Expedition Planner: Yosemite National Park, California
Doing the homework: Begin your pre-trip planning by loading up on maps and guidebooks. For maps, you have a number of good options:
- Trail Illustrated’s #206 “Yosemite National Park” ($8.99, 800-962-1643).
- Tom Harrison Map’s “Trail Map of the Yosemite High Country” ($7.95, 800-265-9090). Shows the high ground east of the valley and from just north of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River to the southern boundary.
- Wilderness Press’ “Topographic Map of Yosemite N.P. and Vicinity” ($6.95, 800-443-7227). It’s published as a companion to the guidebook Yosemite National Park, by Jeffrey Schaffer ($16.95, Wilderness Press, 800-443-7227).
Another helpful, backpacker-oriented guidebook is Yosemite Trails by Ginny Clark ($12.95, Western Trails Publications, 520-453-5064).
Getting a permit: You must have a wilderness permit to camp overnight in the backcountry. You can get one at Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, Hetch Hetchy, and elsewhere the day you arrive, but this isn’t advisable. Routes have quotas and you may find that yours is booked. Avoid disappointments by making a reservation in advance through Wilderness Permits, P.O. Box 545, Yosemite, CA 95389; (209) 372-0740. Have several routes in mind in case your first choice is taken. Permits can be reserved up to 24 weeks in advance. The permit is free, but there is a $3 processing charge.
Outwitting the bears: Yosemite’s black bears are ubiquitous and talented at relieving hikers of their food supplies. Popular campsites have bear-resistant metal boxes, but the Park Service suggests using bear-resistant food canisters, which you can purchase or rent for $3 per day in the park. I’ve logged thousands of hours hiking in the park and prefer storing food bags in a crack about 15 feet up a cliff. Bears can climb trees, but not vertical rock. Never leave a pack loaded with food untended.
Seeing the Valley: Going to Yosemite without seeing the valley would be like visiting Rome and bypassing the Forum. Your best bet is to avoid the summer months, when the valley is overwhelmed, and choose from the following:
- May through mid-June, when the waterfalls are near their maximum volume.
- Mid-September through October, when the waterfalls are dry or nearly so, but fall colors abound.
- December through March, when Ansel Adams shot many of his best-known photos of Yosemite.
If you do visit during the Memorial to Labor Day mayhem, head straight for Sentinel Dome, which serves up 360-degree views of the valley and the high country beyond, or Taft Point for its condor’s-eye perspective on the action below. Both are reached from Glacier Point Road. Pohono Trail, from the east end of Wawona Tunnel up to Stanford, Crocker, and Dewey points is hot, hard hiking, but the fine views of Ribbon and Bridalveil falls, El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks make it worthwhile. While none of these routes can be labeled uncrowded, they experience far less foot traffic than other valley paths.