Over Fourth of July weekend, Shoestring Adventures took a weekend road trip to Yosemite National Park with trip leader Canyon! Located six hours from Los Angeles, Yosemite attracts travelers from all over the world, offering breathtaking views of glacier-carved cliffs, majestic waterfalls, open meadows and giant pine groves.
For some, heading into Yosemite on a holiday weekend might sound crazy, but we were determined to make our three day weekend count! We met four Shoestring Warriors at Big Pine Campground on Friday evening and set up camp. On Saturday, we got our bearings in the Valley with a walking tour from Upper Pines to Yosemite Falls and spent the afternoon taking turns floating down the Merced River on an inflatable pink donut. Early Sunday morning, we set off on a hike from the Mist Trail to the Panorama Trail to Four-Mile Trail, a challenging 14-mile trek with views of Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Illouette Falls, Glacier Point and Half Dome. On Monday morning, we left the Valley from Tioga Road and dipped our toes in Tenaya Lake before heading back to Los Angeles. We can’t wait to go back and explore more!
If Yosemite is on your bucket list, here is a guide to help you plan your first visit. Find out when to go, what to expect, how to score campground reservations, and what to pack.
Plan Your Visit
Best Time to Go
Yosemite is a destination year-round for visitors from all over the globe. The most popular time to visit is Memorial Day through Labor Day. May and June are best for waterfall viewing. Visit December through March to avoid the crowds and to play in the snow, but check ahead for road closures.
Typical summer climate in Yosemite Valley is warm to hot, with occasional rain (usually as afternoon thundershowers, especially at the higher elevations) with average daytime temperatures in the 80’s and nighttime temperatures in the 50’s.
Yosemite Valley is about 6-7 hours drive from Los Angeles or 4-5 hours from San Francisco.
Campground reservations during the busy season are essential and can be made up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7am PST. Log into your Recreation.gov account 10 minutes before 7am, and be ready to pull the trigger because sites sell out within seconds. If you don’t score reservations, you can try your luck at a first-come-first-served campground, but most fill before noon.
We secured a site at Upper Pines Campground, the largest campground in Yosemite Valley. Amenities for tent and RV sites include flush toilets, bear lockers, fire rings, picnic tables and drinking water. You must store all scented items, including toothpaste and gum, in the bear locker.
The convenience store at Half Dome Village is just a five minute walk from Upper Pine Campground. Showers are available at Half Dome Village and Hospitality Camp. Cellphone service is spotty and unreliable. Turn your phone on airplane mode to preserve battery life and to remain as present as possible.
Things To Do
Lower Yosemite Falls
Once you are in the Valley, you can probably spot Lower Yosemite Falls from a distance. The .5-mile out-and-back trail will bring you right under the nose of this 320-foot waterfall. Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls make up the tallest waterfall in North America, twice as tall as the Empire State Building! The best time to visit is in the spring when the snow begins to melt.
After a long hike on a hot summer day, nothing beats a lazy float down the Merced River. We passed several nice beaches on our walk around the Valley and spent two afternoons floating in the water near the entrance to Upper Pines Campground.
The Mist Trail (Vernal and Nevada Falls)
The 3-mi round trip hike to Vernal Fall is somewhere over the rainbow, through the mist and up a stone staircase. If you’re up for a bigger challenge, continue past Vernal to Nevada Fall, a 7-mi round trip hike with fewer crowds and a view of Half Dome. Both views are definitely worth the climb.
Mist Trail to Panorama Trail to Four Mile Trail
If you’re in excellent shape, continue to hike from the Mist Trail to Glacier Point to Four Mile Trail, a 14-mile hike featuring the most famous views in the park, including Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail, Panorama Point, Glacier Point, Half Dome, and Illilouette and Yosemite Falls. See stops E5 and 16 on the Valley Shuttle Map to avoid extending your hike with a walk back to your campground.
If you have time, exit the Valley on Tioga Road to experience the quieter side of Yosemite. Stop at Tenaya Lake to enjoy a picnic and to dip your toes in the water.
If you want to elevate your camp cuisine, Fireside Provisions makes it easy to prepare a gourmet feast from your campsite. Just choose your menu, select your group size, then receive ingredients, recipes and checklists right to your door!
If you’re a car camping beginner, check out GetOutfitted, an online rental service that delivers premium camping gear directly to your doorstep.
Once you have the essentials, here are some additional items I recommend bringing that are not included on my Car Camping Gear Checklist.
Bring a comfortable pair of waterproof sandals for hiking to the swimming hole.
Bring an inflatable donut to float in the river.
Bring a bathing suit for swimming in the Merced River. When we visited in July, the water was very refreshing!
Bring a lightweight tech towel like the REI MultiTowel Lite to dry off after a swim.
Don’t let a sunburn ruin your trip! Especially during the hot summer months, wear sun protection and lather up. My favorite lip protection is Banana Boat Sport Sunscreen Lip Balm – SPF 50.
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Special thanks to trip leader Canyon and the Shoestring Warriors of Yosemite July 2016: Heather, John, Ari & Daniel!
Photos © 2016 Shoestring Adventures