Yosemite is land before time. Driving in, the highway sweeps through steep valleys coated in pine forests. As if from nowhere this unimaginable glacial valley suddenly comes into full surrounding view. You have to crane your neck out of the window to take in El Capitan, while trying to imagine a mere human free climbing that 3000 ft vertical granite monster.
Where to stay
With just two days to explore Yosemite Valley, we stocked up the van with camping and picnic supplies ready for adventure. Although we were traveling just before high season, all the campgrounds in the Valley were fully booked months in advance. So with some online research Lewy found the perfect spot: Wawona Campground.
As long as you arrive early to Yosemite Valley, there’s time to pack in a full day’s hike and then drive on 50 minutes to this beautiful campground right on the river. It’s perfectly located for your second day of exploring the Redwoods, Sequoia Trees at Mariposa Grove and a spectacular hike to Chilnualna Falls. Book in advance for a spot on the river for both nights.
Two hikes in Yosemite National Park
Day one: The Mist Trail – Vernal and Nevada Falls (2 – 5 hours hike, very effing wet)
We arrived in the valley around 10am and parked at Yosemite Valley Village. There you catch a free shuttle to the start of the hike. Top tip – go to the quieter shuttle stop nine, rather than stop ten. Don’t expect to escape the crowds on this hike but try to go early morning or late afternoon, and you’ll need a raincoat and a torch.
The first half of the hike is kinda strenuous (1000 ft elevation) but everyone gives it ago for the epic views and the novelty of getting soaking wet by the waterfall mist. Where most of the crowds turn around to walk back, we continued the circuit via the Muir Trail to get a magnificent view of Nevada Falls and Half Dome.
Day two: Chilnualna Falls (4-6 hours, very effing steep and tiring)
A short drive from Wawona is the Sequoia forest, after a quick loop we hopped back in the car for our second hike. With my already achy thighs and ongoing paranoia of being eaten by bears and mountain lions, we set off into the forest. Ali, Claire and Lewy clamber up rocks, (naughtily) stray from the path and raise my heart rate with terror umpteen times along the trail. I’m not sure they noticed.
We passed tumbling cascades, sleepy meadows, mystical forests and finally (FINALLY) you reach the top of this humongous mountain, where the river suddenly commits suicide into the oblivion. All that stood before us was a 2,300 ft drop and a carpet of trees. The air tasted magical, as did the second picnic of the day.
With daylight starting to fade we scurried down the mountain. Four walking talking dinner plates for Mr Yogi Bear. We made it back to camp for some egg-fried rice, soy sauce and vegetables, followed by Claire’s indulgent hot chocolate with peanut butter. Passing a (totally legal) zoot around the campfire we absorbed the day’s events and watched the dancing flames. My eagle eyes darting back and forth into the darkness just in case. Thankfully we lived to tell the tail.