The last national park on our California itinerary was perhaps our most anticipated. Yosemite is one of those magically beautiful places that adorns travel websites. It’s been immortalised in famed photographs by the late Ansell Adams and hiking bloggers always sing the praises of its many nature trails. Right before we arrived the rare phenomenon of the fire falls occurred, further exciting us for the beautiful sights we would soon be experiencing.
As soon as we emerged on the other side of the tunnel we knew exactly what all the hype was about. You can look at as many pictures of tunnel view as you want, but there’s nothing quite like exiting the darkness of the tunnel and seeing all the wonders of Yosemite laid out before you. The snowy peaks of El Capitain and the Half Dome, the tumbling water of Yosemite falls, and the forest covered plains of the valley floor; all stretched out as far as the eye can see. It is a genuinely grand entrance. We stopped for a while and watched the sun melt behind the granite structures. There were lots of disappointed visitors who had been hoping to catch another fire falls, and I was amazed that anyone could feel disappointed when surrounded by such beauty.
In comparison to some of the other parks we’d visited it was clear that Yosemite is quite well funded and a bit more commercialised. The park has a shuttle system that allows you to easily get around the valley. It’s especially useful for one way hikes-you can get dropped off at one end and picked up at the other. The visitor centre here is very large and has lots of impressive displays. And there are many accommodation options-the usual campsites, curry villiage,and a hotel-as well as several restaurants.
One of the bad things about travelling in the Winter month is that the shorter days mean that you really have to prioritise your time in the park. This is made easier by the other bad thing about travelling in Winter-lots of the hikes are closed. With this in mind we decided to pick three hikes to do. We chose
-The bridal veil falls hike
-The hike to the base of lower Yosemite falls
-The Vernal falls hike/mist trail
The Bridal Veil falls hike is a short half mile (0.8 km) return walk. The trail is paved and takes you to the base of the falls. I found the walk to be disappointing as it ended quite far away from the waterfall. It is a good walk if you want to take some photos or if you have a low fitness level. It isn’t the most spectacular trail Yosemite has to offer but it did get us warmed up for the rest of the day.
Next we hiked to the base of Yosemite falls. There is a shuttle bus to the trail head and from there it’s a one mike (1.6km) loop. We found this walk much more enjoyable. It took us through the forest and we got so close to the waterfall that we were being sprayed by it. There were lots of pretty views of the waterfalls and Yosemite creek, and exhibits along the way explaining the history of the area. I’d definitely recommend this hike!
The final hike was to the Vernal falls footbridge. This is part of the longer mist trail which brings you to the Nevada falls. While fairly short (1.6 miles/2.6 km round trip from the happy isles shuttle stop) this hike can be really steep!
However the views are beautiful. There’s a bit of everything along this trail-you can see walls of granite towering above you, forest surrounding you and-of course-gushing waterfalls! It’s my favourite of the hikes we did in Yosemite. California was our first experience with hiking so we did find this trail to be a bit challenging, but it was so worth it! Reaching the footbridge was wonderful- vernal falls is so beautiful and majestic-and we found that we weren’t ready for this hike to end just yet! So we decided to continue to the top of Vernal falls and the Emerald Pool. We felt excited and reenergised and couldn’t wait to reach the top…but then within 0.3 miles of Vernal falls we were met with a sign saying the trail was closed in Winter due to risk of ice and rock falling. So I guess it was a little silly of us to not be more prepared. But we still really enjoyed the hike despite this disappointment! And hopefully you can learn from our mistakes.
In conclusion, Yosemite in Winter is beautiful. It’s less busy, it’s easy to get a campsite in the valley, and there are pretty blankets of snow everywhere. It does have it downsides (Tioga pass is closed, you can’t climb the half dome, lots of trails are closed and you must carry snow chains), but you can always visit again in Spring! And then maybe Summer and Autumn Too 😉