Huffing and puffing, our backpacks making a sweat-shaped imprint in their wake and our feet throbbing in our hiking boots, we exchanged incredulous glances as the realisation slowly sunk in. We had done what we’d set out to achieve – we had reached the top of Upper Yosemite Falls!
This strenuous hike is not for the faint-hearted, which is something we found out the hard way on our first attempt two years earlier. On a hot September day, 48 hours off the plane and not prepared for the difficulty of the hike ahead of us, we made it three quarters of the way to the summit and had to turn back.
This time was different – we knew what we were facing and we were ready. Loaded up with snacks, water and determination, we were hikers on a mission. When we eventually turned that final corner, soaking in the snow capped surroundings and breathing in the fresh California mountain air I looked around and realised that Yosemite is not just a place of nature and beauty – it’s a place that makes you feel like anything is possible.
Achieving the impossible is something that’s in the very fabric of Yosemite – whether it’s a climber attempting to scale Half Dome with no ropes, or a group of friends climbing El Capitan in 24 hours. The park itself was created thanks to the ambition and tenacity of writer John Muir, a naturalist who championed America’s outdoor spaces and lobbied Congress for the Act that created Yosemite as we know it in 1890. As I said, it’s a magical place.
Where to stay
We have visited Yosemite three times and always stay in Camp Curry (formerly Curry Village). In my opinion this is THE place to stay if you want a taste of authentic Yosemite (without having to pitch up a tent yourself). It’s made up of rows upon rows of tent cabins, each with its own bed and small storage locker to keep valuables safe. There are also bear bins for your food and toiletries. If you’re lucky, you might spot a furry creature ambling around camp.
It’s situated smack bang in the middle of the valley floor, with a dining hall, a bar, a couple of shops and activity centre all in close proximity plus easy access to communal bathrooms. It’s the perfect place to relax over pizza and a cold beer before hitting the hay ready for a busy day of hiking.
There’s a free shuttle bus that loops around the valley floor, stopping at all the key lodgings, shops and trail heads. The drivers are helpful, knowledgeable and keen to point out wildlife along the way. For hikes outside of Yosemite Valley, you’ll need a car.
A short 2 mile loop to this beautiful lake and back will take around 1 hour. It’s the perfect starter hike for any novice and is a pleasant walk at any time of year. We visited on a rainy day in April and were able to see the lake at its fullest, but it dries up in the summer so if you’re seeking water, its best to visit here in the spring.
The Mist Trail
This 7 mile moderate hike takes in both the beautiful Vernal and Nevada waterfalls. It has stunning views all the way along the trail- from the bridge overlook at the beginning to views of Half Dome and of course, the falls themselves. This is probably my favourite of all the Yosemite Hikes. It’s challenging in places but the panoramic views of endless mountain ranges are really hard to beat. We’ve done this hike in both September and April which were both brilliant, but April edges it as the waterfalls are in full flow this time of year.
Upper Yosemite Falls
A 7.6 mile hike that takes around 6-8 hours to complete, you’ll need a stash of water and some grit and determination to reach the top, especially on a hot day. However, the bum ache is all worth it for the unparalleled views from the summit. To our surprise, it was still snowy at the top in April so pack some shoes with good grip! We loved the camaraderie of other hikers on this trail, because of its difficulty, everyone seemed pleased to see a friendly face.
This 7 mile round trip to Upper or Lower Cathedral Lakes starting at the Tuolumne Meadows boasts one of the most impressive High Sierra lakes at its summit. It’s a little off-the-beaten track so much quieter than some of the hikes that start at Yosemite Valley. It’s a pretty steady climb that’s moderately difficult. Pack a picnic and enjoy your sandwich overlooking the lake before making the trip back down.
We’re yet to explore the area of Hetch Hetchy which is a little bit further from the valley but its high on our list for our next visit.
Have you visited Yosemite?