North America Off the Grid

A Get Outside Guide: Yosemite National Park | USA

Hey Look Half Dome

As travelers, we are constantly pursuing our next place. We seek astonishing landscapes that give our minds and our eyes a reason to settle, but just for a moment. We visit cities, towns, villages, and even the most sparsely populated places in pursuit of the perfect one. Then, once we find it, do you know what we do? We leave. Sometimes we go back, sure, but sometimes, all we take with us are our faultless memories of the place.

Some 150 years ago, a traveler seeking the “wildest, leafiest, and least trodden way he could find” undertook a walking journey more than 1,000 miles long from Indiana to Florida. He then ventured on to Cuba by sailboat, and back to New York before booking passage onto California. Upon settling in San Francisco, he immediately ventured onto Yosemite, a place he would return for years to come, and ultimately the place he would dedicate his life to.  Surely, because it was beautiful, but also because he felt a greater sense of obligation to protect it.

Who is John Muir? He’s the guy that the four million people a year who visit Yosemite to gaze at Half Dome and feel at home in nature need to thank. While notable for many discoveries, John Muir’s preservation of Yosemite Valley is probably his most notable. At a time when nature was cast aside to the thriving Industrial Revolution, John Muir was fighting hard to preserve it. Yosemite National Park became one of the first national parks in 1872, and its establishment laid the groundwork for thousands of national parks that later opened across the nation and around the world. Without Muir’s efforts, it’s hard to know how many gorgeous natural occurrences would be gone.

While the sheer size of Yosemite is the first thing that will capture your attention, the far more impressive marvel of Yosemite National Park is the fact that it exists at all.

Sunrise, Sunset

Who knows what this bad boy behind me is called? HINT: Not Daniel.

A photo posted by once we’re young travel 🌄 (@oncewereyoung) on

How to Get to Yosemite National Park:

By Car: Located about 160 miles inland of San Francisco, the easiest way to get to Yosemite is by car.  Cell phone reception within the park isn’t great, so if you plan on driving, print off directions, and don’t forget to check the national park website before leaving as maintenance and weather road closures are common!

By Bus: While it’s a little harder to get there if you don’t have a car (or a friend with a car), there are still plenty of alternatives. If you’re set on using public transport, you can get to Yosemite using Amtrak (train and bus) or by Greyhound (bus and local bus). Here are full details on how to get to Yosemite using public transport! If this is still sounding too ambitious, lots of tour companies have shuttles running from the Bay Area and Southern California.

Once you’re inside the park, you can get around by car, foot, or free shuttle.

A Peek at a Peak

Camping in Yosemite National Park:  

Remember when we said there are four million visitors a year? Let’s just say Yosemite is a popular place to camp, and the best campsites book up months ahead of time. If you want to go on a weekend or during the summer, we’d recommend booking up to a year in advance to ensure your priority campsite.

When you’re ready to book, head over to the not so user friendly website for booking camp sites. Wondering where to stay? Here’s some of the best spots for camping in Yosemite Valley:

  • Curry Village
  • North Pines / Upper Pines / Lower Pines
  • Housekeeping Camp
  • Camp 4

If you’re booking late, want a more remote experience, and don’t mind driving into the park during your visit, you may also want to consider one of these camping options outside of Yosemite Valley:

  • Bridalveil Creek Campground
  • Wawona Campground
  • Porcupine Creek
  • Yosemite Creek
  • Tamarack Flat
  • White Wolf
  • Crane Flat

We opted to stay inside the park at the Lower Pines campground. The site cost right around $30/night, and had everything you might need from a fire pit, to a parking spot, to flush toilets.

If camping isn’t your thing but you still want to experience Yosemite, there are permanent tented spots in Curry Village, and a few hotels to choose from. These accommodations book up even faster than the camp sites, so be sure to book in advance if this is the way you want to experience Yosemite! If you’re planning your trip to Yosemite late or really want to press your luck, check out this list of campsites that don’t require a reservation.

A Look at the Trees

Best Hikes in Yosemite:

What’s next on your Yosemite adventure? Why, go hiking, of course. With so many different trails, extensions of trails, and view points to choose from, picking the right trail can get a bit hectic. Here are a few of our favorites:

Half Dome Hike (14.2 miles): 

The most famous of all Yosemite hikes is Half Dome, a 16 mile loop for the more experienced trail seekers or the seriously ambitious. The trail was established in 1875 along with cables that allow people to ascend Half Dome without rock climbing gear. This Yosemite hike is more about the preparation than the exertion; Half Dome itself does not require any extensive training, but it does take a long time to complete. If you’re planning to hike Half Dome, you’ll need to purchase permits in advance. There is a limited number of these per day, so have a backup plan if you are unable to secure the day permit.

While they don’t get as much publicity as Half Dome, there are at least two other hikes that are iconic to Yosemite.

Mist Trail Hike (3-7 miles): 

On the Mist Trail, you can complete as much (or as little) of the hike as you’d like. The shortest and easiest route takes you about 1 hour and brings you to the base of Vernal Fall, a gorgeous waterfall with plenty of places to sit and relax all afternoon. While the hike itself is short, the crowds of people on the trail make it a slower go than you’d think. If you’ve got the energy left, continue on the same trail to get to the top of Vernal Fall where you will get quite the panoramic view. The walk up is a little treacherous, but only because it is a bit slick underfoot. You may be quite content with your hike, but the Mist trail does go on to Nevada Fall if you’re feeling ambitious and want to turn your 1 hour hike into a 6 hours – you may just find that one waterfall will suffice.

Walking Path

Chasing Waterfalls

Gazing into the Falls

Yosemite Falls Trail (2-7.2 miles): 

The Yosemite Falls Trail starts at the base of Camp 4 (a first come, first serve camp site) where you can see the rock climbers, granolas, and seasonal workers that have made Yosemite their temporary home. The Yosemite Falls Trail hike also has stages, so you can either do a quick ascent to Colombia Rock, or a much more strenuous one to Yosemite Falls. The first stage is two miles round trip, but you go up 1000 feet in elevation in one mile. There are a ton of switchbacks, so while you’re guaranteed to be exhausted, the uninterrupted view of Half Dome, the whole Yosemite Valley, and Sentinel Rock make it well worth it. If you only get one great view in Yosemite, this should be it. From there you can continue up to Yosemite Fall, however, due to the drought Yosemite Fall is been quite dry so the extra 4 hours that it takes should only be done for the hike purposes.

Huffing it up the trail

Trees for Days

Other Yosemite Hiking Trails: 

Bridalveil Fall, Artist Point, Inspiration Point, Panorama Trail, Pohono Trail. For detailed information on each of these trails, and more of the best hikes in Yosemite check out the Yosemite Hikes website.

Hiking Tips:

  • Water stations are few and far between on the trails. Be sure to set out with plenty of water.
  • Plan your hike according to elevation gain. Change in elevation that quickly can really take a toll on your body, and make a short hike feel a lot longer. Additionally, while it may be hot in the Valley, it could be quite cool by the time you reach a few thousand feet higher.
  • Bring snacks on the trail. You know, just in case.
  • Don’t leave any garbage behind! WWJMD?

One Sad Tree

The park is so enormous that it seems quite impossible to even give a highlighted version of Yosemite. Go for a month, go for a week, go for even just a night, but go. Look upon the trees and appreciate that all of it exists due to someone who decided it was the kind of place worth staying.

As travelers, perhaps we are incapable of finding a place simply striking enough to stay. Perhaps it takes a profound connection and a greater sense of obligation to ever really desire to stay in one place. But if you ever really feel it, we say stay. 

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What places have captured your interest? Where in the world would you be willing to stay put?



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