Yosemite National Park – Our Last California Adventure

Quite a few things have happened since our travels across Southeast Asia. We finally returned to Los Angeles from living abroad and were just getting settled in and readjusting to life in America, when, several weeks later, we got news we would be moving to Virginia. Yes! On the move, again.

When you’ve lived somewhere for 10 years and then find out you’re moving in just a few weeks, reality hits. Wait, I haven’t done this! Or been there! Or seen that! Thankfully, we were able to check off a couple of sights before leaving SoCal. Can you believe I’d never been up to the Hollywood Sign? So we finally hiked up to the sign, starting at the Griffith Observatory trailhead. Check. Phew.

Hollywood Sign hike - you can either hike to the front of the sign, or behind it.
Hollywood Sign hike – you can either hike to the front of the sign, or behind it.
Hollywood Sign hike - finally!
Hollywood Sign hike – finally!

I wish I’d made more of an effort to visit the many national and state parks in California. One of our last weekends in LA in late August, we drove up to Yosemite National Park. Let me tell you — it may not have been peak waterfall season, but it was still absolutely breathtaking.

Our plan was to spend a full day there, including the four-hour drive up.  We headed straight into Yosemite Valley, where you can basically loop around multiple viewpoints and trailheads.  Once you drive through the park’s main entrance, you still have to drive another 45 minutes or so to get up to the valley. No complaints there.

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The first viewpoint we stopped at was the popular Tunnel View. I mean, is this real? It looked like a painting.

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From there, we made our way to the Happy Isles area, parked the car, and walked to the Mist Trail trailhead:

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The Mist Trail takes you to a couple of waterfalls, but, since we didn’t have too much time, we just hiked to the top of Vernal Fall — about 2.5 miles, 3 hours roundtrip. I was surprised at how steep the trail was most of the way. Definitely had to stop and catch my breath a few times. Thankfully, it helps that much of the trail is paved and you get to enjoy some amazing views.

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Some people turn around at the footbridge for a shorter hike. There are water fountains there to refill your bottles. If you choose to keep going to the top of Vernal Fall, just be ready for a lot of steps! More than 600, in fact. Totally worth it.

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Keep in mind, this isn’t even the waterfall in all of its glory. You can tell from the marks on the granite how large the flow gets. The trail actually gets its name, “Mist,” from the fact that there’s heavy waterfall spray along the trail in the spring and early summer.

On a side note: There are signs everywhere warning hikers not to leave the marked trail. Naturally, people were hiking down to the pool to swim, and that wasn’t even that bad compared to these folks…. Can you see them? Look closely, along the top right corner.

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It’s beyond my comprehension. But, I digress. We kept climbing until we reached a somewhat terrifying part of the hike, where the path narrows and all that’s keeping you from falling off the cliffside is a wobbly handrail. I pretty much clung for dear life to the rock wall.

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We made it to the top!

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This was close enough to the edge for me:

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You can see how dried up the waterfall is:

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After our hike, we drove back down Yosemite Valley toward some of the other viewpoints, but, not before taking in a few more magnificent vistas and making a pit stop at the Village Store.

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Here’s the other popular viewpoint in the Valley — aptly named Valley View:

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Following our friend’s advice — mind you, our friend who had recently conquered the 16-mile hike to Half Dome in Yosemite — we did something much less risky and drove up to Glacier Point. Along the road to Glacier Point, you can stop and take in some views at Washburn Point. Washburn Point offers a sneak peek of the views you’ll find at Glacier Point, except here you can see Vernal and Nevada Falls in the distance (in the video below, note where I zoom in).

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We were lucky to reach Glacier Point just before sunset. The crowds had already gathered and a park ranger was sharing fun facts about the park. Did you know there are only 400-500 American black bears in Yosemite National Park? Considering the fact that the park covers 1,169 square miles (or 748,036 acres), you’re lucky to spot one. I kept my eyes peeled the whole time we were there, but all we saw were deer. Actually, one almost jumped out onto the road right in front of us as we were driving! Thankfully, Will reacted just in time.

The views were just spectacular. Right up there with the Grand Canyon, where you stand there in awe of the vast landscape, the soaring mountains and deep valleys, wondering how it could all be real. Humbled by the majesty of nature. Of course, in today’s photo and selfie-obsessed culture, people do dumb things like walk out to the edge of overhanging rocks to get the perfect photo. I had to turn away several times, I did not want to see someone fall to their death. Ugh.

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There’s so much more to see and do at Yosemite. I’m just glad we made it to the park at all before leaving California. An awesome final adventure in the Golden State.

Want to see more photos? Go here.

Up next: Cross-country road trip!

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