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Trip Report - Yosemite National Park, June 2011

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Jul 3rd, 2011, 05:31 AM
  #1
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Trip Report - Yosemite National Park, June 2011

I decided to take my daughter and 4 ½ year-old granddaughter on a short trip to Yosemite. Since I wanted to see the waterfalls at their best, this trip was squeezed between two others and I didn’t realize I had selected Fathers’ Day weekend.

I hadn’t started to plan until early 2011 so I immediately made reservations outside the park in El Portal and began the very long process of building a four-night reservation inside the park at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls.

Eventually I got cancellations for all four nights (the last only two weeks before the trip).

The plan was to fly to San Francisco arriving late in the afternoon and either stretch our legs there and leave for Yosemite the next morning or drive the first hour and stop for the night. We were concerned about the granddaughter being cooped up.

We never planned on the “flight from hell”. See The Flight from Hell at the end of the report.

While Yosemite is beautiful, I found enough negatives to make me think twice about returning. See Yosemite Negatives at the end of the report.

Rather than give a blow-by-blow chronological account I’ll list what we did and comment.

Yosemite Falls. These falls are visible from various locations in the park. I found it looked best around noon when the sun glistened off the water. The approach to the Falls is very scenic and obviously very popular. One evening we walked under the falls. My granddaughter was quite pleased that she “convinced” me to run thru the light spray. The falls were also visible from the area of the Swinging Bridge (a great reflection off the water) and at Glacier Point. You just cannot miss this spectacular sight.

The Mist Trail. This was one of two hikes I really wanted to do. The smartest thing we could have done was take with a stroller. I expected the hike to the bridge would be easy and that I would possibly leave my daughter and granddaughter there while I went on to Vernal Falls. Nobody told me it’s almost all uphill to the bridge. We took turns pushing the stroller and got a good workout.

I went on to the Falls myself and while I had little interest in climbing to the top I went about halfway up to take photos. That was a challenge due to the spray/mist. At one point I saw a rainbow down below. Although I had a rain jacket on I still got drenched. On the way back I found a little turnoff onto a large rock that gave great, dry views of the falls.

In my opinion Vernal Falls was the nicest of the waterfalls. This might have be due to the fact that for most of the waterfalls you have a choice of being right up under the falls in the spray or quite a distance away where they all have the same basic look.

Sentinel Dome. My plan was to hike to Sentinel Dome and cut over to Taft Point. Although there is no sign along Glacier Road indicating either trail, the number of parked cars gave it away. There was enough snow along the trail and on parts of the Dome to make things interesting.

This was a fun hike with excellent 360 degree views from the top.

Unfortunateley, I got lost trying to hike to Taft Point and never got there. Eventually I met up with a family from Germany that had a GPS and we were soon joined by another lost couple. While the GPS helped, crossing the same stream twice had us wondering.

Wildlife. Actually we saw very little. A bear ran across the road at Happy Isles but it was too quick. We saw another bear on the Glacier Road near Washburn Point.

There were a few small deer near Happy Isles and at the Mariposa Grove. One larger deer was taking a nap beside the north Valley loop road.

Camera Walk. This morning walk was led by one of the Ansel Adams Gallery staff. Although he spent too much time trying to get point-and-shoot cameras to operate in manual mode, he still managed to give us some good tips. Interesting and worth the time.

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Amazing trees but for some reason I expected to see more of them.

Two shuttle buses out of service on Fathers’ Day didn’t help. It was interesting to see the giant trees. Walking thru the Tunnel Tree was fun and we saw several deer just on the other side. My granddaughter got more interested when a ranger came by with a group of people. Although she told me that she didn’t understand what he was talking about, she insisted on walking along with the group and listening to his talk.

Viewpoints
Tunnel View. Amazing late in the afternoon/evening when the sun is shining from behind.
Swinging Bridge. Great early morning reflections of Yosemite Falls in the calm water just to the side of the bridge.
Sentinel Bridge. Sunset views of Half Dome.
Sentinel Dome. Unbeatable 360-degrees views around the Valley.
Washburn Point. Excellent views of Half Dome and Vernal and Nevada Falls.
Glacier Point. Similar to Washburn Point except a slightly different angle and the addition of the Yosemite Falls side of the Valley.
Anywhere along the Valley loop between 7 and 9AM. Just too many places to stop.

Childrens Activites
Junior Ranger Walk. My granddaughter enjoyed these more than anything else in the park. The rangers were very intune to children and spoke at their level. Getting a ranger badge at the end of each walk didn’t hurt.

Starry Skies Over Yosemite Valley. This is billed as a children’s activity. Most of what was said was well over my granddaughter’s head. She enjoyed being out in the dark and seeing the stars but at one point told me she didn’t understand what he was saying.

Nocturnal Walk to Yosemite Falls. I list this separately as it was a highlight for my granddaughter. We went while it was still light out but getting dark quickly. She enjoyed the walk there and the return loop. She still tells people about running across the viewing deck under the waterfall’s spray.

Yosemite has to be one of the most scenic places anywhere. There are spectacular views almost anywhere in the Valley at any time of day. Also, locations such as Sentinel Dome, Washburn Point and Glacier Point provide stunning views of the Valley below.

In spite of some of the negatives, this ended up being another excellent visit to a National Park.

Photos of the trip can be seen at:

www.travelwalks.com

= = = = = = = = = = = =
The Flight from Hell

We arrived in Atlanta ontime, and not long after saw that our flight to SFO that was supposed to leave at 3:30PM was now delayed.

6:00 PM. We taxied toward the runway following repairs.
6:30 PM. Returned to the gate for further repairs.
9:00 PM. Taxied toward the runway.
11:00 PM. Returned to the gate following a weather delay as the pilot reached his maximum daily work limit.
Midnight. Flight cancelled due to lack of a pilot.
12:30 AM. My daughter found a “hotel” and took my granddaughter to get some sleep.
2:30 AM. I rebooked our flight and actually got a very good 11:15AM non-stop flight to SFO.
3:00 AM. Taxi to the “hotel” where my daughter got a room.
8:00 AM. Back to the airport.

To give you an idea about the quality of the hotel, there was a sign at the registration desk that informed guests that cancellations were not permitted more than 5 minutes after registration.

= = = = = = = = = = =
Yosemite Negatives

Yosemite Lodge is in a great location and while basic was adequate though quite over-priced. The price you pay for location. The cafeteria prices were more like a full-service upper-level restaurant. The amount of guest parking is grossly inadequate since a complete parking lot is reserved for tour buses. Spending 15 minutes looking for a parking space and then another 10 minutes walking to the room was quite annoying.

Every evening traffic was backed up for an hour to leave the park. I realize we were there on Fathers’ Day weekend but being in a two hour traffic jam entering the Valley was a bit much. If other parks can reduce/eliminate traffic issues I don’t see why Yosemite can’t as well.

The day we went to the Mariposa Grove we parked in the lot and took the free shuttle bus. Free means that if there are any issues service will be reduced. I’ll bet those who paid for Glacier Point tours wouldn’t have had an issue if their bus broke down.

Since two of the Mariposa Grove shuttle buses were out of service, the shuttle was running every 45 minutes instead of every 20 minutes. When we took the bus not everybody at the stop was able to fit on that bus. Can you imagine waiting about 25 minutes (average between buses) for the bus and then having to wait another 45 minutes for the next one?
At $25 per person I’m glad most of the tour trams passed us almost empty.

Yosemite has to be the most commercial National Park. There’s a ticket desk at every turn for the various events.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 06:39 AM
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There's been several horror stories posted on TripAdvisor about the crowds at Yosemite last month - and it wasn't just Father's Day weekend. Two hour long traffic jams. No parking.

I'm going to Tuolumne Meadows next weekend and am hoping (and so far am hearing) that the crowds are nowhere near as bad in the high country.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 07:25 AM
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While some remedies are difficult and expensive to implement others may not be that complicated.

I was on the Glacier Road twice. One time I went all the way to Glacier Point. I found a spot to leave my car just off the road a few hundred yards before the Point. I saw the traffic jam ahead and took the first thing I found. I'm sure those who did the same were glad they did so as those who drove to the parking lot just looped thru and had to drive back. No parking spaces.

The next day I was with my daughter and granddaughter. I didn't even try to go past Washburn Point. A bear just off the road caused a jam as unlike Yellowstone the road was very narrow. Bears have special status so there are no complaints.

In fact, my daughter somehow managed to pull the car off to the side and I got some great photos of the bear.

I think a parking lot at the junction of the main road to the south and Glacier Road would be a great idea. Then they could have shuttles (a fee of $1 or so would quickly add up and cover expenses) from the parking area making stops at the Sentinel Dome trailhead, Washburn Point and Glacier Point.

Having the summer schedule shuttle start in mid-June might help. Stops at Tunnel View and Bridalveil Falls and a few others would make them accessible at all times of day and drastically reduce traffic.

Some traffic is unavoidable. Those entering or leaving the park might have no choice. However, having the shuttle reach a few more areas in the Valley would reduce the traffic by about 25% and that would make a big difference.

I don't think you'll have a problem on the Tioga Road. Then again, since each place we visited had issues, maybe there too.

I think it's a disgrace that the Yosemite Lodge building just opposite the registration office has no parking between 8AM and 9PM. It's reserved for tour buses. People staying in that building must drive to parking for the other building and circle until somebody leaves. Then walk all the way back to this building.

If I ever went back I'd insist on a different building. I don't know if you can do that.

I've stayed in-park at Bryce Canyon, Zion, Yellowstone (OF and Canyon) and Grand Tetons and never had a parking problem at the lodging.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 09:10 AM
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I should clarify.

While there were a fair number of people at Glacier Point, Washburn Point, Tunnel View and the Mist Trail I never felt overrun with people.

It was strictly an auto and parking issue.

Maybe too many cars with only one person in them.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 10:54 AM
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Hi Myer,

I'm glad that once you got there, you basically had a good time. A treat to see the falls at maximum flow!

I remember when you were planning this trip and considered being there during Mem Day weekend and everyone said don't go near the place on a holiday weekend. I think now you understand, right?!

Where is you next trip? Is it Yellowstone?
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 11:25 AM
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Thanks for posting your report. I am glad you got cancellations for all of your nights. Can you imagine driving in and out of El Portal everyday with the traffic you experienced?

Consider yourselves fortunate to see the Falls this year. There was record snowfall this year and I am sure they were gushing and gorgeous. Lucky you.

Give the Valley another shot sometime mid-week either a bit earlier in the year (early to mid May) or later (late September or early October. My favorite time to be in the Valley). In May the dogwood trees are blooming and it is a sight not to be believed if you time it right. Traffic and parking aren't as bad at those times of year either.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 11:32 AM
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Dayle,

I don't think the number of people was the issue. If the shuttle reached more areas such as Bridalveil Falls and Tunnel View that would have encouraged more people whoe were staying inpark to leave their cars parked.

There were always a lot of cars parked just east of Bridalveil Falls. Partly because of the falls and partly because of some trails in the area. A shuttle passing and stopping there would have done wonders.

I could easily go back to Yellowstone. I was there last Aug.

I'm going to Banff, Victoria and Vancouver with my wife this Thur.

I think we may have a conflict with William and Catherine in Calgary. Hopefully they're not leaving at about the same time we're scheduled to arrive.

We're working on Provence for next June.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 01:08 PM
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Uma
 
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Enjoyed your trip report and pictures -- very similar to ours, although by the time my husband managed to get his camera out, the bear we saw on the road to Tunnel View had climbed into the trees. We were lucky enough to be in Yosemite a few weeks ago. If you have never been before, I'm sure you will love Banff, Victoria and Vancouver. Have a wonderful time.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 01:19 PM
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I think they should implement a shuttle like Zion for the entire Valley. Would be much more peaceful experience. It is almost the exact same scenario. 95% of the people crowding into 5% of the parks space.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 01:26 PM
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Man, that was a tough flight. I hate to start things out like that.

You have some nice reflecting shots. Although the trees are very impressive at Yosemite I really like The Redwoods better and Sequoia National Park the best for trees. But, I don't think anything can touch the Waterfalls there. Perhaps, the reasons for the crowds is that they are flowing at record flows.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 04:22 PM
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Trip reports like this and subsequent comments are a great planning tool so thank you for posting. My husband and I are travelling from Australia and will be in Yosemite 2nd week October. We will be driving( first time in US yikes!!!)
I'm reluctant to ask questions that have already been asked in various forms so again thank you all.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 04:25 PM
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suedownunder,
Don't be reluctant to ask any question. Most people on here enjoy talking about places and experiences they've had. This board has added a whole other dimension in travel decisions for me.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 06:03 PM
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We also got lost coming back from Sentinel Dome -- we had stayed late to take pictures of the sunset and got confused coming back at dusk over the granite, where the trail was not well marked. Another hiker finally "rescued" us, but for awhile we thought we were going to have to wait until daylight the next morning to find our way back to the trailhead.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 06:39 PM
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As a long time central CA resident, and frequent Yosemite visitor, I can tell you Myer, and the others, there have been countless plans to get the cars out of Yosemite, or at least minimize them. Every plan is met by howls and protests from various groups. The Park Service keeps trying. Maybe someday.........

When I was growing up, all the roads in the valley were two way, so making a loop road and adding shuttles was revolutionary. You didn't need a reservation to camp.

The problem with Yosemite Valley is it's size. It's not like Yellowstone, which is huge and spread out. It is a very compact, small area, and a whole lot of people want to see it. Mostly on weekends, and mostly during the summer months when school is out. The high country, Tuolumne Meadows, for example, are typically less crowded, though you need reservations at High Sierra Camp. Even there, we dropped in one July day, and were lucky to nail down a cancellation for that night.

For all you travelers, the absolutely best time to visit the valley floor is in May or early June, before school is out. The waterfalls are flowing nicely, dogwoods are blooming (see above), and the park has various hues of gorgeous greens. Also, early fall is good, before the weather gets gnarly and school is back in session, though the waterfalls may be down to a trickle.

suedownunder: You should have a great time in October. And don't worry about asking questions. There are always a number of folks reading these posts that would like the questions asked, but they don't do it themselves.

Myer, It is good that you held out for reservations in the valley. I tell people over and over that is the ONLY way to see Yosemite properly. Your night walk, and waking up in the early morning are examples. And, yes, what if you had to drive into and out of that traffic mess each day.

So folks, if you can;t get reservations on the valley floor, keep trying and trying and trying. Most times you will be successful.

One other thing: If you stay at the lodge (yes it is overpriced and in need of refurbishing), have at least one meal at the Ahwanee Hotel. Incredible.
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Jul 3rd, 2011, 07:44 PM
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Uma,
My camera is always ready and I still missed one bear. It jumped across the road right in front of me and immediately behind a large bouler. When I got to the other side ot it the bear has nowhere in sight.

However, I got a few good shots of the second bear.

suedownunder,
I got some of the answers I needed by asking questions and getting answers.

Having now been to Yosemite I would be only too glad to answer your questions if I can help.

BillJ,
They don't have to eliminate all autos at one time. If they could do something to encourage those staying in the park to leave their cars parked that would be a big help.

I can't imagine staying outside this park. It's just too far a drive. Half the day would be spent coming and going.

I was up early every morning taking photos. I got back to the room between 8:30 and 9:00 to get my daughter and granddaughter and start the day.

We didn't eat at the Ahwanee. I never really thought of it. The over-priced cafeteria was just too convenient.

My daughter went to Yosemite with her husband and then one year old in September several years ago. They stayed at the Ahwanee. I don't know what they did during that trip but they get a lot less done in a day than I do.

I took my daughter to Utah for three days last year and we were non-stop. She adjusts well.

We've briefly talked about Yellowstone but she doesn't like the idea of moving around a few times. I've told her the park is just too big to stay in one place. Ideal is three different locations.
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Jul 4th, 2011, 09:38 AM
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"If they could do something to encourage those staying in the park to leave their cars parked that would be a big help."

They do nothing but encourage folks to leave the cars parked and take the shuttles. When you check in you get the shuttle maps/timetable and they tell everyone that using the shuttles is best. Some people simply won't use them.
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Jul 4th, 2011, 11:14 AM
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Yosemite Valley is constrained by it's geography, one mile wide and 4 miles long. Nearly everything is floodplain or rockfall area. It's a shame that two shuttle buses were out on a busy weekend. But the only way to cut down congestion is to just close the park to vehicle traffic unless you've got a hotel reservation, like they do at Grand Canyon and Zion. I wonder how that would go over.
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Jul 4th, 2011, 11:27 AM
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janisj,
True they give out a shuttle map. However, if they looked at where the non-lodging autos congregate they might learn something.

The were always a lot of cars at Nridalveil Falls and just east of there. Also at Tunnel View. I realize a lot of the traffic at Tunnel View is from cars coming in but some is from inside just going there.

I believe the summer schedule has the shuttle going a bit farther west. If they did that from mid-June onward many cars would be left in the parking lots.

mlgb,
I think that to close the Valley to non-lodging traffic would require more shuttle stops. I would definitely go for that.
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Jul 4th, 2011, 11:55 AM
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Actually, I think we may be starting to focus on a secondary annoyance.

What bothered me the most was driving around looking for a parking space when the parking lot in front of our building was reserved for tour buses. We were told at the Lodge desk that the rangers ticket and tow cars.

Blame it on somebody else.
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Jul 4th, 2011, 06:23 PM
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I enjoyed browsing through your trip report and I'll post my soon...I've got it on tripadvisor but want to put a version of it here on Fodors. We visited Yosemite in June 2011 as well!

We stayed in Yosemite West, and there aren't any shuttles or buses to Yosemite West, so anybody staying there has to drive into the valley... So that contributes to the 2-hour traffic jams that we got stuck in down in Yosemite Valley. (2 hours going in 1 direction!) This was late June 2011.

I also met some people staying in Oakhurst who also had to drive down into the Valley as a day-trip...so that means more people who are forced to be in the summer traffic jam.

Saturday at noon was the all-time worst time to drive into Yosemite Valley from Yosemite West. Boy did we regret that decision!!!

We had 5 nights in our rental so we drove more than once into the valley to do more than 1 hike.

Thanks for sharing your experiences!
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