Yosemite Valley’s Day Hikes

Yosemite National Park is one of my favorite parks in the United States. The high mountains, the smell of the pines, and the roaring waterfalls excite my senses and energize my body. While I’ve stayed all over the park, I really enjoy the hikes and atmosphere of the Valley, so on Jo’s first full day  in the park, I decided to take her on a number of hikes offering some great views to some great valley sights.

The first hike was to the foot bridge over the Merced River. Hopping on the bus from Camp Curry, we got off at Stop 16 (Happy Isles) and made our way to the John Muir trail head. The hike to the foot bridge is 1.6 miles round trip and offers some steep inclines. Thankfully, it’s paved and shaded in many areas- making it an easy hike. Once you get to the foot bridge, you’re treated with an amazing view of Vernal Falls. Just across the bridge are toilets and water fountains if you need them.

Hike number two required us to hop in the minivan and drive out to the Bridal Veil Falls parking lot. Jo and I lucked out and got some front row parking. 1000 feet later, we were basking in the showering mist of the falls. Of all the hikes we went on this day – this was by far the easiest.

From this point we got in the van again and started making our way up Glacier Point Road. This is an amazing drive, that was made even more incredible by a recent lightning strike. The smoldering fire sent smoke and pine into the air, giving the curves ahead a cool look and feel. Eventually we made it to the Taft Point Trail Head, that also doubles as the trail head for the Sentinel Dome Trail. Each trail is 1.1 miles out to their destinations, as we were going to do both.

The hike to Taft Point is pretty flat and then drops a few hundred feet. Once out of the clearings, the trail takes hikers to the fissures. These cracks in the granite allow one to look several hundred feet below. Another couple of hundred of meters later and you’re standing on a railing overlooking the valley floor directly in front of Yosemite Falls and El Capitan.

Retracing your steps will take you back to the parking lot and the trail to Sentinel Dome. It’s another 1.1 miles out to the top of this granite dome and well worth the hike. The last quarter-mile is on paved roads and pretty much straight up. But don’t worry, as long as you have good knees, you’ll be able to make it. From up on top, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view of Half Dome.

The total distance for these hikes is over 6 miles. If you’re keen to seen an amazing sunset, drive out to Glacier Point and watch it here. From that parking lot, it’s a quarter-mile to the point – bringing the total walked distance to just under 7 miles for the day.

The Giant Trees of Mariposa Groves

Yellowstone may be the world’s first National Park, but the Yosemite Valley and the Giant Trees of Mariposa Groves happen to be the first large-scale area of public lands set aside for protection. That’s why it was fitting for Jo’s first visit to the park to include both such places. After snapping a few pictures of the valley floor, we hopped on a tram to the groves and joined Ranger Lauren for a fun walk through these massive trees.

We hadn’t planned on attending one of the Park Service’s famous Ranger Walks, but when we arrived just in time, how could we pass it up? This is why I love the Interpretation Division so much. These Rangers take time to escort visitors around and educate them on the culture, geology, and nature that surrounds them.

This walk we went on was scheduled for one hour, so the 8 minute video really cut out a lot of the great information and topics covered on our walk. I really wanted to give those that have never been on a walk an idea of what to expect. Also, included in this video is the answer to the contest question I posed!

The groves provided a great environment for our first afternoon in Yosemite. I can’t recall the last time I was in Mariposa Groves, but I really enjoyed our short hikes through the tall trees. For those wanting to visit here, I really recommend parking near the Wawona Hotel and taking the tram. It makes things so much easier than fighting for the limited parking in the Groves.

Hiking in Yosemite

While sitting here drinking my morning coffee and preparing for the day’s shoot, I came across this CNN article. It wasn’t until the last part of the article that common sense came into play.

“We aren’t worried because we think if you stay where you’re supposed to stay, you’re safe and it’s exciting,” Timmerman said. “It’ll be a little scary for them but it’s not dangerous if you do what you’re supposed to do,”

This remark was made by a park visitor and I can’t stress it enough. The three deaths last month on the Mist Trail and Vernal falls were awful, but entirely preventable. When hiking there or on any trail, one must always be prepared and bring the correct gear. Even on my recent trip, I saw three young men in full packs cutting trails and coming dangerously close to falling off the cliffs. I had to give them a lesson on hiking and the dangers cutting trails causes the environment. I also had to remind them that they are packing on a good extra 40 pounds that will keep them moving when they try to stop.


That CNN is trying to scare people into not going to the park is shameful.

Curry Village

Doing things a little backwards on the blog these days, but hey, I’m on vacation! One of the things I’ve really been looking forward to since Jo and I left Korea was driving out to Yosemite National Park and staying in Camp Curry.

I first discovered this little gem when on my big National Park trip back in 2006. I’ve been longing to get back and thought what a great way to introduce Jo to one of my favorite places.

From the official website:

Camp Curry was founded in 1899 by David and Jenny Curry, two schoolteachers from Indiana. The pair dreamed of visiting Yosemite, but found that they could not afford the coach fare into the park and still pay the going rate for park lodging at $4 per night.

This led to the establishment of Camp Curry – offering affordable room and board within Yosemite; a legacy that continues to this day. The camp was originally comprised of a dozen tents with a common dining center. Its popularity allowed it to quickly grow to hundreds of tents within a few short years.

Entertainment played a key role in Curry’s success, with nightly performances and the famous Firefall. By 1922, Camp Curry also featured a dance pavilion, pool hall, soda fountain, nightly movies and a gas station and service garage. A few years later, a swimming pool and ice skating rink were added to the onsite facilities. The dance hall was renovated into what is now the Stoneman House lodge with 18 motel units.

Today, the rates are a little more expensive, but the family vibe is alive the camp is host to not only Americans wanting to experience a rustic Yosemite, but Europeans as well. The village still has a buffet restaurant, but now also sports a coffee and ice cream shop, pizzeria, grill, taqueria,  grocery store, and climbing shop. Plus a bar. Kenny, the head bartender, has been there fore more than 20 years!

The first evening, Jo and I set up our tent and then proceeded to the Pizzeria and bar. We had a great evening talking with the staff and other guests while eating our fill. The rest of our time in Yosemite, we enjoyed sleeping in the covered outdoors and the fresh air.

Over the years, park bears have wised up and know that us humans bring food in our cars and trucks. Now, bears show no fear and charge into them. Since many people do bring snacks for hikes and picnics, each tent has a bear-proof food locker. You’ll need to bring your own lock, but they are fairly large and will fit a medium (20 pounds of ice) cooler twice over.

In short, if you’re going to Yosemite and don’t want to do hard core camping, this is the best alternative. I love this place and head back tomorrow!

Hiking Vernal and Nevada Falls at Yosemite

Since returning to the United States for our summer vacation, Jo and I have been looking forward to one particular trip: the journey out to Yosemite National Park. She has never been, and the park happens to be one of my favorites. There’s just something really special about it. For two days, I spent time taking Jo around to some of my favorite places in the valley, but a hike was calling me! So on our last day, Jo and I parted ways. She was going to take on the valley floor and some of the museums located there and I was going to ascend Vernal and Nevada Falls.

Unfortunately, the hike has been marred by three recent deaths. With all the water from the run-offs still flowing, the falls are raging over the edge and the warning signs should be heeded.

From the base of the trail, there are several destinations possible. On the sign, it stated that my destination was 5.5km away, but I’m not sure what route they quoted, since two are available.

I decided to turn on Runmeter and have the program log my route. As you can see from the map above, I opted for a loop. I hiked up the Mist Trail and down the John Muir Trail. This gave me a 13.8km hike that I completed in just over 2 hours. In fact, I made it to the top in just under an hour. Total time on the hike was a tad over 3 hours (Runmeter doesn’t count stopping time of your travels). I was amazed that I finished it so quickly. I started just after 9am and was back home around noon.

The first portion of the hike takes everyone to the footbridge (0.8 miles). From here one can cross the bridge and choose either the Mist Trail (shorter and next to the falls) or the John Muir Trail (longer, paved, and a steady incline). I chose the former, since I knew I could loop around. The Mist Trail is also known as the one with the “steps.” Some 600 rocky steps form the trail up from the bridge to Vernal Falls.

On hot summer days, this is the trail to take as well, since you’re bathed in the mist from the falls.

Once on top, I took a few minutes to look around and then press on to Nevada falls. The hike went quick and before long I was standing tall atop the roaring waters.

This hike is relatively easy. It is just long. If you’re afraid of heights, don’t take the Mist Trail, as you’re close to some fall-off points. The John Muir Trail is a great way to come back as well, since you’re descending an easy incline with some great far away views of Nevada Falls.

Learn more about the hikes from the National Park Service.