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Staying in the breathtaking Yosemite Valley

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Mar 2018; updated Jun 2023.

Yosemite Valley is one of our all-time favourite places to stay. Discover why...

After seeing the giant redwoods, we continued onto Yosemite Valley.

Getting to Yosemite Valley

Only a week before there had been a devastating forest fire that blocked the entrance to the Valley. While attending one of the many free talks at the Valley, we learnt that forest fires are all part of the eco-system there.

Forest fire remains near Yosemite Valley

This is the road to Yosemite. You can see the burnt tree trunks from a recent forest fire.

We also got to see more warnings about bears. Even if you stop by the side of the road, put your food into these Bear Boxes, and don't leave any in your car. Even the rubbish bins have to be bear proof.

A bear box in a parking spot

A bear box. Don't leve food in your car if you go off for a walk. Lock it away in these instead!

Despite all the warnigns about bears, you soon see that actually we're more of a threat to them. And although they can cause damage getting to food, the biggest problem is that they learn that where people are, food is also.

Bear road sign - bear was hit by car

Bears have more to fear from us humans than we do of them.

Our trip over the Tioga Pass gave us glimpses of the famous Yosemite Valley, but it's not until you drive through a tunnel and enter the valley proper that you get to see just how magnificent it is.

Right after the tunnel is a viewing point where you can pull over and take a photo of the classic view lots of us associate with Yosemite Valley.

The classic view of half dome

As soon as you enter the valley, you are greated with this classic Yosemite view.

Some views just have all the right proportions to the human eye that make them majestic, and Yosemite has a lot of these incredible sights.

As you drive around the valley, huge domes tower above you.

Driving in the valley these large domes tower above you.

Yosemite Lodge

We were staying at Yosemite Lodge and had an upstairs room (which is safely away from bears!) that would have a fantastic view of the famous Yosemite Falls. Unfortunately, since this had been a hot August, the Falls weren't falling! No water at all!

However, that didn't distract from the beauty of the place.

The racoon that visited us at night

Our nighttime visitor to our room at Yosemite Lodge.

Vernal Falls and the Mist Trail

The next day we hiked up the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls.

The Mist Trail from Yosemite Valley

The trail was well marked and easy to follow out of Yosemite Valley.

It was warm, it was sunny, the air was fresh, the views immense, and the climb quite high. Great fun!

Vernal Falls Map

The map of our hike up to the Vernal Falls

Walking up to the Mist Trail

Unsurprisingly, the path mainly went upwards all the way.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, we saw no bears at all. However, the squirrels were relentless. Despite signs telling people not to feed the squirrels, many tourists were. Many squirrels were overweight, and having grown up relying on junk food from tourists, probably wouldn't survive the winter too well, which can be pretty harsh in Yosemite.

A squirrel in Yosemite

Squirrels were everywhere and after every bit of food.

As you get closer to the foot of the Vernal Falls, you can understand why it's called the Mist Trail.

The Vernal Falls

Not much water flowing over the Vernal Falls that August.

Unfortunately, the falls had reduced to a trickle on our visit, but even so, there was plenty of spray to get you wet!

The Mist Trail

You can gell why it is called the Mist Trail. Even with the little amount of water in August, there was still spray from the waterfall.

The last part of the climb up to Vernal Falls is on rock carved steps with an old iron railing, which can be a little unnerving when the path is busy.

Steep steps

Towards the end of the Mist Trail the steps get quite steep.

Metal railing climb

The last part of the walk is narrow, and step, with just a metal railing between you and the edge.

The view down the valley from the top is breathtaking.

View from the top of the Vernal Falls in Yosemite

A pano at the top of the Vernal Falls.

Unfortunately, we learnt, that there had been many tragedies on these falls, with kids going for a dip in the pool at the top, only to be swept over the edge to their death in a plummet of 97m to the rocks below.

Over the edge of Vernal Falls

When you get to the top you can get quite close to the edge of the falls.

Despite the warning signs and past tragedies, a few people were cooling off in the pool at the top of the falls. Something we didn't do, despite the water looking very inviting.

For those wanting to explore more, the trail did continue up even further to the Nevada Fall, but given the time of day, and our limited time in Yosemite, we headed back down to explore some more of the valley.

The High Sierra Loop Trail

Distances on the Sierra Loop Trail

The John Muir Trail

The famous John Muir Trail leeds off from the route.

Hiking in Yosemite Valley

If the steep climbs aren't your thing, there's plenty explore on the valley floor.

Unfortunately, we just didn't have enough time to see it all.

Large fire pit at Yosemite Valley

Campfire anyone?

Coming off our descent of the Mist Trail we did visit the Happy Isles Nature Center. It was fascinating seeing the different creatures that live here compared to home, especially the damage a bear can do to a car door when they are hunting for food.

There was also a video showing a bear breaking into a car at Yosemite Lodge, right near where we were sleeping!

At the centre they run Junior Ranger events, where your kids can get involved in activities.

A big tree

The giant trees are too big to hug!

A Captive Audience

One obvious thing about Yosemite Valley is that once you're in, you're in. That means that food prices tend to be high.

There is a shop, but bringing some food would save you money. Just don't leave any food in your car. You are advised not to leave any food in your cabins if you are on the ground floor, as you might find a bear wanting to get in!

Yosemite Village Store

The Yosemite Village Store

We did eat at the Yosemite Lodge, which despite the fantastic surroundings, was more like a school dining room.

We also tried the pizza restaurant in the centre. Good food, but again, pricey.

Yosemite Visitor Centre

The Yosemite Visitor Centre

Saying Goodbye

Perhaps is because we're a family that loves the outdoors, but Yosemite is a special place to us, and I don't think we're unique in that regards.

Yosemite Valley

It was a glorious sunny day in Yosemite Valley.

Yes, it's busy. Yes, it's pricey. But, yes, it's beautiful.

If we could magically do the trip again, I would spend longer here in the mountains, but for this trip, it was time to head west to San Franscisco...