July 13, 2016 5:27 AM   Subscribe

What to: do, see, miss, avoid, eat, experience at Yosemite.

Next week I'll be at Yosemite National Park for an absurdly short two days. Driving from and returning to San Fransisco. Please MeFi, don't let me miss that one super special thing. Please help me avoid that newbie mistake that will ruin the experience.

Details: two ~40 year old men in relatively good shape. (a ten+ mile hike would be a little challenging) One is a vegetarian with no desire to actually camp. One is adventurous, experimental, and will eat anything.

Lodging reserved, convertible rented, bags still unpacked.
posted by Classic Diner to Travel & Transportation around California (11 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
If you've never been there before, you should probably just start with the (justifiably) famous stuff, especially if you only have two days. Assuming your lodging is in the valley, day one you just toodle around down there, maybe drive up to Glacier Point, maybe hike the mist trail to the top of Vernal Fall. Day two, take Tioga Road into the high country and stop at the pullout, maybe hike to the top of Lembert Dome. If it were my first time there and I had the time constraints that you do, I would only kick myself for not seeing the big stuff, like if someone went to New York but managed to completely avoid Central Park.

Note that as the summer goes on, waterfalls fed by smaller streams will dry up, so things like Yosemite Falls might not look like the torrent you see in postcards. Vernal Falls is fed by a larger river, so there's less danger of it diminishing too much.
posted by LionIndex at 6:21 AM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

LionIndex has it about right. Add to day one though: rent a bike to toodle around the valley floor on. There's a nice bike path. Glacier point is probably the best vantage point in the valley for seeing the beauty of it. Also, as you drive in, stop immediately at Tunnel View. That's where most of the famous photos are taken from. Also, just ride the park shuttle around. Get off at El Capitan Meadow and ogle the climbers waaaaay up there. Check out the gallery in the village.

The drive up to Tuolumne Meadows is kind of a long boring drive (at least an hour, maybe 2, I can't remember) on windy roads in the forest, until you get there and it is suddenly gorgeous in a totally different way than the valley is. If you do drive up there, don't stop at Lembert Dome - drive all the way over to the Owens Valley so you can see Tioga Pass and how the character of the Sierra changes as you go from West to East. There's a Mobil station with a casual 4-star restaurant at the far end of Tioga Road (I kid you not) if you end up over there at dinner time. Check out of your lodging first so you don't have to go back into the Valley afterwards.

Or, skip Tuolumne, and on day 2 do the Mist Trail hike to Nevada Falls (passing Vernal Fall on the way).

Bring your lunch supplies with you from outside the park somewhere - if you have to stop what you're doing and wait in line for food, that will take up a lot of time.

And, just set your expectations that this is not going to feel much like the wilderness. Expect people and cars and lots of them. It's still really gorgeous though and you'll love it!

posted by bluesky78987 at 8:11 AM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The mist trail is a bucket list item. It's really extraordinary.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:49 AM on July 13, 2016

I just got back from a couple days backpacking in Yosemite. There was so much rain and snow this year the water is still running! You picked a good time to go. *Caveat I was up in Tuolumne but I'm pretty sure the falls will still be god in the Valley.

I nth the others, go to the Valley and see the touristy spots. Hike to the top of Vernal Falls at least, Nevada if you're up for it. Go up to Glacier point. Sentinal Dome/Taft point is a good hike with awesome views. Then drive the rest of the way to Glacier point to look down.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 1:53 PM on July 13, 2016

There's actually photospheres at most locations mentioned in these answers, so you can look for yourself and decide whether certain viewpoints are worth going to ahead of time.
Tunnel view, right when you enter the valley
Glacier Point
Top of Lembert Dome
On the mist trail below Vernal Fall
Olmstead Point (turnout on the way up Tioga Road)
Tenaya Lake (also along Tioga Road)

As far as eating, everyplace in the park is served by a concessionaire (ARAmark), but there are a few options in the valley. Their website is here. You're probably not going to do the White Wolf, Tuolumne Meadows, or High Sierra options. There's not a whole lot up there - this isn't going to be a gastronomic experience.
posted by LionIndex at 4:15 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

* Sentinel Bridge for the Half Dome view.
* The Swinging Bridge picnic area for the Yosemite Falls view. (Walk out on to the bridge for the view.)

I would do the valley one day and Glacier Point the next. Take the valley shuttle around. It's just easier.

The Mist Trail is great, though it's hairy in the summer, when there are a million people on the steep, narrow steps. Getting up to Nevada Falls (past Vernal) is better, as the crowds thin. If you do decide to do the Mist Trail, do it as early as you can stand, just to avoid the mobs of people.

Also consider hiking down Four Mile Trail from Glacier Point. You take the shuttle up and hike down. It's 3,000+ feet if memory serves, and it can be a knee pounder because it's all downhill. But the views can't be beat, and it's not terribly narrow, steep or sheer going down.
posted by cnc at 5:26 PM on July 13, 2016

Two days is so short that this suggestion is perhaps a bit borderline, but I've long felt that Lake Mono (not actually in the park, but just east of it), was almost criminally under-visited.
posted by kickingtheground at 6:26 PM on July 13, 2016

Note that due to certain pending legal disputes the currently used names of certain landmarks and locations don't match the guidebooks, and in some cases, the road signs. For instance, the Ahwahnee is currently the Majestic. Curry Village is now Half Dome Village.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:56 AM on July 15, 2016

If you want to see Mono Lake you'd probably want to exit through Tuolumne on your last day. Leave early, take a brief hike in the meadow, stop at the overlook, exit the park through Tioga pass, which will take you to Lee Vining and Mono. Drive north through Bridgeport, take Highway 108 back. Five to six hours from Lee Vining to SF depending on traffic and stops.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:03 AM on July 15, 2016

Here's a 3-day itinerary for Yosemite that hits a lot of points mentioned in comments here.
posted by LionIndex at 6:43 PM on July 22, 2016

Response by poster: I'm back. My BF, who made all the arrangements, confused the West and East entrances of the park. Lodging was 100 miles from where expected. I drove +800 miles in three days. I like driving, the weather was beautiful, the Ford Mustang convertible ran great, and the views were spectacular.

Tunnel View
Glacier Point
Lake Mono with Tufa
Mist Trail
Swinging Bridge
Midnight star watching from the top of a mountain
posted by Classic Diner at 10:53 AM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

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