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Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed

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First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 18, 2009 09:01PM
Hi,

We are going to Yosemite for the first time - a group of 4 fit grown-ups, interested in scenic hiking.
Unfortunately we have only 3 days and two nights, Friday-Saturday-Sunday in mid-July (non-RV, just with a tent)
We have a couple of questions:

1) What would be the nicest hikes in Yosemite? (both loop and non-loop trails)

2) Are there any nice loop-hikes, doable over one day?

3) Is there such thing as not-very-crowded campgrounds in Yosemite? If yes, is it easy to reach nice hike trails from there?
( I mean, we would not like to spend hours driving just to reach the trails...Actually I am even not sure how drivable is Yosemite...)

4) Should we book our tent place ahead? What are the chances of finding any ?

Thanks for any advice! smiling smiley
Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 18, 2009 09:24PM
The roads are good in Yosemite but it is almost entirely mountain driving (endless curve after curve after curve). There is no gas station in Yosemite Valley so you have to plan carefully. There are gas stations at Wawona and Crane Flat, but the price is approximatly 50 cents per gallon higher than in the towns just outside the park. You can see quite a bit of the park if you go to Mariposa Grove on Friday evening, bring your dinner and have a picnic in the last hour of sun, the crowds will be gone and it will be quiet. You'll probably see some deer. Then back down to Wawona where there is a campground, I can't remember the name of it but it's right next to a river. It was completely empty when we drove by it a couple of weeks ago. Next morning head to Yosemite Valley and park in the day use parking lot, and take the shuttle to wherever in the valley you want to see close up. A must see is the Happy Isles area, at shuttle stop 16. This is a stunningly beautiful place right in the Merced River with water rushing all round and gorgeous views at every turn. We saw 2 young bears playing. That's the same shuttle stop for the Mist Trail, which leads to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, and eventually to Half Dome but the Half Dome hike is a grueling all-day hike with the possibility of falling to your death. Mirror Lake is not really worth the time, in my opinion. Yosemite Falls is another must-see, there is a short trail that winds through beautiful woods to the lower fall, which is not nearly as impressive as the upper fall. You can also hike the Upper Yosemite Fall trail at least to Columbia Point, for great views of the valley. Be sure to take 30 minutes to see the free movie "Spirit of Yosemite" at the visitor center in the valley. The western end of Yosemite Valley is more pristine and less developed, and there are some nice easy flat hikes to be done along the Merced River, with views of El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall (and Ribbon Fall if it is still going). The famous little Fern Spring is right next to the road just south of the Pohono Bridge. Finish that day by driving up to Washburn Point and then Glacier Point, on the Glacier Point Road. If it's a clear day, the sunset views from Glacier Point, with the alpenglow on Half Dome and the peaks of the Sierras, are superb. Driving back down from Glacier Point, you will pass a parking lot for Sentinel Dome and Taft Point. If you are interested in stargazing, Sentinel Dome will be a great place for that if it is a clear night. A one-mile hike from the parking lot with a 300-foot gain. Bring a blanket as it will be cold at night there even in the summer. If it is during a meteor shower Sentinel Dome will be a great spot to watch it. Only go to Taft Point if you enjoy being terrified by sheer 3,000 foot dropoffs. There are some campgrounds in that area including Bridalveil Creek campground but I don't know how full they get. The final day do the full Tioga Road, from Yosemite Valley to the eastern entrance to the park. You will go from Yosemite Valley to Crane Flat through the mountains past White Wolf, then to Olmstead Point, Tenaya Lake, then to the Tuolumne Meadows area with its large campground. That would be a good place to spend your third night. There is a multitude of hikes you could take from Tuolumne Meadows. This is the high sierra country and there are many domes you could go up, or just hike around on trails. Tons of great hikes start at the Tuolumne Meadows area. Ellery Lake, just outside the park's eastern entrance, is also a spectacular spot. Tioga Road is typical mountain driving, but the scenery is spectacular. It's an easy drive except for one short segment down Tioga Pass through Lee Vining Canyon, and that short part is terrifying, but just go slow. You would only need to go down that if you are going to connect with the 395 highway.
Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 18, 2009 09:44PM
Thanks for such a detailed reply! That's really great and helpful for us! At least we started to get a picture of what to anticipate.

This Tuolumne Meadows sounds really great as you have described it, with infinite hike possibilities. Sounds like a hiker paradise smiling smiley

You have mentioned a large campground over there - do you believe it won't get overcrowded during the weekend?

What would be our chance to find a spot over there?

Is there any other camping ground around in case that this one will be full?

Thanks a lot for all this information!
Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 18, 2009 10:24PM
There's another tread active in this forum right now about camping at Tuolumne Meadows. It's hard to say whether you can get a space on a walk-in basis, but you might call and see what the availability is like. It is a large campground with something like 300+ sites. There is a free shuttle bus in the Tuolumne Meadows area, which has a total 12 stops, with Olmstead Point at one end and Tulolumne Meadows Lodge at the other end, and 12 stops in between including the Tuloumne Meadows campground. However, the Yosemite Valley shuttle buses do not connect with the Tuolumne area shuttle buses. So to get from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows, you either have to drive or take a YARTS bus (yarts.com). I think that's only $8 one way or $15 round trip, so if you use the YARTS bus and then the free shuttles for getting around to the points you want, you can save money on gas, and also spend your time looking at the scenery rather than concentrating on the road. Of course the advantage of driving your own car is that you can stop at any turnout you want, and then get back in and keep driving, not having to wait for a bus. The Tuolumne Meadows area is a starting point for many hikes, you will have to choose the hike that is right for your group. You can download a brochure about hikes in the Tuolumne Meadows area at the park's web site:
http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tmhikes.htm
The park is so big that you can't possibly see everything on one trip there, even a 3-day trip. You will have to pick and choose the things you want to see the most, and then coordinate your list with a map, to get a good idea of where you are going each day. This will eliminate a lot of unnecessary driving and backtracking on the same roads. To the best of my knowlege, there are 5 campgrounds on Tioga Road, and in order from west to east they are Tamarack Flat, White Wolf, Yosemite Creek, Porcupine Flat and Tuolumne Meadows. So if you got to Tuolumne Meadows and that's full, the nearest one would be Porcupine Flat, about a 15 minute drive west from Tuolumne Meadows. The Tuolumne Meadows campground has 304 sites, and half of them use reservations, the other half are first-come, first-served. Also keep in mind that Tuolumne Meadows has an elevation of 8,600 feet so if you are used to living at sea level there might be some time required for you to acclimate to the thinner air. The first time I went to Sequoia National Park I felt ill, weak and nauseated the first night, from both the elevation and the winding roads, but the next morning I felt completely normal. That did not happen at all on our drive on Tioga Road 2 weeks ago. But if you are going to hike to elevations higher than Tuolumne Meadows the elevation and thinner air may be a factor.
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 18, 2009 09:50PM
Bob has given a very good detailed itinerary.
I would find it hard to even begin making suggestions without some additional information.

1. Just one vehicle?
2. Which side of the park will you be entering and leaving?
3. Do you want something "off the beaten path" or more traditional sight-seeing?
4. Do you want a backcountry experience or just car accessible camping?
5. Will you need to acclimate?
6. Do you want to be hiking most of the time, to be driving, to be on a more sedentary vacation?
7. Do you want to avoid crowds?
8. Do you plan to spend some time at ranger presentations or the Visitor Centers?


You should download or obtain a basic map of Yosemite and go over the information at http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/camping.htm regarding camping which will be difficult in the Valley without reservations. You may pick up cancellations at www.recreation.gov but would need to check the website frequently.



The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.
-- Carl Sagan
Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 18, 2009 10:21PM
Thanks, Frank, for all those links!

We will have only one car, and we would like to avoid driving as much as possible.

We do want to avoid crowds.

We are not interested in Visitor Centers.

We will arrive from an airport at San Francisco, so I am not sure which entrance should we take to Yosemite yet...

We would like to do some "off the beaten path": may be Friday and Saturday we could dedicate to a more serious hiking, and on Sunday we would try to do most of the things suggested by Bob - at least those which are more relaxing after the hikes.

However I did not think about acclimatisation. We would certainly need this... So being realistic, we most probably would not be able to cover more than 7-8 miles a day (probably without a heavy backpack).

Which answers your question regarding car access: yes, we would need car access for the camping. I want to avoid carrying tents and sleeping bags.

I tried the http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/camping.htm, but on Friday July 10th all entries were "not available", neither in Wawona nor in Tuoloumne Meadows. Should I start panicking?
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 18, 2009 10:40PM
Quote
waveguide
Thanks, Frank, for all those links!

We will have only one car, and we would like to avoid driving as much as possible.

We do want to avoid crowds.

We are not interested in Visitor Centers.

We will arrive from an airport at San Francisco, so I am not sure which entrance should we take to Yosemite yet...

We would like to do some "off the beaten path": may be Friday and Saturday we could dedicate to a more serious hiking, and on Sunday we would try to do most of the things suggested by Bob - at least those which are more relaxing after the hikes.

However I did not think about acclimatisation. We would certainly need this... So being realistic, we most probably would not be able to cover more than 7-8 miles a day (probably without a heavy backpack).

Which answers your question regarding car access: yes, we would need car access for the camping. I want to avoid carrying tents and sleeping bags.

I tried the http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/camping.htm, but on Friday July 10th all entries were "not available", neither in Wawona nor in Tuoloumne Meadows. Should I start panicking?
Definitely spend some time in Yosemite Valley. It may be full of tourists, but if it's your first time, you need to go to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall, to Bridalveil Fall, or stop at various places on the Merced River. Check out El Capitan and see if you can spot the climbers. Yosemite Valley is crowded because it's spectacular. Don't let that deter you. While you may not be interested in visitor centers per se, the rangers/volunteers stationed there are excellent sources for information on trail conditions and places to go.

From San Francisco, the best way in is I-80 East to I-580 East across Manteca - entering Yosemite via CA-120. This is the Big Oak Flat Entrance which is a short drive to Yosemite Valley.

Really - I would suggest Happy Isles up the Mist Trail Vernal Fall to Nevada Fall and back . Off the beaten path and I can't think of an 8-mile round trip that would be all that great. 8 miles one-way maybe.
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 18, 2009 10:29PM
Let me take this slowly....
Quote
waveguide
Hi,

Welcome.

>We are going to Yosemite for the first time - a group of 4 fit grown-ups, interested in scenic hiking.
>Unfortunately we have only 3 days and two nights, Friday-Saturday-Sunday in mid-July (non-RV, just with a tent)
>We have a couple of questions:
>
>1) What would be the nicest hikes in Yosemite? (both loop and non-loop trails)

Where to start? You've got iconic, breathtaking, tiring, flat, rugged, paved, etc.

>2) Are there any nice loop-hikes, doable over one day?

There are short loops. Maybe up Sentinel Dome to Taft Point and back to the parking lot. My favorite places would be more out and back, like Upper Yosemite Fall Trail past the Yosemite Creek bridge to Yosemite Point. Half Dome in a day is the signature day hike in Yosemite, but I personally think that Half Dome is better when made part of a backpacking trip. Part of the way to Half Dome would be up the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall. That is spectacular. If you continue to Nevada Fall, it's about 4 miles one way, and you can take alternate ways back although it's longer. Yosemite Valley to Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail from could be a decent hike by itself.



>3) Is there such thing as not-very-crowded campgrounds in Yosemite? If yes, is it easy to reach nice hike trails from there?
>( I mean, we would not like to spend hours driving just to reach the trails...Actually I am even not sure how drivable is Yosemite...)

In the summer on a weekend you're not going to find any Yosemite campground that meets that description. This is Yosemite. Unless you go way, way from the roads, you're not going to have it all to yourself. However - the areas around Tioga Road aren't quite so crowded, but they can somewhat crowded on the weekends.

>4) Should we book our tent place ahead? What are the chances of finding any ?

Reservations start on the 15th of each month for 4-5 months in advance. I reserved my campsite on March 15th for late July. About 99% of the Yosemite Valley campsite/date combinations were sold out in about 7 minutes. A few scattered single night were available maybe until late morning. That was actually rather unusual. It's typically sold out within 10 minutes after being made available. There were also a few North Pines campsites that were made available (they're in a flood area and probably held back until it was obvious the water level would be fine) a few weeks ago for June/July. They sold out in an afternoon, but that was a different situation than the regular rush.

Your best bet right now inside the park is to find a first-come first-served campground. You might be able to find a place outside the park. There are private campgrounds near Mariposa and Oakhurst. There are Forest Service campgrounds too, but they may be reserved for weekends.

Tuolemne Meadows was mentioned.

http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tmhikes.htm
http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/tmhikes08.pdf
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 01:48AM
Quote
waveguide
3) Is there such thing as not-very-crowded campgrounds in Yosemite?

Yosemite Creek, Porcupine Flat, and Tamarack tend to be peaceful.
Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 06:46AM
These are all good suggestions. Since you are coming into the park on the 120, you could take the 1-mile hike to the Tuolumne Grove and then not have to drive all the way to the southern end of the park to the Mariposa Grove, if you want to walk through a grove of sequoia trees.

For detailed information on each specific hike, that would help you choose which hikes you want to take, you may want to check out these sites:

http://www.yosemitehikes.com
http://www.yosemitefun.com
http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hiking.htm
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 07:06AM
waveguide,

Given your time restraints and the fact you should indeed spend time in Yosemite Valley and the Mist trail on your first visit, a really good short hiking loop is the Lembert Dome/Dog Lake trail at Toulumne Meadows. In 3.9 miles you can hit the Dog Lake trailhead (go all the way to Dog Lake) come back and summit Lembert Dome at 9,450' and return down to the Lembert Dome parking lot where you can catch the free shuttle bus back to the Dog Lake parking lot. Lembert Dome will provide you a spectacular overview of Tuolumne Meadows and surrounding peaks, which will get you excited about future overnight or much longer day hikes from Tuolumne Meadows (Glen Aulin, Cathedral Lakes, Sunrise Lakes, May Lake, Elizabeth Lake, Lyell Canyon). The drive to Tuolumne Meadows will include a nice overlook view at Olmstead Point and Tioga Road goes right by Tenaya Lake and several area domes. As we like to say, it's all good. Enjoy.

Jim
Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 10:42AM
waveguide,

What time of day are you driving on Friday and Sunday? Traffic could increase your
drive times by 1-2 hours each way. Longer if there is an accident or unusually high
traffic.

The drive on Tioga Rd always takes longer than it should, especially on weekends. It
is windy for much of its length. There is always a slow driver in front of you. Lots of
RVs.

I hope your flight out on Sunday is a late one. That way you can get in some good
hiking on Sunday.

---

Rangers in Yosemite (and probably elsewhere) love to repeat this story:

Visitor: "I am only in Yosemite for a day. What should I do?"

Ranger: "Cry."
Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 12:53PM
One possible plan would be:
Arrive Friday on the 120 (Big Oak Flat entrance). Get a campsite at the Crane Flat campground. There is a gas station and store at Crane Flat with friendly, helpful employees. Eat your dinner while it's still light in the Tuolumne Grove of sequoias which is right nearby. Next day spend most of the day in Yosemite Valley, and for the sunset drive up to Glacier Point. Drive back to your campsite at Crane Flat. Early next morning drive the Tioga Road out to Tuolumne Meadows and do the hike of your choice. At the end of the day, drive back and see the sunset on Half Dome at Olmstead Point, then back to your campsite at Crane Flat. Then the next morning it's a quick exit from the park and back to the airport. Remember that if you take any water out of a stream, pool or spring in the ground, you must boil it or use a giardia-rated filter, you can't drink it directly.
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 01:16PM
On my first visit I did the Mist Trail. I can't think of a better way to get initiated, even if the crowds are insane.

After getting done with the Mist Trail you could go back to the valley meadows and rest while trying to spot people climbing on El Cap. When you tire of that, drive up to Glacier Point and get some pictures while the sun is setting... if you have flashlights/headlamps you could then go get some peace on top of the Sentinel Dome. That would be one hell of a busy first day, but I think it would be doable as long as you do the Mist Trail early and don't take too much time on it.

Second day you could either stay in the valley and do a more extended hike, like one to the top of Yosemite Falls and back, or you could make your way up into the high country. I really enjoyed my hike up to Elizabeth Lake. There weren't many people and we did some basic scrambling at the base of Unicorn Peak to get some astonishing views:



Also, it's definitely worth going to the Giant Sequoia grove in Wawona if you've never seen trees like that before. If you go in the morning you'll probably see some good wildlife. When I went I saw lots of deer, some birds, and the people in front of us on the trail said they saw a bobcat a few minutes before we got there.
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 01:23PM
Oh, I forgot to ask- What time would you be leaving San Francisco for Yosemite and what time do you need to be back in San Francisco?
Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 02:49PM
Wow - what a photo
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 20, 2009 09:29AM
For waveguide's purposes, the white rock in the center of the photo at the top of the Elizabeth Lake treeline is Lembert Dome. Anyway, thanks for the photo; never seen Elizabeth Lake from that viewpoint before.

Jim
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 20, 2009 11:45AM
I guess the somewhat risky/scary climb to get to that spot was worth the photo op then smiling smiley
Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
July 19, 2009 10:53PM
We are back from Yosemite - a huge "Thank You" to all who helped us with all advices!

It tremendously helped us to plan our visit!

Yosemite is amazing!

We managed to do the Dog Lake, Elisabeth Lake, May Lake in Toulumne Meadows. Neither me nor my mate had any troubles with height adaptation from the very start - it is not so high, eventually. But our other friends complained (later it came out that they complained all the time - how to say it in a polite way- they were not exactly fit).

In Yosemite valley we managed to do the Mist Trail (it was awesome!). It was our last day in the park.

We slept in Porcupine Flat. As we started from the wrong entrance (not the one which was advised above, but a totally different one, very low in the valley - we still have no idea where exactly we messed up but we got a bit lost on our way from SF) - we saw several campgrounds on our way up. All of those had signs "FULL". Porcupine Flat had this sign too, but we were tired from searching so we just entered and we saw at least TWO free campgrounds! So we stayed. I guess that the signs were somewhat misleading.

So this is one of our photos, as a thank you smiling smiley Not as professional as dgniel's but this was the best we could do so far smiling smiley
photo

Thank you!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/19/2009 11:05PM by waveguide.
Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 02:41PM
dqniel: that's a nice photo. I'll have to try to get up there next time.

The only problem with Elizabeth Lake is that you have to cross that creek (which can be seen
on the right hand side of the photo), and when I tried this early one season, it was not safely passable.

So now I keep EL has a late season hike, just to be sure. It is one of my favorites, tho.
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 04:02PM
Yeah, that photo is from late July. I don't even remember crossing a stream so it must have been quite a bit different from your experience RobE; thanks for the insight.

I tried going up to Elizabeth Lake late last May but the entire trail was still under snow. I was fine with it, but my father was complaining of wet feet so we went back. I told him to bring boots but he's stubborn sad smiley

Trail conditions as of May 29th last year:





Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/19/2009 04:04PM by dqniel.
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 04:21PM
By 1st of July last year the Creek you cross (technically not Unicorn Creek)
... if you stay on the trail was trivial to cross...

Earlier in the year that whole area is probably a nice marsh...
If I went earlier I'd consider trying to cross Unicorn earlier and go around the west side of the Lake
to avoid the marshy area... ???
avatar Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
June 19, 2009 04:44PM
Yeah, we went the long way around the lake within the woods at the border of the lake. It was muddy but not too bad. I believe that was the west side...

Maybe that's why I didn't notice the creek? I never went over it?

I don't have a high resolution bird's eye view image or a detailed map of the hike.
Re: First time in Yosemite: hiking and camping advice needed
July 20, 2009 12:05AM
Tuolumne Meadows is often full during the summer and especially on the weekends. It is not a guarantee that a spot will be available. So make sure you have other options available if you are heading that way. The place to get away from all the crowds of the valley is starting to become very popular as more people tend to visit.
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