By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Eight hours in Yosemite
Giving visitors the essence of Yosemite in a quick day trip
The word famous tunnel view of Yosemite Valley. - photo by ASHLEY GREER
YOSEMITE VALLEY —They come from all over the world to hike through John Muir’s beloved Cathedral of the Sierra.

Many South County residents, though, rarely venture to Yosemite Valley especially in summer when crowds are at their worst.

Thanks to a late snow, and a drop in travel due to the world economy, Yosemite Valley has turned into a pleasant venture this summer just 2.5 hours away from Manteca via Highway 120. A day trip gets you a chance to experience waterfalls, take in the sequoias, and do your share of gawking at climbers on the sheer granite face of El Capitan.

I admittedly have a bias in favor of the high country near Tioga Pass. I crisscrossed the Sierra via the Yosemite high country three times on a bicycle before I ever ventured into Yosemite  Valley. Although I prefer the solitude and the spectacular vista near the loftiest piece of pavement in California – Tioga Pass at 9,945 feet - taking a quick trip into the valley is something I’ll do whenever the chance arises to give a visitor a quick taste of Yosemite.

This time it was granddaughter Ashley’s boyfriend Sawyer Urbatsch visiting from North Dakota that gave me the perfect excuse. For less than a tank of gas and $20 for a vehicle pass good for a week, we were able to hit the popular spots while reminding me of just how fortunate we are to live close to such a variety of natural wonders from Point Reyes and Monterrey Bay to Yosemite Valley and Death Valley although I could have done without less people.

A quick rundown of do-able 8-hour tour of Yosemite includes the following:

: I always hit this first with first-timers to Yosemite Valley for several reasons. First, it is the longest and by comparison with the rest of the itinerary – the hardest hike of the day. It is  three miles round trip from the trailhead east of Curry Village to the top of Vernal Fall (5,044 feet) with a net gain of 1,000 feet in climbing. Always take water. Although a short hike, I’ll take a backpack with snacks and first-aid supplies just in case. And since it is the Mist Trail, I bring extra socks in sealed baggies.

Shoes with  cross-trainer style bottoms  (basically sports shoes that are smooth aren’t wise) are OK on the trail that has plenty of rocks and can be slippery  especially as you near the mist-slickened steps leading up to Vernal Falls. (Remember to protect cameras.) I prefer the hikes in April where many people come with rain ponchos as the roaring Merced cascading down the fall can literally drench you non-stop. Plus you’re almost certain to see rainbows arching across the Merced below the fall.

If people I’m with are game, I’ll take them about a mile or so further up to Nevada Fall (5,970 feet) which is a longer drop and more spectacular than Vernal but not quite as much fun. The appeal is a huge granite outcropping on the south side of the fall that is ideal for stretching out in the sun for a rest break and lunch. It adds maybe three hours to the 8-hour itinerary. It is right on the John Muir Trail which gives you another way to go back down that provides a different feel as well.

I don’t like taking people up to Half Dome (8,836 feet). It is much more strenuous, take up to 12 hours at a decent pace with a 4,800 elevation gain. The real reason is the infamous final steep steps that require you to pull yourself up with the help of an anchored cable. It really requires gloves. It also requires hiking boots to be safe. And more important of all, it requires everyone on it to be in good shape.

•EL CAPITAN: You can get a good feel of Yosemite by the loop road. I bypass Curry Village and Yosemite Village because of the crowds and the fact I always bring a cooler with water, drinks, and food.  The one stop on the valley floor that is a must is the meadow directly across from El Capitan where you can also take in other famous outcropping in the glacier-carved valley including The Three Sisters. There is something imposing craning your neck up to take in the huge slab of granite. If you’re lucky, you’re catch a glimpse of climbers methodically making their way up the face. Binoculars come in handy.

: Arguably the easiest hikes from a parking lot to any water fall in the valley. Unlike Yosemite Fall, it doesn’t go trickle down to next to nothing and it does really look like a bride’s veil as it cascades off the granite. You won’t get drenched unless you go in April during a heavy run-off. Last time I did that water was literally gushing over the observation area. Most people were using umbrellas within 1,000 feet of the observation area as the spray comes through the thick trees.

: Less than a mile above the parking lot for Bridalveil Fall is what Kodak at one time dubbed “the most photographed vista on earth.” The view of the valley just outside of the Wawona Road tunnel has been made all the more impressive in recent years with the Park Service doing dome “photoshopping” by removing a handful of trees that obstructed part of the panorama.

•MARIPOSA GROVE: If your visitors won’t get a change to go to redwood country, make sure you toss in a trip to the Mariposa Grove on your Yosemite Valley trip. It is near the south entrance on Highway 41and is a bit more imposing than the Tuolumne Grove. The sequoias aren’t as thick as you’ll find in the coastal redwood areas but they are never-the-less imposing enough soaring hundreds of feet skyward with some 2,000 or so years old.

Other favorites I’ll switch with other activities or add depending upon who I take on a quick trip to Yosemite Valley includes Glacier Point that offers an  incredible view of the Valley across the Half Dome and the four-mile trail from the valley that takes you up to Glacier Point at 7,214 feet. You’re literally hiking much the way on the side of granite.

If its winter and I feel like demonstrating I’m a klutz, nothing beats cross country skiing on the Glacier Point Road from the Badger Pass Ski Area.

Even if you don’t have visitors you can pile in the car and head off to Yosemite Valley for a day, it is still worth it just to remind you of how incredible the place we call Yosemite Valley is whether it is summer, spring, winter or fall.