3 Weeks, 6 National Parks Road Trip Series Finale : Yosemite National Park

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Holy Moly we made it! (Did she just say holy moly?)

Damn right I did.

I have a kid now (close to 6 months), that’s all I need is for his first word to be the f-bomb.

Which I still drop… A LOT!  

Anyway, here we are! The last national park stop on this road trip. Don’t be sad, I have others to write about.

Yep, more adventures with your one and only sarcastic tour guide.

Yosemite National Park. Where to hike and camp
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Yosemite National Park

While I do love exploring and camping and tree climbing. The honest reason why I ended up here was

  1. I want to hit ALL National Parks before I get eaten by a shark (highest probability of how I will go)
  2. Yosemite pictures are all over freaking Pinterest, so it has to be a “must see” place right?

To spare you the suspense, the answer is yes.

Yosemite is pretty awesome.

BUT!

Ugh sooo many people! As I mentioned in the series before, I love that people are getting out to explore and escaping the city for a bit.

However, some of us (ME!) get outdoors to escape people. I mean I can’t be the only one right?

Great News!

My husband and I found a way to enjoy what Yosemite has to offer AND avoid the masses.

My secret?

I always…

ALWAYS choose the trail deemed as strenuous or challenging. We’ve done some moderate ones too.

This works because the bigger majority of people that go to National Parks want to see the main landmarks. Those are typically easily accessible to all.

Hell some of them you can drive right up to and walk less than 400 ft. (Old Faithful at Yellowstone)

Sure, we still enjoy the “main attractions”, but they can also be seen from alternate views sometimes.

I do think with Instagram it is getting a little more challenging to avoid people. Everyone needs that Insta-Worthy shot! Totally guilty of this at times.

Where to Camp

Before I spill the beans on which trails had the least amount of crowds or people, let’s talk camping.

Finding a campsite in this park is not exactly easy. Since it is one of the more popular parks in California, campsites fill up quick!

You can make a reservation….months in advance. But that’s not my thing. I’m stubborn and sometimes like to wing it.

To snag a first come first serve spot, you need to be ready and in the park as soon as the gates open and high tail it to a campground.

We stayed at the Bridalveil Creek which is the closest campsite to Glacier Point. (the view that is seen hundreds of times on social media).

Out of Luck

So our first night was not actually in Yosemite.

Why?

All campsites were taken. Every single campground was fully booked. Lucky for us there was a KOA just outside the park. It was not our ideal choice since KOA sites are more pricey and we were literally just sleeping there for the night.

Lesson Learned…

We woke up at the butt crack of dawn and high tailed it to the campground Bridalveil. I would like to say we got the first choice but not exactly.

Apparently, this campground is one of the more popular ones, because holy shit there were dozens of cars circling like vultures (us included) waiting to swoop in on a spot where campers were leaving.

After securing a spot and fending off the remaining vultures we set up camp and then planned out which hikes we wanted to accomplish today and which to save for the next.

Which Trails to Hike (and avoid the crowds)

Day 1- Taft Point, Sentinel Dome, and Glacier Point

The great part about the 3 trails I am about to discuss or review is that they are all along the same road. (meaning you not spending a chunk of the day driving around the park)

Taft Point was the first one up. The trailhead for Taft and Sentinel Dome are the same, you’re just choosing to go right or left first.

We chose left haha.

The hike for Taft Point is a 2.2 mile round trip and is fairly easy since there is not a big change of elevation. (We saved that for Day 2)

Depending on your pace, you can expect to be on this trail for 1-2 hours. We probably took longer since once we got to the overlook we stayed and enjoyed the views for quite some time.

Why Taft Point?

It is a nice hike through some wooded areas, but the main attraction is the Taft Point overlook itself.

You can get the same views at Glacier Point just without the high volume of people and guardrails. You can walk right up to the edge and look down all 7,500 ft. if you’re brave enough.

Yosemite National Park. View from Taft Point
My mom “LOVES” this pic

Word of caution! Please be careful when enjoying Taft Point! Especially if you are hiking with young explorers.

There are also some neat fissures in the mountainside that you can view or even walk across. (again with caution)

Sentinel Dome

This trail is also 2.2 miles roundtrip. So if you do both as we did, it makes for a good little day hike just over 5 miles.

Granted hiking 5 miles does not take all day, but we do like to hang out at certain spots and enjoy the sounds of nature or the views. Plus we also drove to Glacier Point after.

P.S.– Even with short hikes like the ones mentioned, you still should carry a pack with minimum hiking essentials. Like they say in the Boy Scouts “Be Prepared”. Not sure what you should ALWAYS take on hikes. Read my list here.

Anyways, Sentinel Dome is really cool because you get a 360° view of Yosemite National Park. It’s quite possibly the best view of Half Dome and El Capitan in the whole park.

Yosemite's Half Dome
Half Dome

The only thing I wish I did was hike this early enough to catch the sunrise and or in the evening for sunset. But, then again it gives me a good reason to go back!

This trail does have a bit of an elevation climb. The trailhead starts at an elevation of 7700 ft and the top of the dome is 8122 ft.

I’d recommend if you hike both trails, you do Taft Point first since it probably would not take you as long.

Glacier Point

This is really not a hike, but more of a drive up, park, and walk.

Because this overlook is so easily accessible by everyone, it is also quite crowded. The time it took just to find parking was nuts.

However, I still think it is worth doing because of the views you get to see. From the overlook, you can see Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, a huge chunk of Yosemite Valley, and the high country.

You might actually be able to avoid crowds and find easy parking if you go early in the morning. Although, this viewpoint is only accessible by car from May to October. During the other months, the road is closed because of snowfall.

Day 2- Tuolumne Meadows, Lembert Dome, and Inyo National Forest

Day 2 was also the day we were leaving to park and onto Inyo National Forest. So with it being our last day we chose to head towards Tuolumne Meadows. (another often photographed area of the park)

Tuolumne Meadows is probably not the highlight of Yosemite, but who can resist a beautiful meadow surrounded by massive black granite domes and peaks?

Did I mention the winding river? Can we say Instagram worthy?

The best time to visit is anywhere from early spring when the wildflowers put on their show or even in July as we did. The meadows were still bright and lucious green with plenty of surrounding water.

Take bug spray unless you prefer your fresh to be feasted on by one of nature’s worst evolutionary creations. Yea I am talking about you Mosquitos…

Be sure to start towards the middle of the meadow (they have parking all along the road sides). The middle is where you will find the picture perfect bridge and the Soda Springs.

Lembert Dome

After checking out the meadows and grabbing some hiking fuel (food) we hit up Lembert Dome.

Why?

Because it was across the street from the meadows and we had time. Also, I read you could climb all the way to the dome summit if you wanted. (Which not many do)

Challenge Accepted!

The hike distance may seem short (2.8 miles) and the elevation gain is only 900 ft, but you are climbing a freaking mountain. Not to mention the trail has a lot of switchbacks and steep points.

So why don’t many people do all the way to the top of the dome?

It’s pretty damn awkward to climb because it’s large and well nature didn’t exactly crave out steps.

IF you choose to climb it, wear good trail shoes with grip and take it nice and easy. One misstep of slip and well I think you can infer where I am going with this…

On top of Lembert Dome

You can still take this hike and not go all the way to the top, trust me you will still get great views of the meadows and Cathedral Peak.

It is also really windy at the top, so secure that hat unless you want to buy a new one.

Dog Lake

The trailhead for Lembert Dome is also the trailhead for Dog Lake. So as we descended the dome, we continued on to Dog Lake. Again, because why not?!

This part of the trail was easy and fun. The lake itself was beautiful and clear. A little too cold to swim in for my taste, but that did not stop others from doing it.

The most I did was hop some rocks. Adventure! (reader proceeds to shake their head)

Dog Lake

Inyo National Forest

You’re probably thinking to yourself, wait that’s it? You’re leaving already? You didn’t talk about Yosemite Valley.

And for good reason…

We completely avoided the valley floor. Why? Even though it’s one of the “must see” spots. If you saw the number of cars as I did from Taft Point on day 1, you would have said nope too.

I get that the valley floor is cool, but my personal preference is to admire Half Dome and El Capitan from a little higher elevation.

Maybe in the future, we will go to the valley, but remember I like nature, not crowds…

Back to Inyo

So Inyo National Forest made it on our camp overnight list because of its location.

First, it was a little more on the desert type landscape compared to Yosemite. Which made it perfect for star gazing and milky way photography.

Second, it was on the way to Vegas, which was a stop on our trip. I know its not nature or camping, but you can’t just skip Vegas on your way back home to Texas.

There are several campgrounds within Inyo, we stayed at one by Ellery Lake.

FYI- camping in National Forests can be awesome! They don’t cost as much per night as National Parks do and there is no entrance fee. Something to keep in mind if you can’t get camping spots within the park.

It was really quiet and peaceful and the bathrooms! Some of the cleanest campground bathrooms I’ve seen. Not that it is a must for me (I’ve marked my territory in the woods plenty of times), but it is definitely a perk!

There is also a really huge recreation lake outside the forest called Mono Lake. Worth a quick stop and look at their visitor center.

Lee Vining

The little town of Lee Vining also has some really cool local shops that I would recommend you checking out.

However! Ok y’all I am about to go on a little Texan Rant. There was a bbq place (won’t mention names) that claimed to have Texas style bbq.

This is how you bait and trap a Texan by the way. We can’t resist places that make claims like this. It’s that big ego of ours that says “oh yeah, I’ll be the judge of that!”

Y’all….

It was NOT Texas style anything. I won’t say anything more other than I could make a whole post on what was wrong with their sauces.

OK…OK… Conclusion

So I thought overall from the quick trip we did to Yosemite, I would absolutely go back again.

Although, I will switch it up and search for different trails. Lesser known ones of course. AND I will most likely reserve a spot in advance to avoid having to stay at a KOA site.

Have you been to Yosemite before? What was your favorite memory of it or perhaps give me some awesome trail recommendations.

Drop me a line in the comments below!

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4 thoughts on “3 Weeks, 6 National Parks Road Trip Series Finale : Yosemite National Park”

  1. I’ve always wanted to do a road trip around the U.S., and of COURSE hit up as many National Parks as I can! I’ve gone to a couple of the same ones that you did, but only when I was young so we didn’t go on these more difficult treks. I’m looking forward to following in your footsteps one day when I do something like this 🙂 Thanks for sharing, and what a wonderful adventure this must have been!

    Reply
    • Thanks for following along on my road trip 😉. And yes! That is my goal too! I have many more parks to visit! Mainly on the east coast of the US. I’ve been to others they weren’t part of this one particular trip. But I will write about them here soon! So check back regularly!

      Again, thanks for stopping by!

      Reply
  2. Loved this. I’ve always wanted to do Yosemite but like you I’m not a fan of the crowds… I really enjoyed all the suggestions on trails and finding a campsite

    Reply
    • Thanks! And believe me there are a ton of trails there that I am sure are more or less people free. I just did not have the time to hike them all! But hey, gives me a reason to go back right?! 🙂

      Reply

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