I think Yosemite National Park is one of my favourite places in the world. It has views like no other, and having visited before we knew that this time around we wanted to do a hike to experience what the park had to offer away from the roads and standard photographs. We chose to hike down from Glacier Point, an eight mile walk that sounded like it would give us some great scenery and allow me to scratch my itch for a decent hike on this motorcycle road trip.
Hiking in Yosemite National Park.
We were told that there is “nothing” in the California valley, which we rode across to get to Yosemite from Morro Bay (read the previous post), which was spot on. Miles and miles of brown water-deprived hills and plains. Every now and again there was a ranch with a wooden hut and some fencing, but generally speaking it was just very long straight road with towering hills in the distance but no trees or houses to break up the view. Both quite spectacular and a little boring in its emptiness. We did see one large house on the top of a hill with a really long winding drive to it, flanked by Christmas trees either side, which looked like it should be owned by a bond villain. I kind of hoped it was.
My bike and nothing in the California Valley.
We based ourselves at the KOA in Midpines (Yosemite West), just outside Mariposa and about an hour from Yosemite Village, where we booked a camping cabin rather than a tent pitch to give ourselves a bit of extra space and comfort for a couple of nights. We’ve heard good and bad things about KOAs (huge franchised chain of campgrounds), but with all the campgrounds in Yosemite full and the hotels and motels nearby being on the expensive side, this offered good value and somewhere to unpack the bikes and use as a base to explore Yosemite. It also meant we had light and power, which is a bonus when camping, and access to a laundry which was handy after several weeks of washing things in the sink.
Our camping cabin (sorry… “kabin”) at KOA Yosemite West.
Anyway, the hike. We rode into Yosemite National Park via the entrance at El Portal, and used our America the Beautiful pass for the first time. We read up on this before we came over to the USA, the annual pass is $80 and covers both bikes, which when you consider most parks will be $20-30 per bike if we pay every time is an absolute bargain. We parked up in the motorcycle area of the main parking lot in Yosemite Village (marked “E” if you’re looking for it), and packed up the bike gear in our empty panniers (we’d got our hiking stuff on under our bike gear). As soon as we got off the bikes we saw our first bit of wildlife – a large but very tame Mule Deer walked across the road in front of us; LincsGeek didn’t even notice what it was at first! We then hot footed it to Yosemite Lodge which was where our booked tour bus would pick us up, about 20 minutes of fast paced walking from the car park.
The view of Half Dome from Yosemite National Park.
A couple of days before we had booked a one-way tour to Glacier Point so we could hike down. This 1.5 hour journey up into the Yosemite mountains meant we could park the bikes at the bottom and use gravity to help us on our hike. You can book the full tour, of course, but it’s a popular way for those wanting a day hike to experience this particular route. On the way up, the bus driver told stories of Yosemite history – some true, some legend, some very much made up. I’m still not sure which bits were true!
View from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park.
The view from Glacier Point was absolutely awe inspiring. I have simply never seen anything like it; it took my breath away. It was a beautifully sunny day and we could see the half dome completely clearly and the view was not hazy at all. There was snow on the side of the road on the way up and we could see it at the top of the mountains too, but it was warm and we were looking forward to the hike down. We picnicked on a sandwich from the shop at Glacier Point, filled up our water bottles, and got going.
The Panorama Trail in Yosemite National Park.
Everything we read said the trail would be just over 8 miles “down” to Yosemite Village. It started with the Panorama Trail, which takes you down the valley to a pretty awesome waterfall with a bridge over it, and then back up the other side to continue around the park. That’s right. Up – at least a mile of solid UP. I’ll admit it was very hard going, especially at altitude and with no shade, my heart was pounding in protest as my request for it to keep my body moving. It was a good job the views were so good! We briefly chatted to another hiker who had already done the “Four Mile Trail” (which apparently is 5.5 miles) up to Glacier Point and was on her way back to the Village; hard core. It made us feel good that we weren’t overtaken so we can’t have been walking slowly, and we actually made pretty good time; maybe we’re not that unfit after all.
Trail marker in Yosemite National Park.
Looking back at the Half Dome.
When we got to the top we came across a sign that said we had 4.2 miles to go. We headed down the winding route through the trees (hooray for shade!), with the Half Dome coming into view every so often. Another mile on and we got to a t-junction with a decision to make; the John Muir Trail was one way and the Mist Trail the other. The former would take us on a similarly winding route down into the Village, while the latter would take us on a shorter and steeper route via a couple of impressive waterfalls. We plumped for the Mist Trail because although we knew it would be hard on the knees, we quite fancied the idea of following a waterfall down to the bottom and getting caught in the mist (hence the name). We reached the waterfall, which was indeed beautiful, and started our descent – huge and uneven steps along the side of the cliff with no hand rail. It was hard on the knees and ankles but definitely worth it.
It’s a long way down there.
You get a bit wet when walking alongside a waterfall.
Then we got to another waterfall and did the same. And then another. In all we came across four very impressive falls full of water cascading down from the mountain tops, the last of which was Yosemite Falls and was the one “Mist” of the trail name referred to. It turns out that when you walk down a waterfall you get VERY wet – the mist soaked us but was rather refreshing. Walking down a waterfall (very carefully watching your footing) is definitely one to tick off the bucket list. A great experience.
Taking a rest at the top of a waterfall. With a very serious face!
From there we thought it must be about half a mile back to the Lodge where the bus picked us up, but there is no way the mileage is right on this walk – after at least a mile of walking we still had 1.5 miles to go. By this time we both readily admitted we hurt and were ready for bed! We did make it, of course, and caught the free shuttle bus back to the Village centre where we had a sloppy burger and a root bear and let our feet rest. I would say it was the most strenuous hike I’ve ever done (yes, including Lyke Wake Walk) but it also provided some of the best views I’ve ever seen. What a day. What a fabulously tiring day.
The rivers and waterfalls are flowing well in Yosemite thanks to a good winter. The water is very cold… yes, I checked.