If you are planning a trip and trying to decide whether to include Yosemite in it, do it! This place was the highlight of our 3 week trip and we weren't expecting that given we also went to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon and travelled part of the Pacific Coast Highway.
We knew going into it that there wouldn't be much in the way of waterfalls but as it turned out there was so much else with the Wow factor this didn't matter at all.
We spent a night at Oakhurst so that we could get to Yosemite fairly early and this was a good plan. There were roadworks on the way in - met a few of these on our travels, who knew that can mean a 10 minute wait each time if your timing is out, very different from home where only short stretches are done at a time. The first set of roadworks outside of the park we had a minimal wait. Got to the gate around 10 am and only a very short queue to get in, yahoo. Thanks to reading other posts here we made sure we were in the right lane so that we could turn right to Mariposa Grove immediately once through the gate. The Grove car park was around two thirds full when we arrived. The trail to the Grizzly and the Tunnel tree was quite busy, hadn't expected to see all the burn off with stark burnt trees along much of this trail, and surprised to learn this was deliberate to manage the forest. Did take away from the picturesqueness a bit but can understand why it is done.
Had to queue to get photos at the iconic trees and decided to head on and loop around to the car park rather than retrace our steps. We lost modest of the people doing it this way and saw numerous squirrels along the way which meant numerous photo stops as we don't get these in NZ... My husband was obsessed every time he saw one, he had to take a photo. Of course we saw many more in our travels. By the time we got back to the car park it was full and on the drive out we noticed the road had been closed so we were glad we hit this spot first.
Next it was on to Glacier Point. We debated whether to stop at Sentinel Dome to do the trail on the way or head straight to Glacier Point, decided on the latter in case it was busy there too. As it happens the Sentinel Dome parking was full as we went past and we were able to note exactly where it was and any additional parking on the sides of the road near it. Started to get glimpses of the views once up past here and the first Wows out of our mouths. We're following a tour bus and each time it slowed we knew to look for the next Wow. Decided not to stop at any of the viewpoints on the way, were really excited to get to Glacier Point now. Got a park just fine even though it was busy, plenty of parking up here. Walked towards the point and got our first look at Half Dome, Wow!!! Can't explain how much we loved this spot, the views in every direction are just magical. Couldn't believe there was anyone climbing Half Dome as we didn't see anyone on top... Zoom in with your camera or use binoculars... There were about 20 people up there, the size of ants even when zoomed in. Fun to watch them walking around up there and marvel at how they got there, hats off to them.
Make sure you walk out to the actual point and look down to the valley below, another Wow, and a Gulp as well when you see exactly high up you are from there. We had some lunch taking the views in (and dodging wasps!) then tore ourselves away to see if we could get a park at Sentinel Dome. It was about 2 pm when we got there and there were now several places available. We thoroughly enjoyed this hike and my concern at how steep the trek up the actual dome would be was not necessary once we saw it. Yes it is steep but only a relatively short distance and you just crisis cross your way up at a pace that suits you. The reward is yet another great view of Half Dome plus our first view of El Capitan, another Wow! We spent some time up here just drinking it all in, loved it.
Back on the road again and used others directions on TA to stop at all the best viewpoints. Tunnel View is great, note you can park either side as you come out the tunnel but the right hand side car park is quieter as the view is on the left. There is a ped crossing to get across the road. Bridal Viel falls was only a very fine mist at this time of year. We stopped as we knew there wouldn't be many other waterfalls still in action. Decided to leave the stops in the valley floor for another day as it was getting late and we were getting tired, time to check in at Stoneman House.
The accommodation and signage in the valley were the two low points of Yosemite for us. Stoneman House is dark and dingy looking and very expensive when compared to similar lodging at the Grand Canyon where it is half the price. We sucked it up as we knew we were better off staying in the park but we found it quite depressing, I guess made worse by the beautiful surroundings. We found the signage to get us to Curry Village Reception poor and also poor in other areas. It seemed to us you got clear directions to a certain point and then all directions disappeared, you had to work it out for yourself. This is then complicated by the one way system in the valley.
The Valley area itself was a wonderful place to wander and take it all in at various times of the day. Never got sick of wandering out to look up at Half Dome. Lots of deer around, totally disinterested in us being there.
The next day we decided to head up to Tuolumne Meadow to get another perspective of Yosemite as others on TA had recommended this. It is a long drive to get there - about one and a half hours and I'm not sure it was worth it for us at this time of year. The scenery was very dry, including the meadow and we wondered if it might be a lot better in Spring. We did enjoy the different view of Half Dome from Olmsted Point and trekked up the dome on the other side of the road here and got a great view of Tenaya Lake from here. Well worth the stop. We stopped to for lunch at Tenaya Lake and enjoyed this spot too, just not sure it was worth the trek. My advice is if you're leaving/entering the park by this route, make sure you allow time for stops they are worth it, otherwise think carefully about making this a special trip, in Fall at least.
On the way back into the valley we made numerous stops to take in the view and revisited Tunnel View Point as it was only a short detour (and who knows when we'll get back) plus stopped at all those places others mention in the valley - sentinel Bridge, Swinging Bridge etc. we really enjoyed taking our time and soaking up the magic in each spot. Loved the various views of El Capitan along the valley floor both ways as well and had to stop for many photos of this sheer rock face as well.
We decided to wander up to Yosemite Falls too even though we knew there was no water and really enjoyed this walk and taking a photo of where the water should be! Wandered more around this area, enjoying more deer and just soaking up the atmosphere. Returning that night from dinner to our room we had a run in with a couple of raccoons foraging around rubbish bins. Not sure who got the biggest fright, them or us (we were thinking bear when we heard the noise). Had us laughing for quite a while.
The next morning we sadly left for San Francisco and our flight to Las Vegas. Yosemite will have place in our hearts forever and is the one place on our 3 weeks of travel we would really like to return to and we saw some amazing sights over that 3 weeks. We saw Yosemite at the end of our first week and it stayed at the top of our 'favourite spot' list throughout.