Yosemite National Park for the differently-abled
June 11, 2015 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Taking a trip to Yosemite (yes, the park!) next month and some of us can't walk long distances. What are the best things to do that don't involve lots of walking or that don't depend on you being able to keep going? Like we're not going to wind up stranded in the wilderness because we used up our walking spoons earlier than expected.

This will be our first time there. We will be a party of 2 young adults, 2 older adults, and 1 senior. I've been looking on Yosemite's website, which is pretty good, but it seems to mostly assume that you will be able to walk for miles and hours. We can do .. let's say ... an or two, possibly 3, of walking per day if it's spread across a whole day. The other issue is that in addition to physically not being able to walk long distances, there is also the issue of not liking it. On the other hand, for others in our party, none of this is an issue and they might not want to feel limited or slowed down, so the more flexible the better.

Goal of trip:
Come away from trip feeling like we "saw" "the Famous Yosemite" and made good use of our time.

Things that look good:
The Yosemite Valley tram tour
The Glacier Point bus tour, because you have the option of getting out at the top and walking down, or not. (At least the way it seems from Yosemite's website, it wasn't clear on this point.)
The various museums at Yosemite Valley and between there and Wawona

Things that are a no-go:
Horseback riding
Bike riding

Things that would be fun if possible:

We're staying in Wawona and will have a car. The car has a disabled parking placard. We have 3 full days to fill up. We are not averse to spending money if it will improve the experience but keeping costs low are always good. We are considering renting one of those ride-on power wheelchairs if it starts to look like that's the only way we'll be able to see or do anything.

What do you think? Any other advice is appreciated.
posted by bleep to Travel & Transportation around California (21 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: an or two,
This should say "an hour or two".
posted by bleep at 8:47 PM on June 11, 2015

(Can I just ask what "walking spoons" are?)
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:03 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by moira at 9:15 PM on June 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Definitely go up to Glacier Point, it was one of my favorite parts of the park and required basically zero walking (from the parking lot to the point where you could still basically see the parking lot). Honestly, Serious Hikers might disagree with me, but I've done the big hikes and also just hung out in the valley, and i pretty much prefer just hanging out in the valley. You'll get the amazing up-top view from Glacier Point, and can enjoy all the waterfalls and the sense that the very earth is hugging you from down in the valley. Sure, it can get busy down there, but you can always drive to one of the corners that's empty of people and just sit in a field with some deer (don't approach the deer). You will have to drive slow in the park, and will have to deal with a lot of people, but they're happy people! from all over the world, speaking all kinds of languages! it's actually kind of lovely. And if you want to really experience the high country you can drive up there and hang out in a tundra-style meadow or see some redwoods. Huge swaths of the park are accessible by car, really. It's great.
A note on cars: there's no gas station in the park, so make sure you have enough in your tank to get back to the one outside the boundaries of the park.
posted by alycoop at 9:19 PM on June 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

I have been to and through Yosemite several times. I have never hiked there. The Tuolumne Meadow is easy to get out on. Just looking at the place is plenty wonderful. I spent a night there in a tent, my dog scared away the bear. I washed my hair in the coldest October water you can imagine the next day. Yosemite is unbelievably beautiful just from a car.
posted by Oyéah at 9:21 PM on June 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Specifics would be great if you have them as we are starting from 0 here.
posted by bleep at 9:24 PM on June 11, 2015

Have you seen the accessibility guide? Loads of info there that might be helpful, if you haven't already seen it.
posted by alycoop at 9:28 PM on June 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

A note on cars: there's no gas station in the park, so make sure you have enough in your tank to get back to the one outside the boundaries of the park.

There's one at Crane Flat, which may not be totally on your most direct route, but is fairly close to the Valley on the west side of the park. If you're staying in the Valley, but do a road trip up to Tuolumne, you'll pass right by it. There's also one up in Tuolumne.

Quite a few trails in the Valley are paved, like the one from the village to the base of Yosemite Falls, and they're mostly pretty flat. You can take the tram around and stop off at whatever thing you want to see and not be too terribly far away from it. Supposedly, the trail from Happy Isles to the bridge below Vernal Falls is accessible, but there's quite a bit of up to it.
posted by LionIndex at 9:31 PM on June 11, 2015

I stand corrected! Apparently there are a bunch in the park now, and I wish I had known that on our desperate flight down the valley trying to conserve the last of our gas.
posted by alycoop at 9:34 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I went to Yosemite (years ago) with someone who could barely walk due to arthritus. We had more than enough to do. You can waste hours just watching other people slowly climb giant cliffs, especially if the weather's nice.

I found a website that had tips for a two day trip through the park, and we pretty much did that minus any walking. It was quite similar to this, which has three walks, a 1 and a half hour hike and two short walks. Also some rafting, which may not be something you want to do.
posted by kjs4 at 9:55 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've been a couple of times, and though I'm fit and regularly go on long mountain walks, I've never yet done a big walk in Yosemite, as it is just jaw-droppingly beautiful from pretty much anywhere.

The first time I went, we drove around the loop, just stopping at points that looked interesting, and found that a fifteen minute walk will of get you to an amazing river beach or meadow with no-one around.

I imagine it would be a great place for mixed groups as the fitter people could go off on longer walks and those who preferred not to could happily base themselves in a nice spot.

Also a lot of the longer walks are often best done in the early morning because of the heat, so one group could enjoy a leisurely breakfast and a relaxing morning while the other group set off at 5 am for half dome.

But you certainly won't miss out by not walking much. I honestly think that just enjoying the valley bottom meadows and river beaches is the best bit (plus Glacier Point).

It's impossible to convey its scale and beauty in photos, I found that I didn really want to move much anyway, just to soak it in. Have a wonderful time!
posted by tardigrade at 12:33 AM on June 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh and - I've been up the trail to Vernal Falls and it is pretty steep as I remember. Maybe one to send the fitter posse on to check it out for you :)
posted by tardigrade at 12:37 AM on June 12, 2015

Best answer: Here are some easy options for you:

Super easy short walk: Bridal Veil Waterfall I have even seen people with crutches and elderly do this.

Easy and still rather short walk: Lower Yosemite Fall

This one is also (literally) more like a walk in the park.

If some of you want to do a full day hike but with little altitude, you could try this one.

You can also take a look at this list but I havent tried these myself.
posted by Fallbala at 12:51 AM on June 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Definitely check out allycoop's accessibility guide link above. I went to the Grand Canyon with my mother a couple of years ago; she uses a cane and qualifies for disabled parking. The National Park Service is good about ensuring access to disabled people and by showing them her parking placard we were able to do things like drive routes that are normally accessible only by bus, allowing her to see a lot more than if she had to climb up and down steps in a bus every few minutes, as well as taking advantage of handicapped parking, which in a crowded national park makes a huge difference in how far you have to walk.
posted by TedW at 6:14 AM on June 12, 2015

The layout of Yosemite, and the way people "use" the park, is definitely going to work to your advantage. It's like - you know how people say that Yosemite is about the size of Rhode Island? Well, Yosemite Valley is like downtown Providence. It's where most of the "oh, yeah, that's a thing in Yosemite" views are, and it's also where a lot of the visitor services are, which means you'll find plenty of paved roads, gentle paths, places to sit, etc.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's gonna be packed to the gills with people, either. I went about ten years ago, and spent a day on a rented bike making a complete loop of the road running the circumference of the valley. There were a lot of people by the parking lots and the main trailheads, but a few yards away the crowds thinned out considerably, and at some points I was alone on the road. I was in view of Half dome and El Capitan, and I was also making my own discoveries (there was a grove of something called "incense cedar trees" I rode through at one point - the heat was making the trees give off this absolutely amazing smell, so it felt like I was riding through a cathedral).

I also saw people taking rented rubber rafts down the stream in the middle of the valley, and they looked like they were having a great time, so that's also something to consider. I also did one of the hikes Fallbala recommends above - I can't remember whether it was Bridal Veil or Lower Yosemite - and it was indeed extremely easy and brought you to an amazing view. I actually snuck off on a detour at the end of the trail and followed a horse bridal path back to the valley so it would feel like more of a "hike"! (Incidentally, if you do that - I think it was Lower Yosemite falls where I did - it was only a ten-minute walk on level ground, and there was a bench there about midway where I could sit down and have another view of the falls in solitude.)

The park also has a few recommended scenic drives, so that's a good way to get out and see more of the park without having to scale mountains or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:45 AM on June 12, 2015

I'm in Yosemite every two weeks or so. Sometimes climbing, sometimes hiking, sometimes just sitting on my ass at the beach. There's a reason every scenic overlook is full of people - it's spectacularly beautiful even from the edge of the road. Tunnel view, Glacier Point, the valley loop, Tuolumne Meadows all have amazing things to see. Tenaya lake in Tuolumne is the perfect spot to just sit down and enjoy the high country. Mono lake is worth a detour if you've already gone up to Tuolumne - compared to Yosemite it's like visiting the moon.
posted by foodgeek at 7:08 AM on June 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you have room in the car trunk you might want to stash some folding chairs. The kind with straps that are easy to carry. You'll can extend your walks by having a convenient resting place. And bring hats!
posted by goodsearch at 7:23 AM on June 12, 2015

You can swim everywhere in Yosemite except a few places which are listed out on the NPS website.
posted by carmel at 7:25 AM on June 12, 2015

Glacier Point and Bridal Veil are basically in the parking lots of their areas, so those are very good choices. You'll want to see Tunnel View too to get THE iconic Yosemite picture (and an awesome brass model of the valley).

With actual walking: Taft Point and Mirror Lake. Taft Point is an amazing view and a short hike, but over terrain that may not work for you - lots of roots and walks. It actually might be a good choice for a small outing for the more able bodied walkers while others rest - it really doesn't take long and the view is incredible. Mirror Lake is in the valley and has a paved road to walk on - about a mile to the lake according to the accessibility guide here. I've only visited in early season, so I'm not sure how much water the lake has in July.
posted by maryr at 7:28 AM on June 12, 2015

Response by poster: For people talking about "sitting on a beach", where is the beach? What's it called? How do you get there? Feel free to memail me if you'd rather not share publicly.
posted by bleep at 12:49 AM on June 14, 2015

There are a lot of them. One of the things I found most magical was the abundance of silver sand river beaches. Here's a lovely photo showing one (middle pic) All the spots on those pictures are very accessible, and there are lots of beaches marked on the park map. If you want something a little quieter, ten minutes walk will always find it. It really is one of the easiest parks imaginable for getting to the good stuff. I wish I was going back, now!
posted by tardigrade at 1:49 AM on June 14, 2015

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