This post is part of our 26-day road trip from Wisconsin to California.
From Death Valley National Park to Yosemite National Park is almost a 5 hour drive. We learned our lessons and checked the road conditions. Luckily, no roads from the east entrance were closed!
Tioga Road through East Entrance
As we got closer to the East entrance, we could already see snow everywhere, which was a huge contrast compared to the hot temperature in Death Valley just the day before. Tioga road is typically closed from November to May, but an early heavy snow can close it earlier. All the campgrounds along the road were already closed for the season. We felt very lucky to be able to still drive on it since it was such a fantastic scenic drive. Along the road, we saw beautiful lakes, giant rock cliffs, mountains covered by snow.
Hiking Around Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley is the center of the park, where the famous Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and Half Domes are. Unfortunately, since it is a valley, everything seemed crowded. Somehow, when I see too many people in a park, it usually reduces my interest quite a bit. Thus we decided to only hike the trail to the top of the Yosemite Falls, and then explore other areas of the park to avoid the crowd.
The trail up to the top is only about 4 miles long, but is indeed physically challenging. We ran out of water once we reached the top ( water issue once again!), though we probably could have just drank directly from the creek since it looks so crystal clear. For anyone who has knee problems, coming down might feel more difficult than going up since most parts of the trail consists of uneven rocks. It is the first time ever my knees actually felt tired after hiking.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
The glacial Hetch Hetchy Valley lies in the northwestern part of Yosemite National Park, and serves as the primary water source for San Francisco. I thought the name was very cute, thus decided to explore it the next day. Turned out, it was a beautiful and quiet place to hike.
We did some easy hiking to appreciate the giant sequoia grove. Do you know that sequoia’s bark is unusually fire resistant, and their cones will normally open immediately after a fire? The development of a sequoia grove needs fire, though fire also could kill a sequoia.
We already knew ahead that the campgrounds right by the Yosemite Valley itself was all booked. Hodgdon Meadow campground was our best bet, which was by the east entrance and about 25 miles from the valley. It is a self-registered campground so no reservation is needed. We arrived there by noon, a perfect time to check campsites availability. Since it was a Thursday, the campground was quite empty and we got perhaps the best spot in the whole campground ( at least I thought so). The whole campground was fully occupied by Friday.
The great thing camping in the woods was that there was unlimited firewood to gather, which was allowed by the park. Ben is super talented in terms of getting wood and they are super dry to burn. Therefore, every day after we woke up, we started a campfire, threw some bacon on the grill, drank coffee, and enjoyed being in nature. At night, we set a much bigger campfire, cooked yummy food, drank wine, and talked. Camping is really one of my favorite things!
We later discovered that there was also a first-come first serve campground by the Yosemite Valley. Those campsites were the smallest sites I have ever seen in any park. All you can have is a tiny tent, nothing else! So no campfire. How could you camp without a campfire! If you even plan to camp at Yosemite, please do yourself a favor and skip those campsites!
Can You Make a Better Map, Yosemite?
As much as we appreciated the park itself, we were quite annoyed by the park map. Every single national park map clearly marks the distance of roads and main trails, except the one by Yosemite. I guess they just assume we can infer the distance from the scale? For a giant park like Yosemite, a map without distances is really a disaster, in my opinion. Oh, also, in trail descriptions, they like to use the word “loop” when it is clearly an out and back trail, which means you have to return the exact same way once you arrive at the end point. All in all, the management team in Yosemite really should learn something from Grand Canyon ( Grand Canyon has the best park management!)