Out of my dome to see Half Dome in a day?
July 14, 2006 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Am I crazy to spend only 1 day (2 nights) in the Yosemite Park area? We've got a limited budget, and Yosemite is just one stop in our road trip down the PCH.

My party and I are departing Tucson, AZ the last week of July, and planning to make the drive all the way to Mammoth Lakes on the east side of Yosemite the first day. We'd stay the night there and enjoy Yosemite the entire following day. Preliminary plans have us leaving a hotel in Mariposa (just west of Yosemite Valley) headed for Big Basin Redwood Forest and Monterey. Then after a night's stay in Monterey we will take in the full beauty of the most scenic drive on the western US.

We're young, we're (mostly) in shape, and I definitely don't want to leave Yosemite feeling like I didn't get to fully enjoy it. We're not camping, so any activities could only occupy one day (no 2-day excursions into the wild).

What to do? Where to go? What to see?
posted by blastrid to Travel & Transportation around California (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Noit at all. One day's better than none. And like many places in scenic California the hotel will (try to) insist on a two-night stay -- get that reservation set up pronto!

And yeah, Big Basin -- stay in one of those tent-cabins.
posted by Rash at 1:59 PM on July 14, 2006

You can walk around the main central valley in that time. Lots of day hiking trails up to waterfalls and the like. Standing at the bottom of el Capitan and looking up at all the nutjobs doing "Big Wall" climbing is entertaining as well.

You won't even come close to seeing all the park has to offer. But if it's on your way, why the hell wouldn't you stop at Yosemite?
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:59 PM on July 14, 2006

You might want to check on pavement connectivity between Mariposa and Yosemite Valley. There was a rock slide on Hwy 140 in the Merced River canyon several weeks ago that had closed that route. Mariposa is in danger of drying up and blowing away with the lack of traffic.

There was talk of CalTrans rigging some sort of temporary bridge to get at least one-lane traffic going.

And a one-day skim of the valley will be stunning and a lot of fun.
posted by DandyRandy at 2:04 PM on July 14, 2006

Response by poster: Sorry if I worded my question unclear - The question is not if I should go to Yosemite, it's if I should stay 1 day or 2...
posted by blastrid at 2:05 PM on July 14, 2006

You can accomplish a great deal on a single day. Back after HS grad, I drove a big loop up to Devil's Rock, then down thru Yellowstone to points beyond. Even though I only spent 12 non-sleeping hours in Yellowstone, I was able to catch the buffallo heards, the hot springs, old faithful, and lots of amazing scenery. If you can spend a 2nd day, there's still tons of stuff to do.
posted by nomisxid at 2:43 PM on July 14, 2006

So you are going to sleep in Mammoth, get up and drive to Yosemite, see Yosemite, then drive to Mariposa for the night?

That seems like a lot driving, and not a lot of seeing. I am not super familiar with the area, maybe someone else can be more specific.
posted by clh at 2:47 PM on July 14, 2006

I was there just last week and someone asked "What do you do if you only have two days in Yosemite?" and the ranger replied, "Jump off a cliff." We were there for almost two days but I didn't feel like I was cheating myself — the more the merrier, of course, but I think one day would be worthwhile if it's all you can fit.

From the valley, hike up to Nevada Falls via Vernal Falls and then loop back down on the John Muir trail. Great day hike that you could even put away in four hours or so. It's worth doing some stuff in the Glacier Point area, too (Glacier Point itself is just a couple hundred yards from the parking lot and touristy, but the view is pretty magnificent) but you don't want to spread yourself too thin — keep in mind you are looking at couple-hour-plus point-to-point travel just within the park.
posted by rafter at 3:07 PM on July 14, 2006

Two days DEFINITELY. Try to stay at the Sunnyside campground. It's the walk-in campground and America's greatest international youth hostel (ok, not really, but it's got the same vibe).

Want to feel like a badass? Sort out parking, get a backcountry permit, hike to the top (yes, the top) of Yosemite Falls, have a gorgeous walk around up there, sleep up there, and walk back down.

Otherwise, enjoy the meadows, go see some waterfalls, and don't be ashamed to take the bus around.

You have to stay for two days (or more).
posted by redteam at 3:13 PM on July 14, 2006

So you are going to sleep in Mammoth, get up and drive to Yosemite, see Yosemite, then drive to Mariposa for the night? That seems like a lot driving...

Yes, that's a LOT of driving. It's a huge chunk of the day just to get from Mammoth through Lee Vining / Mono Lake and into the Yosemite Valley. You want to spend that huge chunk of the day actually in the Valley, not driving into it and then driving out of it.
posted by frogan at 4:12 PM on July 14, 2006

Best answer: I just returned from my first trip to Yosemite & avoided a lot of the summer valley traffic by taking the Glacier Point road up to hike Sentinel Dome and Taft Point. Both are relatively short hikes (about 2.5 miles each) and have stunning views of all of the "greatest hits" (Half Dome, El Capitan, the various falls, etc). I'd definitely recommend this as an I-only-have-a-short-time-in-the-park overview.
posted by judith at 4:21 PM on July 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I was there just last week and someone asked "What do you do if you only have two days in Yosemite?" and the ranger replied, "Jump off a cliff."

Yeah what's up with that 'tude? In 2003 I asked the same thing at a visitor center, "We're only here for a day, what's to do?" and got the unhelpful answer "Plan your next trip."
posted by Rash at 4:42 PM on July 14, 2006

the unhelpful answer "Plan your next trip."

Actually, collecting maps, guidebooks and other information that would be useful on your next trip is a good use of your time, regardless of where you go.
posted by SPrintF at 6:14 PM on July 14, 2006

Best answer: The drive from Mammoth into the valley is probably only 3-4 hours depending on how many times you stop. I know because we did (almost all) of that drive three days ago. ;)

For one day, I would say: get up *early* so you can be in the valley early. I.e. 6AM or earlier. Drive around the valley (or stop and park and take the valley floor shuttle) and stop at the major sites: waterfalls, etc. Hike up to the bottom of one of them (best is yosemite falls IMO, as it is a pleasant walk which leaves you plenty of time for other things). I wouldn't suggest any difficult hikes (i.e. up vernal falls to the John Muir Trail, etc.) as they take a long time and you (frankly) won't see as much. The "hike" up to Mirror Lake is probably worth it though.

Before you leave (i.e. just before sunset which thankfully is pretty late), drive up to glacier point. Then leave. But, you will have to take 120 out (the NW exit) because the Mariposa road was still close a few days ago and I imagine it will be when you get there. Plan to drive at night on your way out.

But if you can be there more than one day, do it. There are plenty of campgrounds outside of yosemite that are first-come basis, although some are decidedly lacking in amenities (bathrooms and/or potable water), if getting a place to stay is the reason for only one day.

BTW, Tioga pass is *awesome.* Frankly, if you couldn't stay in yosemite at all, just driving that route would be worth it.
posted by R343L at 7:05 PM on July 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Some great ideas... Any recommendations on alternative towns to get a hotel to the West of Yosemite? The next leg of the trip brings us toward Monterey.

If we do stay in Mariposa, how long would the detour be from Yosemite? We'd end up staying 2 nights there if we enjoy Yosemite for two days.

We're not gonna camp (my car can't fit it, and half of my party is not for it), so driving to and from the out-of-Yosemite hotel could become an issue...

Relative to the activities and sights in Yosemite, is spending any time in Mammoth (or Devil's Postpile) just a waste in comparison?
posted by blastrid at 7:33 PM on July 14, 2006

Keep in mind that Yosemite is going to be *packed* during the summer, and so are the surrounding towns. You may be able to find a motel in the Mammoth area on the fly, but Mariposa will likely be sold out. May already be. I would get on the horn and start planning your nights.

Yosemite campgrounds also fill up far ahead of time, but weeknights are a little better, and during the week before your trip you can sometimes take advantage of cancellations (via the website reservation system . . . you just have to keep checking until something opens up.)

Spending one full day in the Valley will be okay. You'll get a good idea of what you want to see next time you visit. The above advice about the drive from Mammoth to Yosemite Valley is right on -- it's amazing.

From Mariposa to Big Basin will take you about 4.5 hours, maybe five or six depending on traffic, route, etc. Big Basin to Monterey will be about 1.5 - 2 hours.

I live in Santa Cruz. If you have any more questions about your trip, please feel free to email me (check profile.) I would be happy to help. :) Have a great trip!
posted by shifafa at 8:59 PM on July 14, 2006

We unfortunately didn't stay long in the Mammoth area. We camped at June Lake one night but that's a bit north.

We also couldn't get into to see Devil's Postpile because we would have to take a mandatory shuttle -- and we doubted they would allow a dog on the shuttle. In any case, it wasn't our main goal (that particular day we were headed to Lone Pine and a campground at 10,000 feet).

As for an alternative to Mariposa for the hotel, Sonora is slightly back out of the way after leaving Yosemite via 120, but is an old gold rush town so is kind of fun. Alternatively, there is Oakdale on 120/108. In either case, to get towards Monterey you would have to go south a bit once you got out of the hills. But, going down to Mariposa as planned is only like 60 miles more on highway 49 -- which is pretty fun by itself (goes by a lot of old towns, etc.) Lots of people who work in Yosemite, but live around Mariposa are having to do that now anyway. It's a pretty long drive. Staying somewhere off 41 (southern highway into Yosemite) is probably the best idea as it puts you closer to Monterey (north-south wise) and is a bit closer drive into the park (although still a ways to get to the valley floor). I have no idea how hard it would be to get hotel rooms though...

(Excuse all the parenthesis. (I like them a lot.))
posted by R343L at 10:06 PM on July 14, 2006

It's been years...but my wife and I spent a very satisfying day in Yosemite back in the 80s...it was spring, so no crowds, though. No, we didn't see it all, but we didn't plan to. We saw all the big sites from Glacier Point and the valley floor, came away with the usual poor imitations of Ansel Adams photos, and were very happy about what we got to see.
posted by lhauser at 11:02 PM on July 14, 2006

Are you thinking about camping? I'm going out there in August, and I'm wondering which are the nicer campgrounds. Camping is only $20 a night, so that's probably the cheapest route if the budget is a problem.
posted by jefeweiss at 10:02 AM on July 15, 2006

Best answer: Though Devil's Postpile and all that in Yolo around Mammoth is pretty cool, they DO NOT HOLD A CANDLE TO THE BLAZING SUN that is the beauty of Yosemite. If you're doing one day, get there as early as possible. First, drive the loop around the valley floor to orient yourself and ohh and aah appropriately (it's pretty frickin' unbelievable). Park at the Lower Yosemite Falls parking lot and take the short walk to the base of falls, it's a great introduction, and you get a sense of scale from the ground.

Then, I recommend driving up to the Glacier Point area, and hiking to Taft Point. (Amazing, you stand on the edge of a--IIRC--2400 ft. drop at the cliff edge. You also will get an unforgettable bird's eye across to Yosemite Falls and much of the valley, where you were just on the ground looking up.) That trail keeps going, circling around the back way to Sentinel Dome, which will be a nice, tiring-but-not-too-tiring hike ending in an even more spectacular perspective, looking down toward Half Dome. If you still have energy, you can hike over to Glacier Point itself for more mind-blowing splendor, and then you'll be ready to head out and to your hotel. The loop hike to Taft Point back to Sentinel Dome is really nice, deep into the forest, and will be less crowded than any of the hikes originating on the valley floor.

Even if you do 2 days, you'll still regret leaving; as long as you have a solid 8-10 hours to spend in the park, you'll be satisfied (sort of) (though camping out under that night sky can be a religious experience).

If you have to take 120/108 out of the park, it's a nice drive, too. Most of the hotels along the way will be full, but if you don't really care about where you're sleeping, I recommend driving out of the park to either Oakdale (small town) or Modesto (city), both of which are down on the Central Valley floor, and will take you about 1.5 or 2 hours to get to from Yosemite.

From Modesto, it'll only take a couple of hours to get to Big Basin--I live in the central valley, and camp on the coast fairly regularly, and I get there consistently in 2 hours. (For driving route, I recommend taking I-5 and connectors to CA 152 and over Pacheco Pass around the San Luis Reservoir, through San Juan Bautista--pretty drive. Route would look like this--I mapped from Modesto to Watsonville so that it would show the back way; from there it's just a few miles up Hwy 1 to Santa Cruz/Big Basin area. Also, camping in Big Basin is great, since it's a redwood forest the canopy is very high, so it's not very buggy. Good hikes too.)
posted by LooseFilter at 12:31 PM on July 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

I did Yosemite for one day (and one night) back in 2000, and I'm glad I did - just in case that helps in anyway :)
posted by superfurry at 12:32 PM on July 15, 2006

Definitely two days if you can spare them. It's about two hours drive time from Mammoth to Yosemite. A few recommendations: Plan on breakfast at the Mobil station in Lee Vining. Stop at Tuolumne Meadows and hike about the meadow. Have a swim in Tenaya Lake. Hike the Mist Trail and visit Glacier Point. You can combine both by making a big loop: Mist Trail to the Panorama Trail and down the 4-mile trail, but this is athletically ambitious. The trails from Glacier point recommended above sound good, but I haven't tried them. Yosemite Falls trail is great too.
posted by Manjusri at 1:21 AM on July 16, 2006

I highly recommend the river trips - I think it was $12 and you got an hour or two drifting downriver in little canoes.

When I was there I picked up a book called Yosemite Trail Guide or similar and did a couple of nice hikes up to the falls and back before nightfall.

It's a lovely, lovely place.
posted by BishopsLoveScifi at 2:54 PM on July 16, 2006

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