I’m still struggling to come up with the words to describe our experiences in Yosemite National Park.
Perhaps these, from the “Father of the National Parks,” John Muir, say it best.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine into trees.”
The view on the left was the first Brad and I witnessed of the Yosemite Valley from Big Oak Flat Road. Tears stung my eyes, taking in the grandeur of it all. The view of the iconic El Capitan and Half Dome in the distance with the Merced River winding along the base of the valley is breathtaking.
As we drove further along the route, Bridalveil Fall looms in the distance, the light winter stream of water originating in Ostrander Lake (ten miles south) cascading down the mountain. In the fall, the winds carry the water sideways, creating a veil-like appearance.
Native Americans call the falls Pohono, meaning “Spirit of the Puffing Wind.”
My younger brother Gordie (eight-years my junior…this comes into play later in the post) visited Yosemite with his wife Debbie several years ago. Gordie served as tour guide for our initial expeditions, strongly recommending that we take in the Tunnel View, which the photographer Ansel Adams made famous.
The view is spectacular exiting the Wawona Tunnel off State Route 41.
Just as my words could not suffice, neither could any of our pictures. This shot, found on Yosemite.com captures the incredible viewpoint.
Photo credit: Yosemite.com
So this is where younger brother Gordie comes back into the story. He recommended the Yosemite Falls trail. The hike is the longest and most strenuous in the park…and can take up to eight hours to hike. I think Gordie forgets our age difference sometimes. But, in comparison, the Vernal Fall/Nevada Fall hike seemed like it would be doable.
I’m kind of glad I didn’t research the trail too much before our hike. I discovered after our hike that Backpacker magazine rates the Mist Trail as one of the 10 most dangerous hikes. The trail can be slippery, but that’s not the real issue. Hikers can be idiots sometimes, not paying attention to barriers or understanding the power of the Merced River, which flows below both falls.
Having offered this, I would not discourage anyone from considering hiking the trail. Just be smart. And prepared.
The hike lulls you into a false sense of security with its fairly leisurely .08 mile hike to the footbridge at the base of the falls. Note the chart below. The start of the hike winds you gradually up the trail, then seems to take a vertical leap up to the top of the falls for the the remaining 1.2 miles.
Did I mention there were over 600 steps leading to the top?
I must admit to a bit of whining as we hoisted ourselves up the trail. It took a bunch of hits of water (H2O as Brad kept reminding me) and the site of young whippersnapper kids behind us nearly skipping up the steps to keep me going.
It was all worth it…
Okay, so look back at that graphic above. Note how much steeper the trail gets to the top of Nevada Fall.
Brad and I were at an impasse. Despite my Pilates/yoga/walking/biking/kayaking/golfing fitness level, my quads and calves were screaming at me. And they weren’t screaming for more…
Brad, on the other hand, was up for the challenge. More whining ensued. More deals were being made.
Did I mention we were the oldest hikers on the trail?
Thank goodness for a much younger hiker who seemed to be breezing his way back down the Nevada Fall trail. He informed us that by hiking up a bit we’d find an outcropping that we could get a great view of the falls without hiking to the top. I could have kissed him.
Note my happy face below.
Two days later I’m still sore.
Lower Yosemite Falls Trail
The next day we ventured back into the park from our campground about an hour away. We hit Yosemite Village, first stop: the Welcome Center. Probably just as well we didn’t go there the first day, for when I asked the young forester about hikes, he offered the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail and the Cook’s Meadow trail.
When I told the forester that we’d hiked the Vernal Fall trail and to the base of Nevada Falls the day before, he raised his eyebrows in surprise and suggested that we might want to also consider the Valley Loop Trail, which although relatively flat, hikers can go up to 11.5 miles on.
Mirror Lake Trail
This easy trail runs along Tenaya Creek and was quiet and peaceful. Most visitors opt for the paved trail that heads back to the lake (which is more like a pond this time of year), so we were pretty much roaming the woods among the boulders on our own for the two-mile hike.
Our feet and legs had just enough from the two days of hiking, so we didn’t venture further on the Valley Loop Trail.
The Ahwahnee Hotel
Our last stop was the beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel built in the 192o’s for wealthy clientele. One look at the room rates and Brad and I observed that not much has changed over the years. It was fun people-watching in the lobby during our brief stop. Little sisters dressed in pajamas in the late afternoon, accompanied by grandfather to the Sweet Shop. Young couples gathered around the huge fireplace. Friends hanging out in the lobby bar, toasting one another.
Brad and I both agreed it would have been fun to grab a glass of wine to toast our visit, but the curvy hour-long road home awaited.
We also both agreed that we were done walking for the day, so caught one of the Yosemite complimentary shuttles back to our car in the Welcome Center parking lot. You can catch shuttles at many different locations at the park.
To wrap, Ansel Adams famously stated, “I knew my destiny when I first experienced Yosemite.”
As Brad and I both have had Yosemite on our bucket lists, it was our destiny to finally visit. Fate would have it that even though we traveled to the national park in December, although the Tioga Pass and the John Muir trail were closed for the winter, the weather was perfect. Snow in the distant mountains, but not on the roads. Cold in the mornings, but warm in the afternoons. Perfect hiking and exploring weather.
We highly encourage you to put it on your bucket list, and let “nature’s peace flow into you.”