Yosemite: Seven Hidden Gems Worthy of Your Time
As a professional mood swinger, I travel every chance I get. It thwarts the inevitable emotional downturn and avoids a major binge on St. John’s Wort. My recent sojourn back to all places happy–emotionally and otherwise—found me taking an extended stay at and around Yosemite National Park.
What bliss, to say the least.
The 75,000-acre national park, perhaps the most striking in scenery in all of America, is rich with eye candy, and there is an overabundance of breathtaking experiences to be had—from hiking trails and rafting to camping and, oh, those unforgettable views. Bottom line: You will not be bored at Yosemite.
However, one of the main things I realized during my late May jaunt is Yosemite is an all-seasons portal. It’s open all year. A $20 pass per vehicle allows you to enter and leave the park for an entire week; it’s $40 annually. (That said, I’m already looking forward to some fall and winter trips so stay tuned for further must-sees later this year.) The other thing I realized during my two weeks there was the memorable experiences I had were born organically, just by heading out into that unforgettable California haven and allowing the winds of fate to take me where they will.
But floating like a feather may not be for everybody. To that end, I share the following with fellow jet setters like you who may be eager to know a little more beforehand. Some of these hidden gems are not that hidden. In fact, a few of them boldly stand out and scream, “Look at me, look at me.” But take note of how you can make the best of experiencing something as obviously magnanimous as Glacier Point. And there are few things here, especially vacation properties, which will pique your interest, too. Happy exploring!
Miner James D. Savage established a bona fide trading post just outside Yosemite Valley near El Portal back in 1849. These days, wonderfully rebooted, it serves as one of several unique vacation properties, which are ideal for families, friends, and couples. I discovered a few notable properties here—the River House is significant in size and boasts master suites that face a cliff—however it was the Log Cabin I fell in love with. It’s a cozy one-bedroom cabin ideal for honeymooners or those who want a romantic getaway—or for a writer finishing a book or memoir, actually. The spacious one-bedroom cabin sits right along a flowing river and includes a prominent living room, kitchen, dining area, Jacuzzi tub, and more. You can bring your food and cook away, or head just minutes down the road to Cedar Lodge and take in one of two dining establishments there. Into white water-rafting? Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions near Cedar Lodge is your ticket, but the Log Cabin at Savages seems to be designed for cozy comfort after a fun day in the park, which is about 15 minutes down the road.
It would be hard to beat the value of this place. For starters, it is just a few minutes from the park’s entrance on Hwy 140. Another perk is the property sits right along the gorgeous Merced River, which flows most dramatically in spring and early summer. I was surprised by the variety of rooms the properties offers, from romantic suites and lofts to large two-bedroom units that feel like a luxury condo. The lobby—a wonderful rustic throwback to those popular lodges from the ’50s,’60s, and ’70s—sports an adjacent gift shop and grocery store. Meanwhile, several pools—indoor and outdoor—are perched on the property, along with two noteworthy eateries: a popular pizza place and a sit-down dining establishment right along the river with a surprisingly robust menu. Easy access in and out of the park made my stay here memorable, and it is just minutes from a larger grocery store in El Portal as well as Zephyr’s whitewater rafting expedition.
5. Taft Point
There’s so much to see, experience, and just soak up in Yosemite. I mean, you will never witness such dramatic beauty. But aside from El Capitan, Sentinel Meadow and Cook’s Meadow Loop, Lower Yosemite Fall, Bridalveil Fall, and the mindbending pitstop that is Tunnel View—all of which will be on anybody’s must-see/experience list—Taft Point may be overlooked. For one thing, the stunning overlook is about five miles from Glacier Point on Glacier Point Road; Glacier Point typically garners the most attention, so most people simply head there. However, during my two-week experience in Yosemite, I visited Taft Point several times and I have been spreading the word ever since. The mile-long hike to Taft Point from the road is moderate, and once you get there you are able to walk up the very edges of the cliffs. It ranks up very high on the Wow Factor as you will be more than 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and experiencing views that almost rival Glacier Point.
Yosemite fed the spirit of famed photographer Ansel Adams, and these free walks allow visitors to see the park through his eyes. Leave from the Ansel Adams Gallery.
3. Trail Rides
Yosemite by horseback? You bet. Unless you’re climbing Half Dome—you’ll need a pass to do that, by the way—or Upper Yosemite Falls, which is noteworthy but not nearly as intense as Half Dome, I suggest saddling up at Yosemite Valley Stable (April to October) or Wawona Stable (June to early September). Two-hour, half-day, and full-day rides are offered. The ride to Mirror Lake is especially memorable.
This is one of Yosemite’s grandest points of interest; words fail to capture the dynamic spectacle up here. First things first: There are restrooms and a giftshop/snackshop here. Beyond that, the outdoor amphitheater allows you to just sit and take in the stunning views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Vernal Fall, and Nevada Fall. Several hiking trails to the left and right of Glacier Point are ideal options for hikers. In fact, for the adventurous Glacier Point offers a four-mile trail beginning in the Valley at Southside Drive and climbs up the 3,200-foot grain; it takes about three to four hours but, oh, the views. Those looking for a more modest trail should consider hiking parts of the Panoramic Trail from Glacier Point. Look for it toward the right and you can easily walk as far as you like and come back—or, walk the entire way all the way down to Vernal Fall. Speaking of…
1. Vernal Fall
It’s not that hidden. Not really. Just about a mile’s walk (or tram ride) from Curry Camping Village—a place that boasts excellent people-watching opportunities, by the way—Vernal Fall is the stunning 317-foot waterfall just downstream of Nevada Fall. The steady hike up becomes rather strenuous so take your time. By the time you cross the bridge, at the midpoint, and feast your eyes on the steps you’ll be climbing, well, it’s like walking up toward the heavens. Hold on to the rails and relish every minute of it.