A Weekend at Yosemite National Park, California
Updated: Nov 20
We went off on a long overdue weekend road trip to Yosemite National Park. Its always the places nearby that take forever to get checked off the bucket list. But Yosemite is not the kind of place you go once and think its done. Its astounding natural beauty and unlimited attractions demand more time than just a weekend.
Yosemite National Park - Tunnel View
Nestled in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park is one of the most iconic national parks in America. Gigantic granite cliffs, plunging waterfalls, giant sequoias and abundant wildlife at the park draws millions of visitors each year. Going there just for the weekend meant we could only see a fraction of it but there is never enough time no matter where we go. So we went ahead with the plan.
Washburn Point - Sunset
Day 1: We started early on a Saturday morning and drove 4 hours to Oakhurst. We had plenty of time for check-in so we drove straight into the park to see whatever we could that day. Mariposa Grove was closed for restoration and our first stop, Swinging Bridge Loop trailhead, was also closed for wildfire safety reasons. So we ventured further into the park.
There were multiple wildfires happening around the park which made the air smoky and hazy. That didn't affect the beautiful drive and views in anyway.
Wawona Highway drive
Glacier Point Rd: Summit Meadow - We took a right on Glacier Point Rd and made our first stop at Summit Meadow. Although in spring it would have been a wildflower treat, summer grass, fallen trees, the quiet and serene surrounding made for a beautiful relaxing stop.
Mono Meadow - This was our next stop. It was a 0.6 mile hike to the meadow on a 15.3 mile long trail that ends at Buck Camp. More than half of the trail to the meadow had a steep descent. There was no great scenery along the trail except for tall trees showing signs of forest fires. The trail became flat as we got closer to the meadow but there were mud puddles we had to cross over downed trees and rocks. The meadow itself was only visible to the right through the trees, but there were plenty of mushrooms and pretty flowers to spot along the trail. And also mosquitoes. The hike back was very hard since we treaded up-hill, we were so out of breath.
Trail to meadow / Burnt trees
Washburn Point - We parked at the designated parking area and descended a short staircase down to the lookout. This is where we got our first glimpse of the iconic Half dome, Yosemite Valley, and clear views of Vernal falls and Nevada falls. When the crowds went silent, which rarely happened, we could faintly hear the thunder coming off Vernal and Nevada Falls. Later we went back to Washburn point for sunset. Sun was in the opposite direction but still we could see subtle colors in the clouds and the mountains.
Glacier Point - This was the last and most prominent viewpoint on Glacier Point Rd. Breathtaking panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite falls and Yosemite's High Country. There was a short loop trail with many view points and a geology hut with pictures showing the different stages of mountain formations. We could also see smoke coming off from a forest fire to the far right.
Glacier Point / Loop Trail
Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park
Sentinel Dome - There was a sign at the trailhead pointing to the left for Taft Point and right for Sentinel dome (both 1.1 miles one way). We knew we couldn't do both on the same day but which one has the best views. Our decision to head right was made easy by a coyote heading towards Taft point. The trail was uneven and rocky, with ups and downs and a slow elevation gain. We crossed other hikers on the trail so we didn't feel completely alone, in case we saw another animal. Halfway through the trail we could see the full Sentinel Dome but we had to hike some more to get to the top.
Trail to Sentinel Dome / Rocky and uneven
Yes, we actually climbed to the top of the dome and that made us very happy. I mean, realistically, we could never do the Half Dome hike so this one was very satisfying. Personally, climbing up this granite dome was much easier than hiking the trail. And the 360 degree views from the top were just spectacular. We could see more forest fire smoke coming off from the east side.
Read our post and more pictures on Hiking the Sentinel Dome
Jeffrey Pine tree on top of the Sentinel Dome
We did not stay there until sunset because we weren't so sure about hiking back in the dark, especially after the coyote. Instead we went back to Washburn point and then to our room. We had continuous views of the beautiful orange sky on our way out of the park.
Sunset at Yosemite National Park
Day 2: Oakhurst is 15 miles from the south entrance of the park, which was not too bad. But the distance we had to drive inside the park to get to the sights was too much. It was only a 2 day trip, can't imagine a longer trip in Yosemite while staying in Oakhurst or even Fish Camp the whole time. Those winding roads would make us very sick. No wonder all inside the park accommodations were full. On our second day we drove straight to Yosemite Valley, the crown jewel of the park. Smoke from the fires seemed intensified making the drive more hazy and the air smelled of burning wood. We were lucky that the park was even open.
Wildfires in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley: Tunnel View - Our first stop in the day. Tunnel view scenic lookout was just past Wawona tunnel on Highway 41. There were too many people at the lookout. Luckily we found a parking spot thanks to the continuous flow of traffic. This overlook provided a spectacular view into Yosemite Valley - El Capitan, Horsetail Falls (completely dry), Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls.
Tunnel View - Yosemite Valley
Bridalveil Falls - Next stop on valley drive was the 617 ft tall waterfall. Bridalveil Falls was only a short hike from the parking lot, fairly easy, and busier than the lookout. The trail ended at a vista point at the base of the falls. We completely ignored the warning signs and climbed up the rocks to get a closer look and few more pictures.
Cathedral Rocks - A short distance from falls we parked off road to get another good look of the falls and the magnificent Cathedral Rocks. There is a trail from there to the waterfalls as well. To the north side of the road is a good view of El Capitan and a short trail to the flowing Merced river.
Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls
Merced River / El Capitan
Sentinel Beach - A calm spot on the Merced river with sandy shore, surrounded by trees and El Capitan across the river. The water was not too deep and didn't look very clean. But it was a lovely spot to just get away from the crowds and relax.
Sentinel Beach / Facing El Capitan
Swinging Bridge - This bridge did not actually swing. It was just past Sentinel beach, crossed over Merced river and had great views of the valley and Yosemite Falls.
View of Yosemite Falls from Swinging Bridge
Then we stopped for lunch at Half Dome Village. There was a good sandwich joint called Meadow Grill. After lunch our situation was a bit chaotic. There was no space to park at Vernal Falls trailhead, Mirror Lake trailhead nor at Yosemite Falls. We had to drive around the loop and around every lot until we finally found a spot.
Lower Yosemite Falls - We parked at the Chapel on southside, crossed the road, crossed the river over Sentinel Bridge, walked through the meadow to the northside and took the Lower Yosemite Falls trail. It was an easy 1 mile paved loop trail. We got a view of both the upper and lower falls and Yosemite creek from different spots on the trail.
Bridge over Yosemite Creek / Lower Yosemite Falls
We spent some time at the meadow getting pictures of Half Dome, the closest view by far. We even spotted a deer at the meadow, just munching some grass, minding its own business.
Half Dome - Yosemite National Park
And with that we called it a day. Unfortunately we couldn't do anything more during this weekend trip. But guess what.. The very next day, highway from Oakhurst to Yosemite and the Glacier Point Rd were closed due to fires. There is nothing we could have done anyway.
We will be going back to Yosemite very soon, may be concentrate on the left out spots next time. And ofcourse I will write about it :)..