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Yosemite Valley (4hrs from SF)

San Francisco, CA
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Yosemite Valley (4hrs from SF), San Francisco California

Description

On the way in to Yosemite Valley (from the south) you drive through tall pine forests, a fun tunnel (check out Tunnel View Lookout), and past some incredible vistas. Once in the valley, the steep rock cliff faces soar up above you. The sheer heights around you are wondrous to take in. Sunny meadows alternate with pine forests and trails take you past boulders up to waterfalls. Vernal Falls is one of the loveliest hikes, where the water spraying off the falls makes rainbows beside you. In early summer the falls are most likely to be at their best. In August they dry out, sometimes all the way. Don't swim at Vernal Falls or stand near the flow of water- people have died here, including children. You can have a lovely swim instead in the river at Sentinel Beach Picnic Area or in the Wawona River, a 45 minute drive from the valley (a wonderful swim!). A short (ten-minute), easy hike to a view of a waterfall is the Bridalveil Falls walk, which you pass as you enter the valley from the south. Even better is the Lower Yosemite Falls hike, a 30-minute loop hike on an easy walkway with amazing views of the falls. 
While you're in the valley, take some time to visit the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. It's a fantastic museum that explains how the granite all around you was formed by a volcano and then carved out by glaciers. There are exhibits about the history of Yosemite and the people that have made their mark here. A video in a beautiful theater relaxs you and shows you Yosemite all through the year.
Yosemite Valley, including Curry Village, are much hotter during the day than areas near the edge of the park (in August the heat can be very unpleasant). If you come in late summer, I suggest staying out of the valley in Wawona or Fish Camp. Curry Village has tent cabins made of canvas. You must walk far to use communal bathrooms. It is definitely not comfortable and the beds are like a slab of ice (the valley really cools down at night). We skipped Curry Village this year and stayed at a vacation rental in Fish Camp which was a great option, though more expensive. I am so glad we did this now that it has come out (August 2012) that there is hantavirus from deer mice droppings in the tent cabins at Curry Village, and this virus is usually lethal to humans. 
Make sure you grab a map from the ranger when you enter because the valley is really confusing to navigate around (the signs don't tell you much). Also, bring walkie talkies if you're traveling with a group because there is no cell phone coverage in many places.
A lovely place to have a drink is on the outdoor patio at Ahwahnee Hotel Bar. The views of the Royal Arches rock formations looming up behind the hotel are incredibly inspiring. After lunch, you can walk across the meadow under the shade of strands of trees and enjoy the views. Unfortunately the last time I ate there, there were squirrels running around the dining area and into the kitchen- there were no doors keeping them outside- squirrels can carry plague, so I'd stick to drinks and skip on food at this restaurant until they get swinging doors to keep the squirrels out.
A better place to eat is Village Grill, behind Village Store. The black bean burgers and sweet potato fries are delicious, and there are picnic tables with umbrellas outside where you can sit.
Traffic gets worse, parking spaces fill up, and the weather gets dusty and hot as the day goes on (in summer) so come early in the day. Yosemite is too hot and crowded in the summer- come the weeks before (for good waterfalls) or after the school vacation if you can.
While in Yosemite, definitely drive up to Glacier Point for a view of the entire valley, Half Dome, El Capitan, and all three waterfalls. You can see giant trees at Mariposa Grove, though it's quite dusty and some of the trees have burned. Oakhurst, a town 1.5 hours south of Yosemite Village, is a good place to have dinner and enjoy some cell phone reception. Eat at Old Mexico Taqueria. The interior is a humble diner but the food is delicious!! While in Yosemite, eat at Tenaya Lodge's Sierra Restaurant in the town of Fish Camp (one hour south of Yosemite Village) on their gorgeous patio surrounded by mountains layered in pines, beside an open fire pit. Prices are reasonable and the food is good.

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Photo Gallery

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View from a lookout point on the way to the valley.
View from a lookout point on the way to the valley.
Gorgeous view of El Capitan from a lookout just before Tunnel View Lookout.
Gorgeous view of El Capitan from a lookout just before Tunnel View Lookout.
The pines are so tall you won't believe it!
The pines are so tall you won't believe it!
Visitors enjoy the view at Tunnel View Lookout. Look at all those wonderful trees!
Visitors enjoy the view at Tunnel View Lookout. Look at all those wonderful trees!
I love the shapes of the rock-faces in Yosemite! El Capitan, Half Dome...
I love the shapes of the rock-faces in Yosemite! El Capitan, Half Dome...
Everything is way way above you in Yosemite! Tunnel View Lookout.
Everything is way way above you in Yosemite! Tunnel View Lookout.
Tunnel!
Tunnel!
El Capitan, from the road that loops in the valley (Hwy 41).
El Capitan, from the road that loops in the valley (Hwy 41).
Driving through the valley near Lower Yosemite Falls.
Driving through the valley near Lower Yosemite Falls.
Walking to the entrance of the Visitor Center.
Walking to the entrance of the Visitor Center.
View from the road that loops inside the valley.
View from the road that loops inside the valley.
Clear river beside the road.
Clear river beside the road.
Huge rock to climb beside the road!
Huge rock to climb beside the road!
Lovely river!
Lovely river!
Amazing views all around you!
Amazing views all around you!
View of Yosemite Falls from the roadside.
View of Yosemite Falls from the roadside.
Bike path with stunning views of Yosemite Falls!
Bike path with stunning views of Yosemite Falls!
Meadow between Lower Yosemite trailhead and the visitor center parking lot.
Meadow between Lower Yosemite trailhead and the visitor center parking lot.
Yosemite Falls, seen from a meadow.
Yosemite Falls, seen from a meadow.
View of half dome from a meadow.
View of half dome from a meadow.
Meadow in Yosemite National Park.
Meadow in Yosemite National Park.

Directions

Highway 41 leads into Yosemite Valley. There are some tricky turns so make sure you get a map from the ranger when you pay.
Entrance fee is $10 (valid for seven days)- you pay the ranger as you enter the national park boundaries.
Ahwahnee Lodge Bar, 1 Ahwahnee Drive, Yosemite Village, CA 95389, call (209) 372-1407.
Tenaya Lodge Sierra Restaurant, 1122 California 41, Fish Camp, CA 93623, call (559) 683-6555.
Old Mexico Taqueria, 40083 California 41, Oakhurst, CA 93644, call (559) 683-2777.

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Visitor Ratings

Overall Visitor Rating: Unrated.

Last Updated Mon, 07 Jul 2014 22:30:47 GMT