Destinations National Parks United States


September 29, 2017
The Mersed river, flowing through the Granite Valley

 Yosemite National Park- Is a Bear Really a Bear if You Don’t Hear it in the Woods?

As with everything else in my life, if there’s a right way and a wrong way to do anything, guess which way it’s going to get done. Visiting Yosemite and Yellowstone was no different. We had decided to do them both at the same time, but the logistics proved too difficult and we made a decision to do them separately. However we picked Yosemite valley in September.


When to Book Your Yosemite Holiday

We flew from New England to Sacramento airport with a 4-hour drive to the valley but there are closer airports. Flight costs vary accordingly for the convenience factor. I read that both Amtrak and Greyhound supply public transport to the valley but according to uncle Google these have stopped. They may like to rethink this at a later date. The one way in and out of the valley gets clogged up sometimes. I am sure someone will let me know through the blog if these have resumed.

One important note.  In Yosemite Village you need to book accommodation, activities etc. months in advance as it fills up quickly, I would start researching 12 months out.


Accommodations in Yosemite Village

I do recommend booking accommodation in the park (most are in the valley, in Yosemite village)  whether it’s under canvas, or at the over $470 night hotel, and everything in between. There’s also room for RVs etc. but very limited. There are hotels outside the park but they are a good drive away (over an hour each way) and as there’s only one way in and out of the valley. Consequently it can get very busy in the summer months. Furthermore the valley is so beautiful you don’t want to be spending time in a vehicle.

There’s a link to booking at the end of the blog it works for all the parks. Its easy; you pick a park,  all accommodation with prices are listed, what activities are going on in the park, any special celebrations ie. Christmas, July 4th,  Haloween etc. We found a stargazing trip in the valley and booked there and then through this web site. You can even talk to someone if you are not sure of anything.

Yellowstone, by comparison, has less accommodation in the park, but there’s scores outside the park located at all the 5 entrances, so bookings can be made at shorter notice.


Yosemite Valley Overlook

Yosemite Valley Overlook

Hotel or Tent you Decide

The accommodation in the upscale end of Yosemite is at the Majestic Yosemite hotel formerly the Ahwahnee hotel. (This is the $485+ a night. Prices for other accommodation, hotels camping etc. range in price from around $80 to a few hundred, depending on the season and accommodation. The tenting here can in no way be mistaken for glamping. So if you have recently been Glamping get that idea out of you head now.

You do pay a premium staying in the park, so I suggest doing your homework before you book. We picked middle of the road, and stayed in the park for around 4 nights, which was more than adequate for folks like us who like a walk but are primarily sightseeing.

Once in the valley, the park encourages you to park the car and use the free Yosemite Park shuttle, it provides convenient and constant  access around the valley. But they are not year round.

 Hint and Tips

The prices given for accommodation anywhere in the US, don’t include state and local taxes, (each state charges different amounts) resort taxes and a few more. If you are booking on line keep an eye on the total prices.
The National parks in the US are not free and can cost up to $30 entrance fee. If you’re planning on seeing three or four, it may be prudent to pay $80 for an annual pass.

PRINT your accommodation confirmation before you leave home for several reasons: It could be dark when you arrive, and there could be road closures, rendering the park road maps useless. Because Yosemite is a granite valley, don’t even think your sodding mobile phone will work. You’ve got more chance plaiting fog. And if you’re still having trouble with this concept imagine if you will a ten million square-foot elevator.  I promise you, your husband (or wife) will be pissed off after doing all that traveling, especially if there’s no bed at the end of it


 Goldilocks and the Three Bears

We did eventually get accommodation in a very small ‘Goldilocks and the three bears’ kind of log cabin. The bed was very small, and obviously belonged to baby bear. My over 6 ‘ husband did not fare well. But it was clean and small and better than nothing and the marvelous staff found us more spacious and superior accommodation the following day.


The Majestic Yosemite hotel

A very grand place built of Granite and wood (some of the wood is concrete made to look like wood) to make what can only be described as one of the world’s largest log cabins. We sauntered over there from the village to have a look round; the architecture is stunning. The daily architectural tour of the hotel was just beginning so we tagged along. I’m not sure if this is the done thing as we weren’t guests, (and no-one asked), but it was so interesting.

One interesting anecdote we learnt was, that upon completion of the hotel the designers purchased 59 Persian rugs as the Navajo rugs they specified could not be woven in time. The new rugs were promptly laid in the public spaces. However years later one particular guest suggested that they might want to rethink having the worlds largest antique Persian rug collection displayed on a floor. As a consequence these almost priceless Kilims now hang on the walls.


Tioga rd Landscape Yosemite National Park

 Timing Your Yosemite Vacation

The holiday months in the U.S. are from May to early September. Outside these times, even a teeny-weeny itsy bitsy outside these times, can mean certain areas, restaurants and roads can be closed for repairs, out of season etc. So although food was not too limited I would have enjoyed a larger choice but hey, if its out of season you come to expect that in the States.

Quite the Hub

However there are several shops which carry supplies, equipment for most activities, gifts, clothing. There’s a post office, self serve laundry, and quite a few stores that sell a good range of food but check cooking facilities to ascertain shopping needs and your ability to achieve fine dining in the style of Gordon Ramsey. Whatever you do, you don’t want to be going out of the park for supplies.


The Yosemite medical clinic that can carry out basic first aid and deal with non serious injuries, and as in most parks the United States Park Police. And of course the Trusty Old Ranger Station. with film shows and a book shop.

Special mention should be made of the fire management system.  The fire managers now carefully control fires. whether started accidentally or by themselves deliberately as an integral part of the fires natural function in the ecosystem. They will quite happily let you know the location of any fire they are letting burn. All riveting stuff you can read much more about it by going to the link at the end of the blog to the

Yosemite Valley

Looking down Yosemite Valley

Just for the Brits

You may be lulled into thinking the word Valley in this case, at the least means a small hollow between gentle rolling hills. At most a replica of the Cheddar gorge. You can forget that in a heart beat. Not even close, whereas Cheddar gorge is 450’ deep and 1½ miles long and you can spit from one side to the other. The Yosemite Valley, in comparison, is 4,000’ deep in parts, 7.5 miles long and a mile wide. So yes, when we think back to the halcyon days of Americans telling us everything in their country was huge, they were not exaggerating.


Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

 Yosemite Waterfalls. NOT

Yosemite has the most amazing waterfalls. If you see a picture of the valley, they are there front and center. We are not talking piddling waterfalls with a few rocks and scattered pebbles; these are waterfalls on extreme steroids. There are hundreds of 20-foot monoliths that have come tumbling down from high by the power of water; makes the mind boggle, and all fed by the snow melts in SPRING.  And, of course, the reason my images don’t include waterfalls…and lakes. If you’ve lost me here look back to beginning of this piece.


 Double-Edged Sword in the Nation’s National Parks

As in most parks there are lots of trails and although we like to think of the parks as wild and untouched, there’s lots of trail and hiking signage dotted around. These give trail information regarding the distance, and time needed for the walk, and whether it’s easy or difficult, on the flat or steep incline, any unusual conditions and safety aspects.

Steve and Charlotte

They are for the expert hikers like our dear friends Steve and Charlotte, who for fun run 100 miles up and down mountains all around America. Yes we have called their sanity into question on more than one occasion. And also for the more genteel walker who likes nothing more than a comfy half hour stroll on the flat, wearing flip-flops, and to be greeted upon completion with a cream tea and certificate of achievement.  My husband and I Fall somewhere happily in between.

These signage are a Godsend, there’s nothing worse than starting a walk to realize you have to turn back halfway through. They’ve even thought of the smaller side trails, informing you at the trailhead that taking the left fork could be your worst nightmare. Dying a horribly painful death with your remains never being found. (This is the path Steve and Charlotte would take), or by taking the right fork, you will live to tell the tale.

All very helpful in my opinion.


High Alpine Pass

Tuolumne Meadow Yosemite NP

Toulumne Meadow

It’s a 1½ hour drive from the valley floor to Tuolumne meadow. There’s also organized trips from the valley floor. But stopping off to see the views is going to add another hour or two onto your trip. Especially if you stop for a picnic by Tenaya Lake.

The Brits love to Picnic

I’d like to feel the British have turned the picnic into an art form, its one of the things we excel at. Before families could afford to eat out; and cafes were commonplace in the UK. We picnicked, anywhere and everywhere. My family and I have picnicked in a doggy toilet in France before now. Only because in French class I was too busy doing other more important things like how to make the best of our hair and make up; the teacher was a part time actress and Brigit Bardot look alike and an expert on these things. Hence the reason I was unable to translate DOG POO PARK. Never mind the stares from the locals. Its no wonder the French view all Brits with suspicion.

Picnics are wonderful, my sister-in- law works for a wedding catering company. One of their most popular wedding meals is a picnic. How sociable is that.

Anyway I digress again.

Therefore we decided to visit the meadow on the way out of the park to our next destination of Lake Tahoe. It worked out perfectly. There is an ethereal serenity of this Alpine meadow and is one of the highest of the Sierra Nevada (around 8500’) In summer after the snow melt it can become a lake. But as I pointed out earlier we decided to visit in September, and were treated to a slow meandering river.

If you venture through the meadow, out of the park on the 120 and turn left at the 395 you reach Mono Lake. Where you will find spires of calcium carbonate popping up out of the water looking most peculiar. Any budding geologist can visit the Mono Basin visitor center.

Who threw that great ball of fire

Believe it or not, at one time the park struggled to attract visitors, some clever wag decided it might be a good idea to throw a fireball into the valley from Glacier point.  Thereby starting a daily ritual. Not sure which marketing school he attended but visitor number shot up. However in the late 60s it was decided that it probably wasn’t the best stewardship of the park???


High Alpine meadow.

Tuolumne river bridge  High Alpine meadow Yosemite NP

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National parks.

Two of Yosemite’s best-kept secrets and a five-hour drive away are the adjacent Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Obviously not a day trip but well worth a visit. As the Redwood forest here is the largest in the world.

As they share the same National Park Service, as a result they come as a package with the tourist hub of Kings located outside at Grants Cove. However the secondary hub is right down in the Canyon what better excuse is there to visit.

Due to the long drive and the fact Phil and I had already visited Muir Woods north of San Francisco. We decided to give these two adjacent parks a miss. But if you’ve never see these giants they are well worth the trip. Phil and I have said we would like to return to see Yosemite in the spring (to see the waterfalls). Should this ever comes to pass I think we will add these two parks to our itinerary.

To give you some idea of the size of the General Grant tree near the Grant Grove visitor center it is 267 feet tall 40 feet wide and 107 foot circumference, and in any language thats one big ass tree

Lake side Tenaya Lake


In charge of all the National Parks is the National Park Service. Entrusted with the custody of these magnificent parks are the NP Service Rangers. We always head to the Ranger Station first. There can be several in the larger parks, and are always shown on the park maps that you are given upon park entry.

These places are a goldmine of information about the park, its geography, geology, flora and fauna, and maps, lots and lots of maps. Rangers can usually be found giving talks or taking visitors on a tour of the locale. It’s worth checking and making reservations for the walks before you leave home, because they can book up fast. And yes I can hear you impulsive ones who want to fly by the seat of your pants not wanting to be tied down. But in some cases that’s just not possible.

You will also find trips and activities from the easy peasy for junior Rangers to the ridiculous i.e. climbing El Capitan. Check with NPS.GOV for obtaining permits (they are limited). I can see you all rushing to sort all those out now.




El Capitan from the valley floor


The center of the rock climbing universe

For those people not familiar with El Capitan, its a single piece of granite with a sheer elevation of 3600’, well ok I exaggerate, its not quite sheer, its prominence is about 9 feet.  Even Steve and Charlotte would balk at this. I think? If you are not sure of the scale of this piece of granite, take a pair of binoculars you will see lots of  ants climbing up the face. Furthermore if you put the Chrysler and Empire State Building end to end, then add another 10 stories, you’re getting close

A few months prior to our visit, a chap called Alex Honnold became the first person to scale El Capitan without a rope, in just under 4 hours. Its called free soloing. I want to put lots of startled, horrified emojis here, but fortunately Word Press still make me use the Queens English.

There is a Nat Geo documentary out in the Fall of 2018 about his climb, its called Free Solo, It promises to be amazing.

Deciding that today was not our day for climbing El Capitan. We did the 2-hour Valley floor tour on an open air tram, (weather permitting) very civilized, and it means my husband didn’t have to drive and could enjoy the sights.

How about a free holiday in Yosemite

Our guide on the open air tram, was a volunteer from somewhere like Kansas if I remember correctly. For the Brits, Kansas is the state where you can see you dog run away for twelve miles.  He and his wife were in the park for the summer. They had both retired and fancied an extended stay, they realized working their passage was a good idea. They are planning on Yellowstone next summer. how good an idea is that. The link to the volunteer web site is at the end of the blog. I have recently found out that all the National Parks run this Volunteer programme.


View of Half Dome from Glacier Point

 Yosemite A good walk ruined, Up to a Point

Phenomenal is a word I find over used, but not for Glacier Point. It’s up there on the not to be missed list. In the valley, the soaring granite cliffs are all encompassing and can feel slightly claustrophobic, and in complete contrast to Glacier point. Here the whole valley is laid out below you, its almost like an optical illusion it looks so small.

There’s a walk from the valley floor up to the point. Alternatively you can drive yourself or join an organized trip from the Ranger station.  We realized very quickly just by looking up the steepness of the walk that this was not on our ‘what hill shall we climb today list’. You know where I am going with this and the answer is YES our friends Steve and Charlotte have climbed it. However they lost track of time and realized that some of the trek back would be in the pitch black. Did I mention that there are roughly 500 black bears in the park at the last count.

There are around 10 trails in the valley, ranging from easy 1/2 mile walk with elevations of 80′  to strenuous 14 mile walks with 4800′ elevation.  We did the Mirror Lake Loop. Kinda stupidly expecting a lake knocking around somewhere . But alas no,  that along with the waterfalls had dried up too.


Aerial view of Yosemite Valley floor

Yosemite Valley from

 The Bear Issue

And that leads straight to the issue of bears. Black, Brown or Grisly, who gives a shit. A bear is a bear is a bear, Right?! Who may I add can out run a horse? What bright spark decided to keep that one to themselves?

And if you don’t believe me, check with Uncle Google.

Living in New England I was always happy that should I cross a bear’s path I could easily outrun it. Ye! wonder how that ones gonna work out!!!

Anyway I digress. My main point. A bear, I am informed can smell food from 20 miles away. When camping there’s lots of signage, warning you about  hanging food up a tree out of the bears reach.  Now bear with me (all puns intended) on this, because it’s an important side bar.  If I was a bear and had walked twenty sodding miles for food and found that some smart arse had put the food up a tree, out of reach. Guess which alternative food source I would be chomping on. I would like to point out here that tents are made of canvas.

On a final note

Although Yosemite valley is the main hub of the park it is only a fraction of the size of the park proper. Yosemite is roughly the size of Rhode Island. With 800 miles of trails and over 300 miles of roads. You could stay for two weeks and still not see it all.


Click here to see the NPS  for Yosemite 

Click here for Sequoia and Kings

Yosemite National Park Reservations

Click here for Yosemite Volunteer

Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service

You may also be interested in learning about exploring Washington DC.

  • Reply
    Charlotte Nelson
    July 25, 2018 at 8:17 am

    This was so enjoyable to read. It makes me want to go back there SOON. Love the humor intervowen with Park descriptions and spectacular photographs.

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