Yosemite National Park is a popular destination for folks in the Bay Area since it is about 4 hours drive away and we had been hearing praises of its beauty ever since we moved here. This summer we finally decided to drive there and spend a couple of days seeing the sights in this national park.
Due to COVID, the park required advance booking to obtain a permit through the Recreation.gov website. The permit allows your car entry to the park for 3 days starting from the date on the permit. These permits were available in plenty, as long as you are booking a few weeks in advance.
Note that we did not find anyone at the gates checking for our permit when we entered early at 6-7 AM in the morning. Only later in the day did we see NPS folks at the gate checking up permits.
If you looked up routes on Google Maps to get to Yosemite from the Bay Area, it shows two options. To get to Yosemite, we decided to use the Northern route that goes through Livermore, Modesto, Merced and Mariposa.
We made a stop at the Livermore Temple on the way since we had heard so much about it. The temple was in the South Indian style and was indeed beautiful with a large gopura. There are many dieties inside, but the main are Shiva and Vishnu. The campus had ample parking, temple offices, community halls - it looked well funded. There was literally just one other family on a Thursday morning and we quite enjoyed the peace and calm.
We stopped at Modesto for lunch and to stock up on snacks and food for the trip. There are lots of options to do this in and near the huge Village Faire Mall here.
Our penultimate stop was at Mariposa to fill up on gas since there are no gas stations inside the park. The Grizzly Gas station here does not accept credit cards and we need to pay inside the store. If you need groceries or medicines, the Pioneer Market has everything, including a pharmacy.
A little before the entrance to the park, we needed to cross a temporary bridge with a single lane. We needed to wait at the traffic signal before the bridge for a while until the single lane of traffic coming from the other side is stopped and we got a green. This chokepoint in the traffic is apparently due to the Ferguson landslide and a permanent solution is many years away.
Camping inside one of the many camping grounds inside the Yosemite Valley is a popular option. During our visit, we noticed that the grounds had large bear-proof storage for your food, picnic tables, group toilets and sometimes showers nearby. You would need to book a camping spot on the Recreation.gov for this. The spots are shared for booking with the public at a certain date and time (check the website for details) and they are booked within a minute. I had actually booked a site last year - but it got canceled since this was at the height of the COVID pandemic.
There are some lodging places inside the park and just outside the park. We chose this option, booking a room at the Yosemite View Lodge. This turned out to be a good option since the park boundary begins right outside the lodge and so we had to do only a short drive to get to the park entry gates. The lodge was pretty big, with several buildings, free ice machines in each building (lifesaver in summer), multiple indoor and outdoor spas and pools - which were full of kids and our kid loved that. The Merced river runs right beside the lodge and if you get a room in one of the buildings beside the river, you might love the view. There is also a gas station right beside the lodge, where you can fill up before or after your day drives into the park.
The park is huge, including the Yosemite Valley (which holds most of the popular spots and trailheads) and also the Mariposa Grove to the South. There is a road that loops around the valley which gets you to many of these spots, picnic areas and the Yosemite Village.
Since there was a heatwave when we visited the park, we decided to drive in early in the morning and leave by afternoon. We spent the first day inside the valley and the second doing longer drives outside the valley.
Parking: On a Friday, we had no problem finding parking at all the sites we stopped by in the valley.
Since we had a baby with us, we decided to do the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, which was the only one in the valley which was stroller-friendly. This short trail takes you near the base of he Lower Yosemite Falls and you can also see the Upper Yosemite Falls. Since we visited in peak summer, there was not much water, but I can imagine this being very beautiful when it is full.
The Swinging Bridge, which does not swing, has the Merced river flowing under it and has gorgeous views of the cliffs that surround the valley.
We had lunch at the tables in the picnic area below El Capitan. Having a gigantic rock like this in the background was a sight to behold.
The Village Store was a huge souvenir store filled to the brim with tourists and has some limited food options for pickup.
To cool off from the heat, we spent the afternoon at the Cathedral Beach where the Merced River flows gently and there is a small sand beach. The water felt refreshing and cool to us in the hot weather and this place had many families and kids playing in and beside the water.
The Tunnel View, which is a drive from inside the valley, gave us a fantastic Western view of the valley and the gigantic cliffs that bound it. I was truly staggered by the beauty and scale of this place from here.
The second day, we did the hour-long winding drive hugging the mountains to Glacier Point. On the way we stopped at Washburn Point which had breathtaking views of the valley, cliffs and waterfalls and the gentler valleys to the East. Our destination Glacier Point was filled with tourists and why not, the view of the valley from here was the best yet. From side to side, your entire sight is filled with the glacier-worn cliffs of Half Dome, El Capitan and others, waterfalls tumulting down to the valley - it truly looked like heaven.
We did another hour-long winding mountain drive to the Mariposa Grove to check out the famous giant sequoia trees. This drive was so spirally that our kid threw up both going there and while returning from there - so beware. The heat was so intense when we got there that we decided to have our lunch inside the car with the AC on. The grove has tons of parking and a cute little Welcome Center with clean, modern toilets. But sadly, the only trail here that was stroller-friendly, the Big Trees Loop, was closed for maintainence. We did not do the main trail due to the heat outside and the need for a stroller. So this grove was a bit of a disappointment and we might need to visit this place again.
We had heard that the Tioga Road drive is scenic with some beautiful stops like Tuolumne Meadows. But we skipped those due to the heatwave and the constant attention needed by our little baby.
For returning back, we chose the Southern route going through Mariposa, Merced, San Luis Reservoir and Gilroy.
A large portio of the drive was through an extremely arid landscape (maybe due to summer?) which looked a bit depressing, like a desolate planet.
We stopped at Casa de Fruta, which turned out to be a tourist trap. There was a famous fruit market (where the wares were meh and very touristy), but also a wine store and fair attractions (!) like a train and carousel. Needless to say that our kid wanted everything here.
We found the views in Yosemite National Park to be truly stunning and heavenly. This is without a doubt a must-visit for everyone who can travel here.