My roommates and I went to Yosemite National Park over Labor Day Weekend and we had an absolute blast! I personally loved the chance to escape from the city and enjoy almost three full days without cell service. My phone was nothing more than an expensive camera - which means I took a TON of pictures that I can't wait to share here with y'all!

Two quick notes before we dive in:

1. Due to COVID, Yosemite now requires reservations to enter the park. Reservations are per car and are released on the first day of the month prior to your visit. My roommate Katie got our pass (bright and early in the morning!) on August 1 for September 5, and it's valid for 7 days past the original reservation date. While there were still crowds, this system definitely has its perks: we could always find parking, less bottle-neck on the trails, and virtually no traffic driving around Yosemite Valley.

2. Obviously right now, Yosemite and much of the West Coast are on fire. Wildfires are definitely something to consider if you're planning a trip for the fall. We had two mostly clear days (Saturday and Monday), but of course, the day we planned on going to all of the various viewpoints was the smokiest. You'll see in the pictures below that it looked like an orange filter had been placed over the sky. There's not a ton of service in the valley if you choose to turn on your phone, but there are Park Rangers all over the park if things get too hairy.

Ok, onto our itinerary! 


Drive up to Yosemite

We left Los Angeles at 2pm and got up to our hotel in Yosemite around 9pm. We didn't have a ton of traffic leaving LA, but we hit some pretty bad wrecks near Bakersfield, plus a stop for dinner just outside of Fresno, so it took us about 7 hours.


We wanted to be as close to the park as possible while sticking to a budget. This ruled out staying in Mariposa (about 45 minutes from the park entrance) and one of the hotels inside the park. (You also need a camping reservation about a year out - so plan accordingly!) We found a good deal at the Yosemite Cedar Lodge in El Portal, about 10 minutes away the park entrance. 

We got a two-bed hotel room and brought an air mattress. The hotel also has a small market, restaurant (doing take out at the moment), and an outdoor pool. (There's usually an indoor one too, but obviously closed for the pandemic.) There were also a ton of picnic tables scattered around the property, and grills to cook your own food. This was a great place to stay, and I'm really glad we found it!


Wake up bright and early to hike!

We hiked the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls on Saturday, and it was gorgeous! 

I would recommend waking up and getting an early start to beat the heat and the crowds. We left our hotel for the trailhead around 6:45 and parked in Curry Village around 7:30. We all packed breakfasts to eat before hitting the trail, 10/10 was a great idea. Curry Village parking is actually a mile or so from the trailhead, but it's fairly flat to get there. There is parking closer, but there was none when we checked after eating. So, if you want to bring your own breakfast, definitely check parking at the trailhead before stopping to eat!

The Mist Trail + John Muir Trail Loop is considered to be a "moderate to strenuous hike," especially if you continue up from the top of Vernal Falls to the top of Nevada Falls. Going from the bottom of Vernal Falls to the top of the same waterfall is obviously steep, and it's a lot of stairs! Same from going to the top of Vernal to the top of Nevada. Lots of stairs and steep passes. 

Bring lots of water, lots of snacks, and be prepared to stop and rest along the way. You will still make it to the top, speaking from experience! 😉 I brought 3.5L of water in my camelback and brought (and ate) 4 large snacks (Chomps stick, peanut butter Perfect Bar, cheese stick, and an apple) + lunch.  With all of the breaks I took, we got up to the top of Nevada Falls around 11:30. 

You take the John Muir loop to get back down, which is a lot of switchback trails. Be prepared for crowds coming down the trail, especially when you reach the bottom of Vernal Falls.

According to my Apple Watch, we hiked 9.64 mi, climbed 161 flights of stairs, and gained 2,180 ft in elevation. It took us 5 hours and 10 minutes, plus a few longer breaks and a stop at the top of Nevada Falls for lunch. We got back to the car around 3pm.

If you're like us, you won't want to do anything for the rest of the afternoon. We went back to the hotel, both of them took naps and I went to the pool and read some of my book. Then we did an early dinner at Parkside Pizza (one of the only restaurants in El Portal) and went to sleep by 9pm. 


Picture Day!

We woke up around 7am and got to the park around 8:30 on Sunday. This was our day to check out all of the famous viewpoints in Yosemite, so naturally, it was the smokiest day.

Tunnel View: Our first stop on Sunday was Tunnel View. This provides great views of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls (although this waterfall is dry in autumn). We ate breakfast here before heading to our next spot.

Glacier Point: Next, we took the tunnel up and around to Glacier Point. This drive is about 45 minutes long, but was worth it because we saw bears!! A mama and two cubs crossed the street right in front of us - luckily we were paying attention and could slam on the breaks. Anyway... Glacier Point has a really large parking lot and is one of Yosemite's easiest trails, if you even call it that. It's basically a 3/4 mile paved loop that takes you out to the major viewpoint (where you can see El Cap, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls (dry in the fall!), and most of the valley below).

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point: Our Sunday hike was originally going to be for sunset, but we decided with the smoke that there was no use waiting until the late afternoon to do the hike. We parked at the Taft Point trailhead and did the loop that included Sentinel Dome and then looped around to Taft Point via the Pohono Trail (just don't miss the turn!). You can do the reverse, but we really enjoyed the direction that we went in. (More downhill vs. uphill climbing.) At Taft Point, we enjoyed some snacks and views before heading back to the car for our official lunch break (around 1pm). 

According to the Apple Watch, we hiked for 5.64 mi and gained 1,134 ft. in elevation. This hike was significantly easier than the Mist Trail.

Yosemite Valley Bike Loop: Since we had so much free time in the afternoon, we decided to bike around the Valley on Sunday afternoon instead of Monday morning. You can basically bike anywhere in the Valley, and it's a great way to get a different view of all of the amazing monuments! We biked for a little less than 7 miles (about an hour for us, we bike fast and didn't stop!) and then walked a little to see Mirror Lake - only the lake is seasonal and it was completely dry. I'll be honest, we didn't have the best luck with waterfalls or lakes this trip, as most of them dry up in the fall. (Vernal/Nevada Falls aside - those both had water, but are apparently much larger in the spring, which is why it's called Mist Trail!)

We had an early evening, but this would be a great time to have a picnic in an open field, or stop for a drink at the Yosemite hotel, or just hang out and walk around some more. Even when you think you've seen all of the cool sights, the natural beauty of the mountains will still be awe-inspiring.


Cook Meadow & Lower Yosemite Falls

Before heading back to Los Angeles, we did one last loop around the valley. We tried to follow the Cook Meadow loop - but our map skills were not the best and we ended up going really far off the intended path. I'd recommend downloading the AllTrails app for this, as the signs around the valley are not the best. 

On the meadow loop, you can also veer off and hike the Lower Yosemite Falls trail (again, not really a trail since it's 0.5 miles and paved the whole way). The Yosemite Falls is dry in fall since it's sourced from snow, but this actually provided a really unique opportunity to climb on rocks in the actual river bed. We would never have been able to do that in the spring! (Although I def plan on returning to see the falls in all of its glory!)

Our final stop was the Cook Meadow path to get one last Instagram shot - as inspired by one of the several blogs we read in preparation.

We left for Los Angeles around 11am, packed a lunch, and got home around 5pm.

All in all, it was a great trip and a much-needed break from technology. Aside from the camera and a few editing apps, I didn't use my phone at all! In fact, I turned it onto airplane mode Friday night and didn't turn it back on until we passed back through Fresno on Monday.

There's no "wrong" way to visit Yosemite. The sheer beauty of the park is truly incredible, but like most of the National Parks, Yosemite certainly has its fair share of problematic history when it comes to Indigenous People. Here's an article that highlights a little more about that, and the sacred sights in the park.

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