Chasing Waterfalls at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Falls and Half Dome

With spring in full swing, it felt like the right time to visit Yosemite National Park- before the waterfalls started drying out and high tourist season kicked in. I dreaded the 4+ hour drive to Yosemite from the Bay Area, but luckily, my editor at Moon Travel Guides tipped me off to a hostel called Yosemite Bug, just under an hour's drive from the park entrance. 

So, with my bed booked, my 2 day, 1 night visit was set. The plan was to arrive in the afternoon and then scout the park in the evening. The next day I would hike Upper Yosemite Falls and do some more exploring before heading home. I had read there were public showers at Half Dome Village, so I planned to check those out too.

Here are some highlights from my first visit to Yosemite National Park!

1. Tunnel View. After checking-in to Yosemite Bug and getting the lay of the land in Yosemite Valley, I headed for Tunnel View, the most iconic and one of most photographed viewpoints in Yosemite National Park. The postcard-perfect montage of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall is just east of the Wawona Tunnel, looking east into the heart of Yosemite Valley. It was late in the afternoon, and there were plenty of tourists, but it was easy to find a parking spot, grab my tripod, and take in the vista. 

El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall from Tunnel View

2. Yosemite Falls. The next day I starting hiking the Upper Yosemite Falls trail just after 6:00 a.m. I had wanted to do a challenging hike and the up-close views of Yosemite Falls sounded great to me. It ended up being worth the 4:30 a.m. wake-up: In the first few hours, it was quiet and peaceful, and I only encountered a handful of hikers. The trail became more crowded mid-morning with lots of tourists, field trips with students, and hikers.

Yosemite Falls

The hike to the top of Yosemite Falls is a blistering 7.2 miles roundtrip with a 3150-foot cumulative elevation gain on step-stones and steep switchbacks. It was very challenging, especially ascending the tight switchbacks to the upper part of the falls and then descending steeply to the viewpoint. The best parts, for me, were the panoramic views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley, and seeing the power and magnificence of Yosemite Falls up-close. I even got a bit of cell service, which is rare in the park, so it was fun texting some pictures and videos to Onur :) 

3. Valley View. While I had cell service on the Upper Yosemite Falls hike, I also looked up the location of Valley View, another photogenic spot in Yosemite. It's located near the park exit, just east of the Pohono Bridge on Northside Drive, and there is actually a small parking lot where you can just pull over and grab your picture, like Tunnel View.

Valley View and the Merced River. 

It took me a second to realize it, but Valley View is actually the same eastward vista as Tunnel View, just from the valley floor perspective. That's El Capitan on the left and Bridalveil Fall on the right. I wish I had been there for sunrise instead of mid-day in harsh lighting, but, oh well. One of the comprises I'm learning between hiking and photography is that I can't always have the best of both at once. In this visit, I prioritized exploring the park and hiking, and hope to come back and prioritize photographing in soft light another time. Maybe winter :)

4. Half Dome Village. After my hike, I pulled up to the registration desk in Half Dome Village to find out about the public showers. I got lucky, as it turns out it was exactly where I needed to be. When you go to registration, you pay $5 for use of the shower facilities, and they'll give you a towel too if you need one (you throw it in a hamper when you're done).

Viewpoint from Columbia Rock 

The friendly front desk person gave me a large map of the village and showed me where to park and how to find the showers. It ended up being a locker-room style layout, with day-use lockers and individual stalls for privacy. Soap and conditioner are provided and, with the aid of flip-flops, I was able to wash-up and felt so much better. Another bonus in Half Dome Village was a gift shop and convenience store where I picked up a Yosemite shirt for Onur and a kombucha tea for me. There is a pizza place on the deck and more if you're looking for a bite.

5. The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. My last stop of the day was the Majestic Yosemite (formerly Ahwahnee) Hotel. It had been called out as a highlight of Yosemite Valley in my Moon Yosemite Sequoia & Kings Canyon book, and I'm so glad I took 20 minutes to look in on it. Built in the 1920's, it's earthy and grand at the same time, with a feeling of heritage as you walk the alcoves and public rooms. Shops have souvenirs, postcards, fine chocolates, snacks, and more. There is a dining room in the hotel that's open to the public, and an outdoor patio, too. It was definitely worth a stop! 

There is a lot that I couldn't predict about my first trip to Yosemite. The idea of crowds at a national park in April was a new concept for me, something I hadn't personally experienced in Washington State. I didn't make it to the Ansel Adams gallery, like I had hoped, nor the Yosemite Visitor Center. The Upper Yosemite Falls hike was entrancing, and harder than I expected. But like our transition to California, I'm practicing being okay with what I am able to do in the moment, adjusting to unexpected turns, and finding value in giving my best effort and best intentions.

Cheers, and Happy Friday :)

Mist from Yosemite Falls, Half Dome