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Yosemite National Park, CA

Updated: Jan 17, 2021

Welcome to Yosemite National Park - home to so many iconic waterfalls, granite monoliths, rivers, valleys, mountains, hiking trails, giant sequoias, and stunning landscapes. In this national park it is true that a picture is worth 1000 words. Our 2015 trip highlighted the need to plan more visits to see this national park.

Yosemite has a complicated history. The valley and surrounding areas were designated the 'Yosemite Land Grant' by the US Federal government in 1864. Two years later, the land was ceded to the State of California for designation as a State Park. In 1906, John Muir convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to take control of Yosemite Valley away from California and return it to the federal government. Shortly after, Yosemite became a National Park.

“No temple made with human hands can compete with Yosemite,” – John Muir

Mariposa Grove of Sequoias

Giant sequoias, one of the largest known trees, grow only on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada at elevations between 4,500 to 7,000 feet. Found nowhere else on the planet, they are nevertheless closely related to California's coast redwoods, the tallest trees on earth. The Mariposa Grove is the largest sequoia grove in Yosemite and is home to several hundred mature trees. The oldest tree in Yosemite, Grizzly Giant, is believed to be 1900-2400 years old; a youngster when you consider giant sequoias can live to be 3000 years old.

Did you know that sequoias depend on fire to regenerate? When a sequoia grove catches fire, the heat opens up cones on the forest floor and releases the seeds inside. The blaze eats up any brush or deadwood that’s accumulated on the ground while leaving behind nutrient-rich ash in which the saplings can flourish. Forest rangers only became aware of the renewing benefits of fire a few decades ago. Prior to that, they would extinguish every flame they saw then wonder why no new sequoias were growing. Today rangers will intentionally set controlled burns to simulate the natural process.

Panorama Trail (8.5 miles)

Panorama Trail is a point-to-point hike from the top to the bottom of Yosemite Valley. Starting at Glacier Point and ending at Happy Isles, the trail descends 3,200 feet and is filled with incredible views including Panorama Point, Illilouette Falls, Vernal and Nevada Falls, and sights of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.

Panorama Point Vista

Illilouette Falls

At 370 feet, these falls are not as big or as well-known as the other falls, but the heavy flow from the these falls spectacular, during the spring and early summer.

At every turn there are incredible views of Half Dome, and once we crossed the Illilouette Falls we caught a glimpse of Yosemite Falls off in the distance.

Approaching Nevada Falls you are treated to a perfect view of the back side of Half Dome which looks like it sits on top of Mount Broderick, and Liberty Cap at the base of Nevada Falls.

Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls is a 594-foot high waterfall on the Merced River. It is located below the granite dome, Liberty Cap, at the west end of Little Yosemite Valley. The waterfall is widely recognized by its 'bent' shape, in which the water free-falls for roughly the first third of its length to a steep slick-rock slope.

One last shot of Nevada Falls before heading down towards Vernal Falls.

Vernal Falls

Our next major stop, less than 2 miles away, was Vernal Falls. Vernal Falls is only 317 ft tall but it is among the most powerful waterfalls in Yosemite. Unlike Yosemite Falls or Bridalveil Fall, Vernal cannot be viewed from the valley floor by car. To see it you must get on a trail. Because we were hiking down to the Vernal we had excellent views early on of the entire falls.

To get down to the base of the falls, you need to maneuver down stairs carved into the canyon wall and then down 600 wet and slippery stone steps. This section is one of the main reasons it's called the 'Mist Trail'. Plan on getting wet whether you climb up or down this path.

A final 1.5 mile hike to the shuttle bus stop ... an end to a perfect day of hiking.

Lower Cathedral Lake (7 miles)

One of the most popular day hikes in the Tuolumne Meadows area, Cathedral Lake explores some of the best glacially-carved terrain in the Yosemite high country. A 7-mile round-trip hike visits the shores of Lower Cathedral Lake and passes through splendid alpine scenery and lush meadows all the while providing amazing views of the granite pinnacles that form Cathedral Peak.

The hike starts at 8500 feet, not high enough for much of an impact. The trail starts just on the other side of Tuolumne Meadows and meanders through a thick forest, which even late May, had some snow cover.

Through breaks in the forest, you get a view of Cathedral Peak and Eichorn Pinnacle – the 10,911 foot peak that looms over almost every inch of this trail. These two peaks were carved and sharpened by glaciers. As you get closer to the lake, the peak becomes more impressive.

After about 3 miles you break out of the forest and into a meadow. A creek loops through the meadow. Since it was late spring, and the water level in the creek was high so we had to jump over and navigate around the creek.

The lower lake is located at an elevation of 9,288 feet. Once we arrived we found a secluded spot on the smooth rock surfaces the line the shore.

The best views of Cathedral Peak and the fang-like pinnacles are from the lake area.

Random Locations in and Around Yosemite National Park

Evergreen Lodge

We were only at the Evergreen Lodge for 2 nights but it was a great place away from the Yosemite Valley crowds. Check them out if you are looking for a great place at a reasonable rate.

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