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LostInParadise's avatar

How do I plan for a trip to Yosemite?

Asked by LostInParadise (31603points) September 5th, 2016

I would like to visit Yosemite for a week, but I don’t even how to get there, let alone what to do once I arrive. Is a week a good time frame? On one thread, there was a side discussion by several people who had visited the national park, so I am hoping to get some advice from people who have been to Yosemite.

San Diego is the closest city, so I imagine that I would start by flying to San Diego. I would prefer not to rent a car if that is possible. Is there a train or bus that I could take to Yosemite? Where do people stay? Do they have guided tours? Are there some trails not covered by tours that are worth taking? I enjoy hiking, but I don’t want it to be too strenuous.

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12 Answers

Coloma's avatar

San Diego is about 400 miles south of Yosemite so you are looking at a very long, one day drive, with stops, easy 10–12 hours or more depending. Also you need to plan the time of year you will be going. You do not want to visit in the dead of winter, for obvious reasons, heavy snowfall and poor driving conditions. You will need to book lodging reservations or camping reservations months in advance as well. April through Oct. is the biggest tourist season.
Here is a link for more information.

If you do go in Oct. or any later in the season be prepared to carry snow chains. I’m about 3–4 hours from Yosemite here in the Western Sierra Nevada foothills about 60 miles from Lake Tahoe and my daughter was in Yosemite in June and it was snowing over the pass!
Here is another link for current road conditions etc.

Looks like a Plague outbreak is going on right now, common in the fall all over the Sierras, just don’t kiss any Chipmunks or ground squirrels when you visit. lol

zenvelo's avatar

The nearest major city is San Francisco, which is about four hours away by car. Bus tours from San Francisco are available. You don’t say if you want to camp or stay in a hotel, or stay in a “tent cabin”. Make sure you have your reservations and are aware of your accommodations. The website for the park has links to accommodations in a variety of price ranges and comfort levels.

Most hikes are a bit strenuous. You are in the mountains, at altitude, and just about every trail from the Valley is up.

There is much more than the Valley, there is also Tuolumne Meadows, at high altitude, about an hour away from the Valley by car. There is also Glacier Point. Along the way to Tuolomne Meadows there are lakes and granite domes to explore.

There are some guided tours in the valley, that take you to all the accessible waterfalls.

Coloma's avatar

Be sure as well to bring appropriate clothing for all conditions, good hiking boots, light pack, and plenty of water and snacks if it is warm. You can also opt for a trail ride, one of my favorites, being a horsey person. A great way to cover a lot of ground without having to hoof it yourself, especially if you have already spent a lot of time hiking over a couple of days.

LostInParadise's avatar

Thanks @Coloma and @zenvelo . I don’t know why I was thinking of San Diego. I would be flying cross country, which would probably mean having to stay overnight in San Francisco. I might be interested in a bus tour leaving from San Francisco, if it allowed for staying for a few days at Yosemite. I don’t want to bother with bringing food or a sleeping bag. If there is a way of doing that without staying in a hotel, I would be open to it, but I am thinking that a hotel stay would probably be best. I am hoping there are at least some guided tours where the incline is not too steep.

janbb's avatar

I was there some years ago and we stayed in one of the camping cabins – more like a lean-to. Time your vist, even in early May there can be snow on the higher meadows. The valley is stunning even though it gets crowded. As others have said, San Fran is the nearest city. We drove from there, not a hard drive, but a bus would be fine. The park is trying to minimize car visitors and even if you drive, they encourage parking on the outskirts and using busses in the park. Take a look at the Sierra Club outings; they have tours and a lodge called Clare Tappen Lodge that could be a reasonably priced place to stay. The Ahwahnee Hotel, name changed to Majestic is old-fashioned and stunning but probably more than you want to spend. There are hikes in the valley floor and others with moderate climbs but you’ll probably need to do a bit of climbing. Be prepared for changes in weather.

I will say that Yosemite was probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to. read some of the writings of John Muir before you go.

LostInParadise's avatar

I checked the hotel prices and they are all fairly high. The descriptions of the tent cabins did not seem too bad, since they provide bedding, and they are priced reasonably. For comparison, I checked the National Geographic tour and was surprised that they choose to stay at hotels. I am not considering their package, which seems way overpriced for what is being offered, but it does suggest an itinerary to follow.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Hotel prices are high because of the limited number of rooms and high number of visitors.

There were almost 4 million visitors in 2014.

It was where I first went camping with my parents, I was 8 months old.

monthly's avatar

Plenty to see in Yosemite as it is big. There are several campgrounds, and hotels in the area. Anything will require a reservation well in advance. My advice would be to fly into San Francisco, Oakland, or Sacramento (which is actually closer), rent a car, and then drive.

It’s getting a bit late in the season, so nights can get cold, especially in the high country by Tuolumne Meadows. Yosemite Valley is warmer. If you do decide to camp beware of the strict bear regulations.

I can’t tell you about tours from SF or Sacto, as my experience with Yosemite is backpacking, but I do know that the trails are extremely well marked, especially in the Valley, and you don’t need a tour.

Here is a link to the current newsletter.

Maker sure to mine the website.

LostInParadise's avatar

@monthly, Yes Sacramento. It is Sacramento that I confused with San Diego. Renting a car may be the way to go. I will not be going until next year some time, so I will have time to make all the necessary reservations. I am thinking of June, though it will probably be crowded then.

monthly's avatar

@LostInParadise You have plenty of time to plan your trip then. Have a nice time!

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

You might mine this question for further info. The question is about the John Muir trail which passes through some of the most beautiful parts of Yosemite. Muir got his first glimpse of this beautiful place in 1869 and spent the rest of his life—it was love at first sight. Along with people like early photographers Ansel Adams (his work) and Imogen Cunningham (her work) and many other California artists and writers, he almost immediately began working toward the protection the area from development. HERE is an 1887 topographic map of the Yosemite. By 1910, there were already taverns, pool halls, a bowling alley, a golf course, vacation homes and ranches on large parcels of privately held land in the valleys and mountainsides in and surrounding Yosemite Valley and Kings Canyon.

In 1903, Muir somehow got the President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt to spend three nights under the stars with him and naturalist John Burroughs in Yosemite. He took city-boy Teddy—who stated that he’d never, in any of his travels, seen such majesty before—to the top of the world, showed him the magnificent thousand year-old redwoods that were being threatened by wanton harvesting. Teddy, evidently, was suitably impressed. Building restrictions, land purchase restrictions and official state preservation efforts began the following year. The result was the protective inclusion of Yosemite into our National Park system in 1940. Today, Muir’s name is all over California, most prominently in Yosemite.

We owe the existence of an undeveloped Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks to these activist artists and writers. For those in doubt of this, a comparison of Muir’s descriptions from his 1869–71 journal, published in 1911, and today’s Yosemite will show little change. The Muir journals are now on the net as free downloads from Project Gutenberg:

My First Summer in the Sierras and The Mountains of California. Both of these books descriptions of trails in Yosemite and nearby King’s Canyon easily searchable by name by using your wordsearch. Large parts of My First Summer in the Sierras is especially pertinent to Yosemite and, if you have the time, well-worth a quick scan before you set off. Current material is all over the net, including individual Yosemite camping and hiking diaries from this decade.

There are complete, current, detailed topographic maps along with elevation profiles, estimated hiking times, point-to-point distances, on-trail resources, prep advice, etc. of all parts of the John Muir Trail (JMT) and other trails, in day-trip sections, including those portions that traverse Yosemite from the Stanislaus National Forest at the northern border of Yosemite south to Yosemite Valley, then northwest to Tuolumne Meadows in the Amsel Adams Wilderness.. But it is much easier terms of supply and transportation to start at Yosemite Village in Yosemite Valley and head west-south-west on the John Muir Trail to Toulumne Meadows at the western end of the park.

At Yosemite Village there is every convenience, including a shuttle bus from Yosemite Village that will take you and your equipment from the Village Parking Lot to your chosen embarkation point in Yosemite Valley.

I push the JMT because it rides the Sierra ridge which will guarantee the most heart-stopping vistas—an appropriate reward for the hard work of getting there—and there is tons of detailed material on the net concerning every aspect of this trail.

From This and This and the topos you can pick out your destination by determining the view you will have at the top and use the name of your destination to pull up the trail topo and elevation profile on google. I use google images and the resultant photos to access the relevant material. Also, once you have the name of the trails you are considering, you can then access the diaries by googling “Name of trail”+diary (or journal, or daybook).

If you choose the Yosemite portion of the JMT, I highly recommend the most current John Muir Trail Atlas pocket edition to take along with you and keep notes on your daily progress. It is packed with detailed maps and info and, although you will only use the Yosemite portion, it is a most interesting piece of literature and a good souvenir of your trip.

Topographic maps of Yosemite Trails HERE. What you learn from this is that there are many different trails requiring different levels of exertion and expertise. There is the less challenging 4 Mile Trail day-hike around the rim of Yosemite Valley, and there is the more difficult, longer JMT to Tuolumne, or shorter sections thereof. By scanning these maps and elevation profiles, you also learn the names and difficulty of these trails in order to research further the more interesting ones depending upon your allotted time and the physical demand. Even the shortest trail can be a challenge.

I took this trail, with my father and big brother in 1964 when I was 11. Only 3 miles, dad said. No sweat, we said. What my brother and I didn’t know was that we were about to climb 3,000 ft. in the next couple of hours following a 6’4” ex-Marine with extremely long legs and no mercy, who intended this to be some kind of rite of passage for the two of us.

My brother and I both made it to the top, with my father in the lead, and learned from him to help each other in our mutual struggle along those incredibly endless switchbacks—we two dedicated rivals—and the exhilaration as we looked down upon Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Point and what seemed to be all of California and Nevada from nearly 7,000 feet was a near spiritual experience and I remember it like yesterday 52 years later. I’ve since climbed Rainier complete with rope and pitons, and been caught on the sides of Norwegian fjords in bad weather, but this was my first victory. Everybody who has done something seemingly as insurmountable as this seemed to a surburban, eleven year old who’d rarely been out of the San Joaquin Valley, remembers their first victory.

This is what that trail looks like today. Trust me, in 1964 it wasn’t nearly as well manicured and well defined.

A description of the John Muir Trail Overview (Including Yosemite Section) HERE
John Muir Trail elevation overview HERE. HERE’S another, simpler map of the JMT. In this last map, your interest is at the top northernmost portion of the map, from Happy Isles to Lambert Dome, or point 1 to 3. From this, you will see that the Yosemite portion of the JMT is from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows at the Tuolumne River and Lambert Dome. You can look up and get topos, elevation profiles, hiker diaries and National Park info on any portion of this trail on the net—usually for free.

This is a typical journal describing the Yosemite section of the JMT from Tuolumne Medows southeast to Yosemite Village in Yosemite Valley. It took the guy and his seven friends 5 days and 4 nights to cover the 32.5 miles. The reason he started at Tuolumne and not at the Village is because he prefers descent to ascent. The Tuolumne embakation required only a total of 5,000 feet of ascent afterwhich he enjoyed 9,000 ft. of descent at the end of his hike. Makes sense to me. In this diary he provides hotlinks to each day of his journal. This is what it looks like at the 9,300 ft. summit of Sunrise Peak before the final descent into Yosemite Valley on this portion of the JMT. These diaries are invaluable to hikers unfamiliar to the territory. And Check this out

HERE’S some National Park info on this portion of the JMT. You need a permit. The money helps maintain and protect this pristine trail in the most populated state in the nation.

The complete 120 mile John Muir Trail Elevation Profile is HERE. You can highlight the section that traverses the Yosemite National Park. This will give you an excellent idea of the amazing views you will have along the Trail—and the difficulty you might have getting to them. But you don’t see stuff like that from the ground floor of a high valley.

OTHER Yosemite Trails:
Comparative elevation profiles of the short, day hikes that start from Yosemite Village.

The short, less challenging Valley Loop

The entrance to the JMT from the Village at the southwest end of the parking lot leading to Happy Isles across the footbridge and on to the very short loops to Vernal and Nevada Falls. Remember: the easier, shorter and closer to the Village the hike, the more crowded the trail may be.

“Half Dome”: is undeniably beautiful and majestic and the hike, although challenging, is understandably crowded, especially at the top where many people lose their resolve and things can get backed up. The Half Dome Hike from the Village to the top of Half Dome is probably the most popular hike in Yosemite due to it’s proximity to the the Village, it’s short distance (approx. 15 mile round trip) and the views it promises at 8,000 feet while gazing 4,000 feet into the valley below. It really dose feel like you’re on top of the world. It’s no walk in the park, though, and even getting down can be traumatic for some people. It requires an ascent of nearly 5,000 feet, the last 400 ft. ascent is almost straight up. But if all you have is a day, then this is probably the unforgettable hike for you.

The Half Dome Hike is aprox. 15 miles, 7–12 hours, depending on your physical condition. Permits are issued via lottery, so apply in good time before your arrival.
Half Dome the easy way
The Half-Dome Hike in 3D. Follow the yellow line.
Another map of the Half-Dome Hike map. The Village parking lots and hotels are in the upper left.
A very good Half Dome Hike Map. Click to enlarge for detail.
Half Dome Elevation Profile
Photo essay on the Half Dome Hike complete with amateur photos. Check out the weight the lady in the last few photos was carrying with her. Amazing. She made it. That must have been one helluva hike for her.

The Cathedral Lakes trail to Tuolumne Meadows
“Cathedral Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows Elevation Profile”:
A description of the 33 mile Ansel Adams Wilderness Backpacking Loop

Christ, this has become so long that it will take you between now and your trip to read the damn thing. Sorry. There is so much info here that you don’t even have to go now. I’ll send you my bill.

Good luck and happy trails. I am positive that no matter which trail you choose, you will come out the other end quite satisfied and with a very interesting story to tell. I wish I could join you. I love this part of California. Nothing makes me more homesick for my country, an almost impossible feat. Please be sure to tells us all about your hike when it’s over, will you?

LostInParadise's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus , Thanks so much for the information and pictures. I can’t imagine doing nearly vertical hiking. I would be willing to do some of the more difficult trails if I could take frequent breaks without blocking the trail.

One thing that I learned from when I visited the Grand Canyon is to approach any view slowly and just concentrate on taking it in. You only get one shot at a first impression, so make the most of it. Actually, the Grand Canyon view was too much for a first impression. Because the section adjoining the canyon is so flat, as you get to within a few hundred feet from the rim, the earth suddenly seems to split. I had to back up and take it in again.

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