There’s no doubting the beauty of Yosemite National Park but there could be better time to visit than on a weekend in mid June.
Indeed after telling local residents my travel plans many wondered why I had come from Australia at this time, given it is peak season. My reasoning was the same as theirs – the weather wasn’t too cold or too hot and the park’s famous waterfalls including Yosemite Falls– the world’s fifth largest – were still flowing. As the waterfalls are powered by winter rain and snow they all but `disappear’ during summer.
However if I had my time over again I would probably choose late May or after mid September, a time local tourism officials recommend. As they explain the park, which is open all year round, has much to offer no matter what the time of year.
Although it was very crowded I did manage to find some delightful moments of solitude and fortunately they were in some of the park’s most picturesque areas.
My most enjoyable experience was `my picnic’ by the Merced River between the track leading to Mirror Lake and Happy Isles. For at least 10 minutes I was alone taking in the beautiful scenery around me in splendid solitude! The arrival of a group of horse riders and a large group taking the Valley Floor Tour shattered the peace for a period. After they left my only other companions were a few hikers, a couple of joggers and people strolling with their dogs – allowed in the park, albeit on the leashes.
The track to Mirror Lake also provided periods of solitude. While many chose the paved track to get to the lake I opted for the unpaved path through the trees. And while there weren’t too many people, as I discovered, this track was also used by the horse riding stables located within the park. Avoiding the `delights’ left by the horses meant as much time looking down as up at the trees!
Of course no visit the park was complete without a walk to Yosemite Falls which were still flowing quite strongly. A stroll across the meadows and a stop at Sentinal Bridge to watch rafters floating down the Merced River were other highlights and as it turned out the crowds weren’t too bad.
I would have probably found more isolated areas had I driven, however as I was staying at Mariposa, a small historic town located about 64 kilometres from the park, and given the amount of traffic both leading to and travelling within the park – I decided take the YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) bus.
This bus also connects the park with the Amtrak station at Merced. If my experiences are any indication it’s not that widely used. On the three days I took the bus there was hardly any passengers and those who were seemed to be park staff. I found the service efficient and generally on time although by the third it was tiring undertaking the 90 minute ride between Mariposa and the park’s visitor’s centre. But the bus trip meant I avoided sitting in traffic, and diving along the sometimes windy roads. I could also enjoy the scenery which was at times was stunning especially where the Merced River traverses the Sierra National Forest.
Once within the park there was the efficient, if often crowded, free shuttle service which took in some of the most popular walking tracks and attractions within the Yosemite Valley. Around seven miles long and one kilometre wide, the valley is home to many of the park’s best known attractions including the Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley and El Capitan which rises over 3000 feet above El Capitan Meadow and Bridalveil Falls. Much of the park’s accommodation is located within the Valley. Options include two hotels, lodges and a camping ground. Here you will also find a number of shops and the main visitor information centre.
Having been told there were many more attractions I should see outside the valley I joined Yosemite Tours’ all-day Grand Tour, one of a number of daily guided sightseeing tours.
Glacier Point was as spectacular as acclaimed, although it was very busy with both cars and buses. However it certainly rates as a mus- do thanks to the panoramic views 3200 feet above the valley. It was here I had my only wildlife encounter in Yosemite – inquisitive squirrels!
The Mariposa Grove, near Yosemite’s south entrance, contains about 500 mature giant sequoias trees, said to be the largest living things on earth. Some of the huge trees are said to be more than 3000 years old. A tram tour traverses through the 120 hectare reserve, stopping at two of the best known trees – the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree – to allow for pictures. There’s also a stop at the museum.
Another highlight of the tour was a stop at Wawona, Yosemite’s historical centre. As well as an historic hotel, there’s also a pedestrian covered bridge over the Merced River. I could have spent several hours exploring this area and it’s something I will do on my next park visit. I would also look at renting one of the private houses on offer around Wawona for at least a week but it wouldn’t be anytime between June and August!
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