If you had just 1 day
Mariposa Grove – See the Giant Sequoias!
Taking CA-41, we arrived early morning at the south entrance to Yosemite National Park near Mariposa Grove. It was late June and there was already a short line of cars. We parked near the Wawona Visitor Center and took the shuttle bus to see the Giant Sequoias!
The Giant Sequoias are a national treasure and something that everyone should try to see if they’re able. They stand up to 300 feet tall which is as high as the Statue of Liberty! They are massive in diameter, as well. The Grizzly Giant is 28 feet in diameter! The Grizzly Giant is estimated to be over 1,800 years old and has survived 100+ forest fires.
If you have a few hours to spend in this part of the park (as we did), walk the 3 mile loop up to the California Tunnel Tree. On this walk, you’ll see the Fallen Monarch, the Grizzly Giant, the California Tunnel Tree, and the Bachelor and 3 Graces. If you have additional time, you can walk up the upper grove; and if you have 4-5 hours, you can walk up to Mariposa Point which is described as a strenuous hike due to the elevation gain.
Drive to Tunnel View
The drive from The Wawona Hotel to Tunnel View is a nice 40 minute ride (20 miles). Leave yourself more time in the event that you see wildlife or want to pull off and take in the views. The Tunnel View is one of THE BEST views of Yosemite Valley. You’ll see El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall with Half Dome in the background, all which perfectly frame Yosemite Valley – this is one of the best National Park views out there (and that’s saying something).
Glacier Point – Magnificent View
From Tunnel View to Glacier Point is another 20 mile / 40 minute rides with more amazing views and pull-offs, so leave yourself some additional time for stops. One of these pull-offs is Washburn Point which had some fun photo op spots.
Glacier Point is one of the most popular and best vistas in the park! From this point it’s estimated that you can see nearly 25% of the National Park. You can see the granite peaks down to the valley below. It’s called Glacier Point because during the Ice Age, all of Yosemite Valley was covered by a glacier, yet the peaks of the valley rose above the ice and were not carved by the glacier.
From Glacier Point you’ll have a GREAT view of the Sierra mountains, Nevada Falls, Half Dome, and Yosemite Valley. You’ll want to spend some time here taking in all the views. From the parking lot, it’s approximately a 1/4 mile walk to the point, but there are several viewing points along the way.
There are 3 trails down from Glacier Point that you can hike down, should you have the ability and time:
- The 4-mile Trail (which is actually 4.6 miles) will take you down 3,200 feet to the valley near Yosemite Lodge. The estimated hiking time is 2-3 hours and signs warn of steep switch backs, so this is for experienced hikers.
- The Panorama Trail will take you down the same 3,200 feet over 8.5 miles of trails and is estimated to take 4-6 hours of walking time. The Panorama Trail joins the Vernal-Nevada Falls Trail and takes you down to Happy Isles.
- The Pohono Trail also descends 3,200 feet over a 13-mile hiking trail. It’s estimated walking time is 7-9 hours and it ends at the Wawona Tunnel.
The drive from Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley is really nice. This is where we spotted a ‘Mama’ grizzly bear and her 2 cubs, foraging for grubs. They were really fun to watch.
Hike Lower Falls & Yosemite Valley!
We stayed the night at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. The location was great. We were just a few minute walk from the cafeteria-style restaurant where we had a nice family dinner. Afterwards we took a nice leisurely post-dinner walk around the paved walkways in the Valley. We walked to the base of Lower Falls and got some great pictures of the falls and setting sun.
At dusk we drove to the Ahwahnee Hotel, which is a very posh lodge. We listened to the piano music in the lobby; spotted some rock climbers (by their head lamps) high above on the cliffs; and even heard the rumble of a granite rock slide that shook the valley for several seconds. This was a fun end to a great day. This marked Day 9 on our train vacation and while I wish that we had more than just 1 day to spend in Yosemite National Park, we sure packed in an awful lot! We’ll be back someday! Check out the NPS website for Yosemite Maps and things to do.