We heard someone once say that living in Mariposa County will turn you into a photographer. Perhaps just visiting Yosemite will do the trick. Picturesque locations await you from massive granite formations to amazing waterfalls, to sweeping mountain vistas to alpine lakes. 95% of the visitors to Yosemite National Park visit 5% of its total landmass – this 5% being the valley floor. As a result it is fairly easy to become immersed in Yosemite’s “natural world” by visiting during the less touristy times (early Spring, Fall and Winter) as well as “stepping outside of the valley floor”.
The following are some of the highlights in and near the valley floor that we have visited.
Wawona Tunnel Overlook – while technically not physically on the valley floor this pullout overlook at the Wawona tunnel (on Wawona Road) gives one some of the best overviews of most of the valley floor including El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Waterfall. If you are visiting during the summer months don’t expect to be alone here, this is a stop that everyone wants to be a part of including tour buses. This is also one of the most scenic backdrops to have your photo taken.
Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America and within the top 10 highest waterfalls in the world. It is composed of three sections, the lower, middle and upper falls. This is the most popular attraction from the valley floor due to its incredible height, beauty and ease of accessibility. A paved flat circular trail leads from Bus Stop #6 along the valley floor road to the base of the lower part of these falls. During higher water flow the lookout at the edge of the falls often is misted by the spray that forms at the base of the falls. Also of note on this trail was an old saw mill where the famous naturalist John Muir worked. There are no more signs of this old mill but you can see the general area where it was located.
Half Dome Climb (or the shorter yet still challenging and visually rewarding Mist Trail), is the quintessential big trail Yosemite hike. The Mist Trail leaves from the valley floor near the Curry Village parking lot (you should see signs as you get close to the parking lot – or ask once you are in the vicinity). Look for the Happy Isles Loop Road or the Upper Pines Campground (the trailhead is closest to either of these two locations). It meanders mostly upwards for over 8 miles to the top of Half Dome. This is a serious hike for those in shape due to its length and elevation gain (nearly 5000 feet one way). The first part of the hike is along “Mist Trail” where you will initially climb up to the top of Nevada Falls and then continue further up on a series of switchbacks to the top of Vernal Falls. Note that like in the rest of the park, mid to late Spring is an excellent time to see these waterfalls due to the large volume of water (but you will get soaked if you get anywhere close to their thundering drops).
Don’t fear, those photos you may have seen of someone dangling from the sheer vertical face a thousand feet up on Half Dome is not going to be you on this hike. Rather the trail ends at the backside base of Half Dome from which you don a pair of gloves, grit and determination, and attempt to bottle any fear of heights you may have. Start climbing up the rounded backside and use the 2 metal cables as your guides on either side of you. Without the cables there would be some serious problems as this is steep rock indeed. Wood two by fours extend horizontally every few feet between the cables providing a more secure climb both up and down.
If you plan on hiking this trail during summer weekends or other holidays, we highly recommend you get a very early start and use headlights. We left the trailhead at 3am during one busy summer holiday weekend and this got us to the top of half dome well before the crowds, but what was even more important is after a relaxing multi hour stay on the top, we were able to get down before all the crowds attempted to climb up the base. The problem that occurs later in the day can be a major one on busy days as herds of people attempt to climb up from the bottom of the base thus creating traffic jams for both those going up and especially for those going down. A permit system is now in place for when the cables are up. Note that the cables are typically removed by mid October and then put up again by late May. For more information about the permit system visit: www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hdpermits.htm
Keep a close eye on the weather before climbing the base of half dome to the top, it is common for lightning to strike the top of Half Dome during inclement weather. Once you are on the top be very careful near the edge and the lip as there are no fences or anything preventing one from getting close to the edge.
Bridalveil Falls is the classic Yosemite waterfall easily seen from the Wawona Tunnel lookout. It is over 600 feet. This is a fairly easy hike as from the parking area its a bit under a mile round trip. When roaring these falls can really create mist in and around where they plunge into the river. As a result part of the trail in this area will be wet and can be slippery. If you are here in the summer get here early in the day or later in the day to avoid the crowds the descend upon the parking lot and trail.
Click on the video to the left to see the owner of Model T Tours, David Woodworth airing out a Model T on lonely Yosemite Roads
Model T Tours . David Woodworth and his wife Sheran run one of the most unique businesses in Yosemite valley, a motoring company specializing in renting original Model T and Model A Fords. If you know how to drive a stick shift transmission you can quickly pick up the hang of driving one of these old gems. These cars are typically available for rent from the beginning of May until the end of October
When you are in these vehicles you will feel like a celebrity; people never waive at you in your own car but when you are in one of these antique beauties you certainly draw attention. Demand further attention by hitting the antique horn and listen to its unique choking sound. Ready to play the part of a gentleman or lady from the 20’s? Dress like it and then pull up to the front of the historical Ahwahnee Hotel and find someone to take your picture. The owner David was a proud owner of the world’s largest antique RV Collection before he sold it several years ago to a museum in Indiana. He has long collected antique vehicles and other historical memorabilia and makes most of the repairs to the vehicles himself. The cars are all open top and comfortably seat the driver and 3 other people.