After spending time in Santa Cruz, we headed away from the ocean and in toward the mountains. The drive from Santa Cruz to our Airbnb in Oakhurst, just outside of Yosemite, was about 3 hours, but we had some time to spare so we stopped for lunch and then later stopped in another town to grab groceries for our kitchen. (We made breakfasts at home every morning and then packed lunches as well.)
One of the things we didn’t fully understand going into this trip was that, even though we were staying just 13 miles outside of Yosemite, it took about 30 minutes to get to the entrance of the park and then it takes a full 30+ minutes more to get from the entrance down to the valley. We got used to that hour+ drive pretty quickly as we did the roundtrip 3 times! Thankfully, Kevin did the driving because those tight, hairpin turns were so tricky, especially in the dark, fog, and rain!
We arrived at our house in the afternoon and unpacked, then Kevin happened to look up the drive time to get to The Majestic Yosemite for our anniversary dinner reservations that night and we realized we needed to leave much sooner than we had thought since the 46 miles to get there would take an hour and a half to drive (it’s way down in the valley)!
On our drive in to dinner, we were greeted with our first breathtaking sight of Tunnel View:
Dinner that night was so delicious! (I had the rotisserie chicken, which had to be some of the most amazing chicken I’ve ever eaten. I imagine that’s what Queen Elizabeth II also ate when she was there.) When we were done eating, we wandered around the hotel for a while too (it’s so beautiful) and it was completely pitch black when we left, meaning our first drive out of there was dark and foggy.
The next day was our first full day in Yosemite and I had done some research beforehand for trails to hike. One of the ones that was listed as “strenuous”, but also an iconic Yosemite trail not to be missed was Four Mile Trail, which is estimated to be a 6-8 hour hike roundtrip. In my research, it is closed over the winter, but is usually open in April. Obviously that was the hope, but when we pulled over by the trailhead to park, we saw that it was closed.
Yosemite had had a really bad winter, including a storm in February that brought over 2 feet of snow in just 2 days, causing trees to topple, power outages, road closures, damage to the park campgrounds, and evacuation of many of the residents (one of whom was our server at the restaurant that previous night). That, combined with the 34-day government shutdown in December-January that had put the national parks department behind in winter maintenance, meant that in April, when trails normally start to open, many were still closed because of snow and trees covering the trails. And when I say “trees”, I don’t mean branches. I mean, we literally had to assess our every step and shimmy, climbing over enormous trees that were uprooted or simply snapped at their bases like toothpicks. Then we had to try to find the trail again, which was never clearly marked, in part because of the debris of fallen trees everywhere.
So, after coming back to the trailhead of Four Mile Trail (we ventured in just to see how far we could go, but it wasn’t very far at all; it was gated off), we went with plan B and decided to hike the Valley Floor Loop, which was supposed to be an “easy hike.” Unfortunately, again because of the rough winter storms and government shutdown, the trail was really hard to follow and was covered with fallen trees. We did manage to hike several miles before coming to a dead end in the form of a river. We couldn’t figure out any way to get around it or across it and, because the trail wasn’t well-marked, we couldn’t find a continuation of the trail anywhere around. We had left the physical map in the car and phone service in Yosemite is nearly nonexistent, so what little bits we could pull up of the map on our phone wasn’t helpful enough to get us anywhere as it indicated you cross the river, but there was no bridge and I wasn’t about to dive in and swim across that current.
It was afternoon by this point–we had already eaten lunch earlier as we stopped along the loop to see Bridalveil Fall–and I was tired, but maybe mostly disappointed that two of the trails I had really wanted to hike had proven to be impossible. To save us some hike time and difficulty, we walked back to our car following the road rather than take the slow, tedious trail over and around fallen trees. It still took a while–we did have several miles to walk after all–but we eventually made it back to the beloved sight of our rental car and that night we grabbed take out pizza in Oakhurst, which was either exceptionally good take out or we were just really that hungry.
Despite the disappointing hikes that day, the views of Yosemite were, as expected, exceptional. April was a great time to visit as the falls were in full swing, melting loudly over the rocks. The weather was cool and sometimes rainy when we were there and we were glad to have brought layers as well as winter hats. We were also both glad to have it be slightly chilly and not humid and hot like it is during the summer (and also, not crowded!).
There were many things we loved about Yosemite, but I’d be especially remiss to skim over the stunning granite of El Capitan. We had just watched “Free Solo” as well as “The Dawn Wall” a few weeks before traveling to Yosemite so the sheer massiveness of seeing El Cap in person was a little bit mind-blowing. The last day we were in Yosemite, we finished it out by parking our car by the road and making our own path, hiking up to the base of El Cap and touching the granite ourselves, which can strangely be described best as a bit silky. Standing at the base, I tilted my head up and all I could see were low-hanging clouds of dense fog covering the top, which just made the massive rock seem even more breathtaking.
This little chapel down in the Yosemite valley was so cute and I instantly started dreaming of the most beautiful weddings that could take place there! (I also did some online research and it’s very reasonable to rent the place!)
Our last day in Yosemite was more laid-back. Kevin sensed I needed something luxurious to balance out the hiking so that morning on our drive into Yosemite, we made last-minute reservations for a couple’s massage later that evening at Ascent Spa at Tenaya Lodge. (Which, by the way, was hands-down the best massage I’ve ever had in my life. Thank you, Don.) We drove back down to the valley again that day and then hiked to Mirror Lake and Yosemite Falls, both of which were very well-marked and cleared trails, but also busier with other tourists.
This is the iconic Tunnel View, which you see literally the moment you exit the mile-long tunnel as you drive down to the valley floor. On the right is Bridalveil Fall, bursting with freshly thawed snow, on the left is El Capitan, and the curved granite in the middle, hazy with fog, is Sentinel Dome. The famous Half Dome is behind Sentinel Dome, but in this photo, it’s almost entirely obscured from view due to the fog. Aside from always being able to orient ourselves to El Cap, it was very easy to get turned around down there in the valley, especially when we drove the loop because things that were on our left were quickly on our right and we had barely an idea we even curved around. I suppose that seasoned climbers would be able to quickly point out every single peak, but, especially with the fog, it was hard to even tell that sometimes. Looking back through photos, especially given the various locations and angles I shot from, I sometimes have to consult the Yosemite map to figure out which direction I was facing for that shot and thus, what I’m actually looking at. This kind of pulled-back view is fun because you can see so many things in one photo.
You can see Half Dome in the upper right of this picture at Mirror Lake.
Here is Mirror Lake with Mt. Watkins behind us (and reflecting in the water below us). Fascinatingly, I saw a photo of this spot during the summer and the lake is completely dry; it’s a meadow instead, even referred to as “Mirror Meadow” in the late summer.
The double Yosemite Falls! We hiked right up there and got a little wet.
This is at the base of El Cap.
The photo below on the left was our “trail”.
This was literally the last photo I took on my phone as we left the Yosemite area: a perfectly full rainbow arcing over the valley.