Yosemite National Park

Climb classic Sierra passes, ogle granite monoliths, and camp above treeline in John Muir's second home.
Avatar:
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
Climb classic Sierra passes, ogle granite monoliths, and camp above treeline in John Muir's second home.

INTRO | GLACIER | <a

href="/articles/12517">YOSEMITE | GRAND CANYON | <a

href="/articles/12523">GREAT SMOKY
| OLYMPIC | <a

href="/articles/12526">YELLOWSTONE | DENALI

Entrance Strategy | The Trip | Exit Strategy

No matter how many times you think you've seen it–on posters, in calendars, on your friends' refrigerators–real-time Yosemite is still utterly jaw-dropping: giant, russet-red sequoias, resounding 2,400-foot waterfalls, 3,300-foot granite walls, and more photo ops than you can get at the summer Olympics. Everything you've likely seen of Yosemite Valley–Half Dome, El Cap, Bridalveil Falls–is just a small part of this 1,200-square-mile park, where 13,000-foot peaks scratch the skyline, enormous glacial erratics litter the landscape, and ink-blue rivers roar through silvery canyons. Even John Muir, who explored the whole length of the Sierra, pressed Yosemite on his friends "like a missionary offering the gospel." He knew what he was talking about: Our third-oldest national park is, without doubt, the brightest star in the Range of Light.

INTRO | GLACIER | <a

href="/articles/12517">YOSEMITE | GRAND CANYON | <a

href="/articles/12523">GREAT SMOKY
| OLYMPIC | <a

href="/articles/12526">YELLOWSTONE | DENALI

Entrance Strategy | The Trip | Exit Strategy

Entrance Strategy

>> Getting There Yosemite is about three and a half hours from the San Francisco area. The most direct entrances–on CA 120 heading east through Groveland, and CA 140 northeast through El Portal–lead straight to Yosemite Valley.

>> Season Watch the Yosemite park weather page (nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/conditions.htm), and after the third consecutively hot weekend in spring (75°F-plus in the high country, usually middle of May), head into the Valley and witness cascades roaring off sheer granite walls. Go in September for bug- and crowd-free beauty.

>> Best frontcountry campground Camp 4, on the Valley floor, is noisy, dusty, and crowded–but you should stay there anyway. Why? Because world-class climbers Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, and Lynn Hill all did. Outside the Valley, try White Wolf Campground, with 74 spots. (Camp Four, $5 per person, per night; nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/camp4.htm. White Wolf, $14 a night per site; nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wwcamp.htm)

>> Pre-trip breakfast Leave the Bay Area at dawn and stop in Groveland at the Mountain Sage (18653 Main Street, 209-962-4686) for a cup of fair-trade coffee and a breakfast burrito.

>> Gear Shop Forgot something? If Yosemite Mountain Shop (209-372-8396; yosemitegifts.com/wetoyomosh.html) doesn't have it, you don't need it. The Valley store stocks everything from HB offset brass nuts for climbing to bug spray and iodine.

>> Permits Backcountry permits ($5, 209-372-0740; nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm) are required year-round–and are subject to a trailhead quota system. Make reservations up to six months in advance online or by phone. Missed the window? The park holds 40 percent of their quota for walk-ins. Go to any one of the five backcountry offices the day before your start date to get one–and rent a mandatory bear canister ($5 for two weeks, nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/bearcanrentals.htm).

INTRO | GLACIER | <a

href="/articles/12517">YOSEMITE | GRAND CANYON | <a

href="/articles/12523">GREAT SMOKY
| OLYMPIC | <a

href="/articles/12526">YELLOWSTONE | DENALI

Entrance Strategy | The Trip | Exit Strategy

The Trip
Following Ansel Adams's path to inspiration
Catch Yosemite's classic granite vistas and greatest secrets on this 60-mile loop.

To find the best hike in Yosemite, you could bribe a backcountry ranger with a keg of Sierra Nevada. But he'd only tell you what we already know–that the ultimate trek here starts in the high country, ends in the Valley, and includes a highlight tour of alpine creeks, jagged passes, glass-clear lakes, seldom-seen views, and quiet campsites. So save your beer money for a post-hike pint at the Awahanee Hotel and follow this plan.

Start by leaving your car at the Valley floor and hopping on the hikers' shuttle to Tuolumne Meadows and the Rafferty Creek-Vogelsang trailhead. Your first nine miles gain roughly 2,000 feet, passing expansive views of the Cathedral Range en route to Vogelsang High Camp: It's the highest designated backcountry campsite in the park, but it's usually packed with one-nighters and families. Skip it–and crest 10,125-foot Vogelsang Pass instead, dropping down a steep 1,000 feet over two miles into granite-lined Lewis Creek drainage. There are no designated campsites here (and very few people), so pick any spot among the enormous boulders.

Rise at dawn to catch the day's first rays hitting the sheer walls on both sides of the creek, then pack up and follow the drainage roughly 2.5 miles to a well-marked three-way junction. Turn onto the so-called High Elevation Trail (most trails in Yosemite are only unofficially named) and begin a series of relatively steep switchbacks toward Lyell Fork. When you hit the creek, turn left and head about a mile up an old fisherman's trail to camp at one of Ansel Adams's favorite spots: Ringed by Mount Lyell, Rodger Peak, and Electra Peak, it's where Adams told Georgia O'Keefe he would someday have a mountain named after him. He did; you can see the pyramid-shaped, 11,760-foot peak to the east.

Think Yosemite is all gleaming granite? Not so. Day three's 14.7-mile hike threads through rock that looks more Zion than Sierra. After heading back down to the High Elevation Trail, continue south toward Isberg Peak. At the Isberg junction, veer southwest to Red Peak and the deep red rock of the Clark Range. Head up to 11,699 feet over Red Peak Pass and camp at Lower Ottoway Lake. Eat dinner out on the peninsula, where the sun dyes the water a deep orange-red.

Day four is a pleasant change of pace: a consistent, 10-mile descent past Lower Merced Pass Lake toward Glacier Point, where the land is in various states of regrowth–saplings mixed with toasted lodgepole piles–after repeated years of wildfire. At your campsite along Illilouette Creek, you'll start seeing more people; snag a quiet site above the Mono Meadow trail junction. Your finale? Wake up early and hike five miles to Glacier Point for unobstructed views of Yosemite Valley. Here's where you can catch the classics all at once: El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Nevada Falls. Continue your descent on the steep but little-used Four-Mile Trail, then walk up along the Valley floor back to Curry Village and your car.

>> Plan B: Grand Canyon of the TuolumneHike the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne (and avoid the throngs leaving from the meadows) backward by starting this 31-mile, four-day hike from White Wolf Campground rather than Tuolumne. Spend your first night high above Hetch Hetchy Reservoir at Harden Lake, and then head northeast, paralleling the Tuolumne River as it rumbles over mammoth boulders. Sleep along the river's edge each night, spending your last one next to either Le Conte Falls or California Falls. Hike out past Tuolumne Falls to Tuolumne Meadows on the final day, where a shuttle ($14.50/person) will return you to your car.

INTRO | GLACIER | <a

href="/articles/12517">YOSEMITE | GRAND CANYON | <a

href="/articles/12523">GREAT SMOKY
| OLYMPIC | <a

href="/articles/12526">YELLOWSTONE | DENALI

Entrance Strategy | The Trip | Exit Strategy

Exit Strategy

>> Clean up The showers in Curry Village (866-875-8456) cost $2 (towels not provided). Need change? Buy some chocolate at the nearby Curry Village store.

>> Pig out Head to the east side of the park on CA 120 and hit the Whoa Nellie Deli at the Tioga Gas Mart (760-647-1088; thesierraweb.com/tiogagasmart/deli.html). Yes, a gas station–where bluegrass bands like The Trespassers jam Pink Floyd covers and the patio looks over Mono Lake. Locals passionately swear by the lobster taquitos and pitchers of mango margaritas.

>> Best dayhike: Panorama Trail Everyone knows about this eight-mile route, which traces the upper northeast ridge of Yosemite Valley and drops 3,200 feet–but few actually take the time to hike it. Buy a one-way bus ticket from the Valley up to Glacier Point, then wind past dizzying views of Illilouette Falls, Nevada Falls, and Vernal Falls, before catching the Mist Trail down to the floor. For a truly epic day, branch off at Little Yosemite Valley for an ascent of Half Dome–which will add seven miles, 2,600 feet of climbing, and a knee-crunching 4,842-foot descent.

>> Try something new Sample Yosemite's world-class rock climbing with Yosemite Mountaineering School (209-372-8344; yosemitepark.com/activities_mountaineeringschool.aspx). They run clinics for rubes and masters, and even lead trips up El Capitan. Don't feel like roping in? There are thousands of boulders in the park seemingly begging to be conquered–just be sure to check for periodic "closed" signs that signal rock falls and wildlife restoration areas.

Your Permit is Ready
3 surefire ways to improve your chances of scoring a much-coveted Yosemite campsite

>> Plan ahead Mark your calendar and call Yosemite's backcountry office 24 weeks before your start date. Put the number (209-372-0740) in your speed dial. Make sure to let them know if you'll be arriving later than 10 a.m. the day of the trip. (Otherwise, they'll cancel your spot.)

>> Go to the right office Permits for walk-ins are available at any of the five wilderness centers. The busiest stations are Tuolumne and Yosemite Valley; avoid them and up your chances by stopping at one of the less-crowded offices (Tioga, Wawona, or Hetch Hetchy). nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/trailheads.htm

>> Start hiking outside the park Since Yosemite restricts backcountry numbers by trailheads, not campsites or zones, you can always start farther away (outside park boundaries, if needed) and hike to your destination. To access the northeastern side of the park, use the Virginia Lakes trailhead. For southeastern access, head to the Chiquito Lake trailhead. Check out
nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm
for a list of links to common starting points.

You're a Tourist, Now Act Like One
If it's your first time to Yosemite, you have to visit the Valley, crowds be damned. Really, who goes to Memphis and skips Graceland? But packed parking lots and dazed tourons make the endeavor a logistical headache. The fix: Start early, park at Curry Village parking lot, and take the bus to the waterfall trailheads. Hike to Vernal Falls in the morning and Yosemite Falls in the late afternoon light–before spending the evening atop Glacier Point, where you'll see the views of Half Dome and El Cap that made Ansel famous.

The Stats
Acres 747,956
Miles of trail 800
Website nps.gov/yose
Phone
(209) 372-0200
2007 visitation 3.6 million (total), 76,576 (backcountry)