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Spend three days getting to know the best areas of Yosemite including the Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, Glacier Point, and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
These ideas should help you explore the Park when all the roads are open and everything is accessible. As always, check road and weather conditions before traveling.
When you enter the Park, you'll get a color fold out map and a copy of the current Yosemite Guide newspaper. You can download the Yosemite Guide here or read last year's Guide during your time period to get ideas of what is likely to be happening during your visit.
In general, if you see a fabulous view or lovely scenery AND if it's safe for you to pull off the road into a parking area (not just the side of the road), then do it. Yosemite is constantly changing: the weather, the water level & waterfalls, the animals, the trees. Whatever you see will never be the same again. Just stop in a safe place, get out of your car, and enjoy the beauty of this National Park.
Read the Itinerary for one day in the Valley. If possible, spend a weekday in the Valley rather than Saturday or Sunday.
This is a favorite area of the Park for many visitors. The high elevation, unique topography, and less crowded trails create a wonderful atmosphere for getting to know the high country of Yosemite. If possible, take a picnic lunch with you for the day. Supplies or sandwiches can be purchased at the Village Store in the Valley or the well stocked store at the Crane Flat gas station. Bring sunscreen & insect repellant.
Expect to spend about 1 1/4 hours behind the wheel driving to this first stop on the way to Tuolumne Meadows. Here is the tip: walk about ten minutes away from the parking lot viewpoint for much better and more secluded view of Half Dome and other Yosemite peaks. But even the parking lot view is fabulous, so less-abled travelers are not at a great disadvantage.
Just a short distance down the road you'll see Tenaya Lake. This is a great spot to dip your toes, take a photo, relax at a picnic spot (picnic tables available at both ends of the lake), or just gaze at as you drive by.
Stop at the Visitor Center to learn more about this area of the Park. It's well signed and on your right as you enter the meadow area.
Picnic lunch with you? Lots of places to enjoy the beauty. The Tuolumne Meadows Grill is probably open; be sure to check the Yosemite Guide for hours.
This is when you'll really get to know Yosemite. Spend at least an hour walking, or just a few minutes walking and more time relaxing. There are numerous trails with no elevation gain that wander among the meadows. More ambitious folks might opt to hike up Lembert Dome or Pothole Dome. Families might enjoy the flat 3/4 mile hike out to the Tuolumne River along the Lyell Canyon trail, ending in a flat area with swimming opportunities.
A favorite hike of Yosemite DE's it the one up to May Lake http://snipurl.com/may-lk
This trail yields great rewards for the effort. In just over a mile, hikers reach the May Lake High Sierra Camp, May Lake backpacker campground, and viewpoints galore. Ambitious folks can continue hiking up Mt. Hoffman for even greater views, but the ones from the rocks southeast of the lake are fabulous.
If you are "picnic people", get your supplies before you set out. Sometimes you're hungry when there is nothing available, and sometimes the lines are just too long. On busy summer days, try to set out early enough to miss the crowds or bring a picnic dinner and enjoy the peaceful end of the day.
Departing from the Valley, you'll ascend to 6,000' at Chinquapin Station. Continue on Hwy 41 as it descends to the community of Wawona. In busy times, the National Park offers a free shuttle bus from the Wawona General Store parking lot to the Mariposa Grove parking lot. If it's a busy season or you are arriving in Wawona after 10 am, you probably need to park here and get on the bus. Once you have arrived at the Mariposa Grove (by bus or by car), decide if your group prefers to walk the 0.8 mile to the Grizzly Giant & California Tunnel tree and perhaps farther, or if they prefer to take the fee tram tour.
Back in Wawona, you can purchase food at the Wawona Store, eat at the historic Wawona Hotel restaurant, or get a hot dog at the Golf Course snack shop. There are picnic tables behind the Store or big rocks by the adjacent South Fork of the Merced River.
The cabins and buildings in the recreated village have been moved here from various locations around the Park. In season, there will be folks in period dress to welcome you. The blacksmith is actually creating metal projects which are available for purchase. Many enjoy the fee stagecoach rides or head out on a trail ride from the adjacent Wawona Stables.
Back in your car, retrace your drive to Chinquapin Station. The road is well signed for the turn off to Glacier Point. This road is fairly curvy and offers some excellent views as you ascend past the Badger Pass ski area to Glacier Point at 7,200' elevation. Stop at Washburn Point for some of the best views of Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall.
There is only one portion of this road that is unnerving; it appears that you are driving of the edge of the road. But you'll be driving only 15 mph in this section, so it isn't really that scary. The huge Glacier Point parking lot fills on busy summer afternoons, but it's worth the visit. Be sure to walk all the way out to the end of the path for best views. Bring binoculars and look for hikers standing on top of Half Dome.
Returning to your car, drive down the road just a short distance to the Sentinel Dome parking lot. This hike is a must-do for able visitors. A short 1.1 mile hike puts visitors on top of a beautiful dome with some of the best views in Yosemite.
Drive one hour back to the Valley or to your lodging. If possible, time your return to allow for a stop at the Valley overlook just outside the tunnel for sunset views. The warm afternoon light on Half Dome and El Capitan is wonderful.