Back in October, I purchased a National Parks Pass for the budget-friendly price of $80 for a year of unlimited National Park access. Road trips to see the National Parks are common, and the crowds can be brutal during peak season- but this one was oh sooooo worth it.
While the huge expanse of wilderness (747,956 acres!) deserves at least a week-long visit, I only had two days and was prepared to make the most of it. Waking up around 5am is the norm in my household (or, um… RVhold?), thanks to an aging dog with an affinity for vomiting if not fed promptly. Normally I’d dive right back into bed and get a few more hours of sleep but not today! I hit the road and crossed into the park well before the rangers were posted at the entrance stations. You’re welcome to enter the park 24/7, so this wasn’t a problem. This “early bird gets the worm” strategy paid off handsomely and I highly recommend it if you’re unable to stay inside the park.
Driving into the valley provides stunning views with frequent pull-offs for snapping selfies with picturesque mountains in the background.
The campground host suggested I hike the Mist Trail up to Vernal Falls to start the day, and continue on to Nebraska Falls if I was feeling ambitious. The trail was 3.4 miles to the summit of Nebraska Falls, but the distance does not even begin to capture the vertical climb over loose rocks that is required to reach the top. As an armature hiker, I will easily admit that this hike kicked my butt, but again, was soooooo worth it.
I made it to the top in two hours, and enjoyed the view from the top for about a half hour. The hike back down seemed easier since I was high on the views and had accomplished my goal of the summit. Also, encouraging other hikers on their way up is great fun. “You’re almost there! You’re doing great!” as you hear a group deciding if they can make it to the top or not. In addition to the mounting pain of my knees and toes being shoved into the tip of my boots with each step, the crowds got heavier and heavier as I crossed Vernal Falls again. Small children, selfie sticks, and strollers littered the path and made the end of the trail unbearable.
From there I hopped on the popular (and free!) bus system that loops around the valley with many stops to get on and off as you please. The various stops provide many vistas from different perspectives, along with bathrooms, food vendors, and gift shops. Side note: there’s an actual grocery store with a solid selection of food and booze, because so many workers live in the Valley all season. I skipped the long fast food line and made myself a little picnic, which was shoved into my face so fast I can’t even remember what I ate. No one likes a hungry hiker.
Day 2 started just as early, but my aching legs were glad to spend most of the day in the truck. I took the road to Tunnel View, Bridalveil Falls, and Glacier Point. The parking lots were still fairly empty and lots of space to walk around and enjoy the nature without people bumping into each other.
History Lesson: John Muir (renowned naturalist, well known for saying things like, “In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks” and “The mountains are calling and I must go”) took President Theodore Roosevelt to Glacier Point and they camped under the sequoias at Mariposa Grove in 1903, which led to California ceding the land to the National Park System in 1906. Politics were put aside so he could experience the wilderness and understand the threats facing it. Roosevelt was responsible for creating five National Parks and is well-known for his conservation efforts.
Overall, this park is DEFINITELY worth a visit. I’m glad I went in the shoulder season, and don’t think I’d be able to handle the summer rush. I’d also try to camp inside the park next time, although that takes far more planning than I’m capable with my nomadic life. Finally, I should apologize, because my phone photos absolutely do not do the place justice. Similar to the Grand Canyon, seeing a picture is just not the same as seeing such vast wilderness with your own eyes. Smelling the pine trees, getting soaking wet on the Mist Trail as if you were sitting front seat on a Log Ride, and having neck cramps from staring up at the waterfalls for too long- these things should be experienced in first person, and I hope you get there some day!
“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” –John Muir