to see and to climb on! Just go outdoors!
We headed back to our room to pack and get a good nights’ sleep before an early morning alarm (which didn’t happen thanks to some noisy neighbors, ugh!) I wanted to drive back to Glacier Point Road and catch the sunrise before we began our trip back home to San Diego. Everyone was a good sport, and a bag of powdered donuts kept the kids happy.
We arrived back home with just enough time to throw on the kids’ Halloween costumes and go trick or treating with our neighbors. Needless to say, it was an early bedtime for everyone and we all crashed hard that night- happy to be back in our beds!
Probably my favorite thing about living in California is that it has the largest number of National Parks of any other US state. Nine to be exact! Which means, it’s time to start planning our next trip!