As I get ready for another trip to Yosemite this year I thought I would do a post on my trip last year. It was the first time I had planned a hiking/camping trip to Yosemite and a it turned out awesome. The above view was the first view my son and I had of the valley. We came into the park from the south entrance and stopped at the Tunnel View vista point and snapped a few pictures before driving through the valley and heading to our camp site. On this trip I went with my youngest son, my best friend, his youngest son, and another friend from my home town. The trip was over the 4th of July weekend, the same as the trip we have planned for this year, but we will be doing a lot more hiking this year and backpacking instead of car camping. In 2010, I did a lot of research on reserving camp sites, and got a site right in the valley on the first day reservations opened. I felt pretty lucky because all the sites were booked within 15 minutes. But after I reserved the site I read the fine print and was unsure that I would be able to tent camp on the site that I had reserved. So I reserved a second camping site in the Hodgdon Meadow camp ground which is about 20-30 minutes outside the valley. In the end we went with the Hodgdon Meadow camp site. It wasn’t as convenient to what we wanted to do (panorama trail and float the Merced River through the Yosemite Valley) , but it was a beautiful camp site. After seeing the camp grounds in the valley (way close together and crowded) I was happy we stayed at Hodgdon Meadow. It was a big camp site, with plenty of room for two tents, and there was a fire ring and a bear locker right in the middle of the site. It was right near a big open meadow and there was plenty of room between camp sites. We were able to throw a Frisbee around the first night after setting up camp, and there was plenty of firewood in the area for a great fire every night. Nothing better than grilling over an open fire, then sitting around the fire and enjoying some laughs together. I’m sure the experience would have been much different in the Yosemite Valley. It would have been much more crowded, and the camp site would not have been nearly as nice. Of course we would have awakened in the beautiful valley every morning and not had to drive as far, but Hodgdon Meadow was great!
Our first big day in Yosemite Valley was hiking the Panorama Trail. If you’ve never hiked this trail before I definitely recommend checking it out. We had two vehicles so we left one at the trailhead parking by Happy Isles and then drove the second vehicle to Glacier Point to start the hike. The view from Glacier Point was spectacular even if you are not a hiker, drive up there to check out the view. You’ll easily be able to get Nevada and Vernal Falls, Half Dome, and Clouds Rest in a single picture.
The hike is around 8.5 miles and nearly all downhill. The view of the Valley remains amazing all the way to the top of Nevada Falls where you begin the final decent to the Valley Floor. Then if you descend on the Mist Trail you’ll have two fantastic waterfalls to hold your attention: Nevada and Vernal. Be careful on this part of the trail, it is steep and wet in many places. You could also choose to descend on the John Muir trail. We took the mist trail, so I’m not sure what the scenery is like on the John Muir trail, but I can’t imagine that it could be as spectacular.
The first falls you come to on the Panorama Trail is Illilouette Falls although if you blink you will miss the only decent view you’ll get of the falls from the trail. Once you get to the falls there is really no good view of the falls. The Illilouette creek area above the falls is beautiful and a great place to rest and eat lunch. If you go further up the creek there is a camping area. I’ve heard that it is a good area to backpack to for less serious backpackers and a fun place to camp. My daughters have express an interest in camping and hiking, so this may be part a 2012 or later trip that I might be able to do with all my kids together.
The trail between Illilouette Falls and Nevada Falls is less busy, and has the only uphill section of the hike, about a half mile stretch. We hit it right at the hottest part of the day, but it was still a pretty easy climb. When you get to the top of Nevada Falls the crowds will back. The John Muir trail descends before you reach the falls, but even if you are going down that trail, head over to the top of the falls. There is a nice view from the bridge. There are warning signs on the river above the falls and I definitely don’t recommend swimming in the river no matter how good a swimmer you are, but there are some calm pools you can soak your feet in, but pay attention to the warnings. Don’t get carried away (literally), it is a long way to the bottom of the falls.
We descended on the Mist Trail. This is a very steep and rocky trail that descends very near the two falls, Nevada and Vernal. Because the trail is steep you have to remember to pause every once in a while to check out the view of the falls. Although it was the 4th of July, and the water flow can be less by then, it had been a wet spring and we had a lot of water coming over the falls that day. The trail earns its name when you descend through the mist below Vernal Falls. You’ll want to stay alert during this descent. I was constantly making sure my son was taking his time and carefully picking his steps. While the view from the top of Vernal Falls is spectacular, the view from the bottom is actually a better picture. It is also a relatively short hike from the Valley Floor to the bottom of Vernal Falls. I would recommend that even if you don’t hike the Panorama Trail. Most of that trail is paved although at a slight climb. The pavement actually bothered my calves and knees more that the rocky descent above, but it does make it accessible to more people.
This was day one of three and was by far my favorite day of the trip, not because the other days were lacking anything, but because it was spectacular . We could have snapped pictures every 5 feet in any direction, and every one of them would have been awesome. What else would you expect from the Panorama Trail. Most of the trail was less busy than I would have thought being right there in Yosemite Valley. We spent a good bit of hike with no one else around us. Even though the hike was 8.5 miles, it was mostly downhill and not a difficult hike. My calves disagreed the next day, but the soreness went away fairly quickly.
On day two we visited a couple groves of Sequoia’s, which helped work some of the soreness out of our legs. On day three, the 4th of July, we rafted/floated through the Valley on the Merced River. I’m going to describe that part of the visit in a second post.
Next post in this series: Yosemite (2010)(Part 2 – Sequoia Groves and Merced River Float
Posts for our Aug 2011 trip to Yosemite:
Yosemite (2011) (Part 2 – Backpacking to Little Yosemite Valley and Hiking Half Dome) – We backpacked from Glacier Point along the Panorama Trail to Nevada Falls then continued to LYV.
Yosemite (2011) – (Part 1 – Yosemite Valley and a Vernal Falls Day Hike)
Here are some more pictures from the first part of our Yosemite 2010 visit. Also remember you can click any of the pictures in the post to see them full size.