- A Karen Brown Recommendation
The main attractions of the over 1,000 square miles of Yosemite National Park lie within the narrow 7-mile-long Yosemite Valley, which is where you should try to stay if at all possible. A two- or three-night stay in the park is recommended. From hotels through tented cabins, all accommodations in Yosemite are controlled by the Yosemite Concessions Services (YCS)—for information call 209-372-0200. It is necessary year-round to make reservations well in advance. Visit their website for details, www.yosemitepark.com. Visit their homepage on the National Park Service website at www.nps.gov. From the stately and very expensive Ahwahnee Hotel, through lodges, cabins, tented camps, and regular campsites, Yosemite has accommodations to suit every pocketbook. If your taste in hotels runs to grand, stay at The Ahwahnee. Yosemite Lodge provides more moderately priced accommodations in both cabins and motel/hotel-type rooms. Still less expensive are the tented camps that provide canvas tents on wooden board floors (you do not need sleeping bags since beds and linens are provided). The budget choice is regular camping. But please remember—space is very limited in every category and reservations are essential. While the attractions of staying in the valley cannot be denied, a more relaxed, serene, country atmosphere pervades the Wawona Hotel, located within the park, but about a 30-mile drive south of the valley on Hwy 41. With its shaded verandahs overlooking broad rolling lawns, the hotel presents a welcoming picture. Bedrooms with private bathrooms are at a premium—most rooms use communal men’s and women’s bathrooms (sometimes situated quite a distance from your bedroom). Yosemite Valley, an awe-inspiring monument to the forces of nature, is bounded by magnificent scraped granite formations—Half Dome, El Capitan, Cathedral Rock, Clouds Rest—beckoning rock climbers from around the world. And over the rocks, cascading to the valley far below, are numerous high waterfalls with descriptive names such as Bridalveil, Ribbon, Staircase, and Silver Strand. Below the giant walls of rock the crystal-clear River Merced wends its way through woodlands and meadows of flowers. Undeniably, this is one of the most beautiful valleys anywhere in the world. Your first stop should be the information center to obtain pamphlets, books, and schedules. The park service offers a remarkable number of guided walks, slide shows, and educational programs—look over the possibilities and select the ones that most appeal to you. Once you are in the valley, park your car and restrict yourself to travel aboard the free shuttle buses as you can do most of your sightseeing by combining pleasant walks with shuttle-bus rides. Alternative modes of transportation are on horseback on guided trips and by bike (bicycles can be rented in the park). Because the valley is flat, it has miles of paths for biking—a very unstrenuous, efficient way of getting around. Be warned that during the summer months Yosemite Valley is jammed with cars and people—spring and fall are much more civilized times to visit. Within the park, but beyond the valley floor, are many areas of great natural beauty. Situated just inside the park’s southern perimeter is the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias. It was here that John Muir, the great naturalist who fathered the idea of the national park system, persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to add the 250-acre grove of trees to the Yosemite park system. A tram winds through the grove of sequoias as the driver tells the stories of these giant trees—some of the largest in the world. To the south of the valley Hwy 41 climbs for about 10 miles (stop at the viewing point just before the tunnel) to the Glacier Point turnoff. It is a 15-mile drive to the spectacular Glacier Point—a vista point over 3,000 feet above the valley floor. From Glacier Point everything in the valley below takes on Lilliputian proportions: the ribbon-like River Merced, the forest, meadows, and waterfalls all dwarfed by huge granite cliffs. Beyond the valley a giant panorama of undulating granite presents itself. The ideal time to visit for taking photographs is early in the morning or evening. Rangers at Glacier Point offer evening interpretive programs. Leave Yosemite by the northern gate on Hwy 120 to Groveland, a handsome old town shaded by pines. The nearby town of Big Oak Flat is little more than a couple of houses and the crumbling IOOF (International Order of Odd Fellows) building strung along the road. As Hwy 120 drops steeply down 5 miles of twisting road to Hwy 49, the shady pine forests of the mountains give way to rolling, oak-studded foothills, the typical scenery of the Gold Country.
Yosemite National Park