May 17, 2023

Yosemite National Park - The Advenure Continues (National Parks Trip #3)

This post represents another installment in the series documenting our West Coast National Parks trip in the summer of 2017.  Alan and I, along with our 18 year old daughter, Kyra, logged a total of 8,513 memorable miles of adventure over the course of five and a half weeks during the months of July and August.

The three of us rolled out of bed early on Day #15 of our five week expedition, determined to fit as much sightseeing as possible into our day.  This would be our last visit to Yosemite Valley; the following day, we’d be exploring Tuolumne Meadow and the Tioga Pass area of the Park.  The first stop of the day was planned with “crowd avoidance” in mind.  We wanted an opportunity for a clear shot at one of Yosemite’s most iconic images, and we knew that the earlier we arrived the better our chances would be.  If you read my last post, and spent some time considering what this location might be, you’re about to find out whether or not you guessed correctly.

Tunnel View is one of the most popular scenic overlooks in Yosemite National Park.  (Did you get it right?)  The National Park Service estimates that between 5,000 and 7,000 people visit Tunnel View every day during the height of tourist season.  Since we were visiting in July, there was a definite incentive to rise and shine and hit the road early in the day in our effort to avoid getting UFTs (Unidentified Fellow Tourists) in our photos.

El Capitan? Check. Half Dome? Check. Bridalveil Fall? Check.

The Wawona Tunnel was completed in 1933, allowing visitors access to Yosemite Valley from the Park’s southern entrance.  At 4,233’ (more than ¾’s of a mile long), it’s the longest highway tunnel in California.  If you’re northbound on Wawona Road, the view of Yosemite Valley as you exit the tunnel is nothing less than spectacular with a capital S.  El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall are all visible; the awe this scenic vista inspires is indescribable.  According the National Park Service, “Wawona Tunnel and Tunnel View were determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 because of their exemplary design.”  The engineers and construction crew can take the credit for the tunnel, but nature gets the gold medal for the extraordinary and incomparable view.

Who are those people?!

As difficult as it was, we finally tore ourselves away from Tunnel View and hopped over to the trail for Bridalveil Fall.  In this case, I think “trail” is a bit of a misnomer; the word “path” would be more descriptive.  The paved trail is just a half mile, round trip, with an elevation gain of only 80’ – a quick walk from the parking area with a lovely reward at the end.  Bridalveil Fall is often the first waterfall a visitor will see upon entering Yosemite Valley.  It runs year-round, and I imagine that it’s a massive flow of snowmelt around this time of year.  Later in the year, it transitions to a lighter flow that floats in the breeze.  It looks much like a, well, bridal veil.  Note that the trail to Bridalveil Fall is currently closed due to an ongoing rehabilitation project that began in 2019.  The good news is that it’s scheduled to re-open this summer.  Meanwhile, Bridalveil Fall can be viewed from pullouts along Southside Drive.

The appropriately named Bridalveil Fall

Our next stop was the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center which allowed me to meet and thank one of my heroes, John Muir.  Muir was a well-known conservationist (1838-1914) with a passion for nature.  He reveled in it, and worked diligently to protect our wild places from commercial development.  It was through his efforts that several legal battles were fought over land that would subsequently become Yosemite National Park.  Congress established the Park in 1890.  In 1892, Muir and other like-minded individuals founded the Sierra Club to increase the public’s awareness of the potential destruction of the wilderness.  In 1903, Teddy Roosevelt (another one of my heroes) spent four days camping with John Muir at Yosemite – a small moment in time that would ultimately influence Roosevelt’s attitude toward conservation and the establishment of five new National Parks and sixteen National Monuments.  Outdoor enthusiasts everywhere, as well as fans of our National Parks, owe these two conservationists an enormous debt of gratitude for their appreciation of our wilderness, their understanding of what was at risk, and their ongoing efforts to preserve many of our most beautiful natural areas for the enjoyment of the people.

Conservationist John Muir in beautiful bronze

Just outside the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, you’ll find a plaque indicating the location of a Time Capsule that was buried during Yosemite National Park’s Centennial celebration in 1990.  While it certainly would be fun to find out what’s in the Time Capsule, I have a feeling I’ll be elsewhere when it’s opened in 2090.

Alan, Kyra and I ate our lunch in a pullout with a gorgeous view on our way to Glacier Point.  A word of caution, people: Glacier Point Road is not for the faint of heart.  The drop-offs are as spectacular as the views.  (The photo below, taken at Glacier Point, is of Half Dome, Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall.)  One particular hairpin turn will forever be engraved in my memory.  I’m just grateful that we met the Glacier Point Tour Bus right after the hairpin turn and not on it, or I’m pretty sure my heart would have spontaneously combusted from adrenaline-fueled panic.  Or our truck would have just gone over the cliff.  Or both.  At the same time.

Half Dome on the left with Nevada Fall (594') and Vernal Fall (317') on the right

SO happy we lived to see Cathedral Beach!  The Cathedral Beach Picnic Area in Yosemite is (in my humble opinion) extremely underrated and one of the Park's best kept secrets.  An unassuming sign on Southside Drive simply states, “Cathedral” with an illustration of a picnic table and an arrow pointing to the entrance.  But just a short walk from the parking area, visitors will find a quiet respite from the busyness of Yosemite and views that will, truly, inspire awe.  If we return to Yosemite, I can assure you that we'll be whiling away a few more hours in this majestic setting.

Unidentified Fellow Tourists (UFTs) at Cathedral Beach

Located directly on the Merced River, the beach and picnic area offer an unparalleled view of El Capitan and the surrounding mountains.  Even when we visited at the height of the summer tourist season, this little publicized gem of a retreat remained quiet and uncrowded.  Hanging out at the beach beneath the watchful eye of El Cap provided a relaxing break from our sightseeing schedule, and a good time was had by all.

This photo of Alan and El Capitan is one of my favorites.

Cathedral Beach appealed to me.  A lot.  One reason is that it felt like we had stumbled upon a secret location known to only a few of the Park’s thousands of visitors.  I couldn't believe how many people weren't there.  It offered both incredibly magnificent scenery and a bit of solitude in one of our most popular National Parks.  Another reason is that I consider the natural world to be my own personal “cathedral,” having given up attending a sticks and bricks church years ago.  Apparently, I’m not alone in that regard.  I was surprised to find out that Cathedral Beach is one of Yosemite’s most popular locations for wedding ceremonies, especially in the late afternoon and evening when the sun begins to set, and El Capitan basks in its waning rays.

Our time in Yosemite Valley was rapidly coming to an end.  To close out our visit to this area of the Park, we agreed that watching the sunset at Half Dome would be the perfect ending to our day.  Sentinel Bridge offered a breathtaking view of Half Dome towering above the Merced River.  The view is especially beautiful during “alpenglow” – the reddish glow seen on the summits of mountains near sunrise or sunset.

Alan and Kyra making themselves at home on Sentinel Bridge

As we settled in to enjoy our peaceful surroundings, the presence of a photographer with what was obviously a professional camera and lens combination confirmed that our choice of location was a good one.  Indeed!  The colors of nature transitioned into soft pastels, three weary tourists applauded the evening’s performance and, finally, took themselves home for a good night’s sleep.

Alpenglow on Half Dome

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike."    (John Muir)

Our visit to Yosemite National Park was rapidly coming to a close, and we would spend our final day there in the northern section of the Park, exploring the Tioga Pass area and enjoying a winter sport on the 27th day of July.  


  1. Thanks Mary, beautiful memories and photos. Driving through that tunnel and experiencing that view at the end is one of the great experiences in our national parks!

    1. I absolutely love those moments in our National Parks when you suddenly find yourself standing before an iconic vista (like Tunnel View) or a natural feature (like Old Faithful) that you've seen in photos your entire life. And now, you're standing "right there." That experience gets me every time, and it creates an indelible (and incredible) memory.

      Hey, Darrow, I bet you'll enjoy an upcoming post I'm currently drafting. I'll be taking a look at RVing from the numbers and math perspective. Shooting for a target date in mid-June - and I'm ridiculously excited about it.

  2. There you are! Something happened to my reader and I don't get any post notifications from you. Dittos to everything about Yosemite. Haven't been there in a long time, but oh, the memories! Thanks for bringing them back.

    1. My memories of Yosemite are all magical, too, Mike. I feel so sorry for travelers who planned to visit this spring. It has been one disappointment after another. Still, Yosemite, in my humble opinion, is one of the most impressive Parks on the NPS roster, and well worth whatever effort it takes to get there. Hugs to you and Sandy!

  3. Mary, I'm enjoying your posts on Yosemite, because I'm thinking we may not get there again (mostly because of distance and the difficulty in figuring out when to go when there aren't some kinds of problems with visiting the park). I'm grateful I was there as a child, but my memories are vague. I agree with you, Nature is the best church of all. :-)

    1. Laurel, I'd love to return to Yosemite again, especially because the Mariposa Grove was closed at the time of our visit. But, for all of the reasons you mentioned, I'm not sure it's in the cards for us. I am holding onto the hope that we can tack it on at the end of our return visit to the Oregon coast. That trip was on the calendar when COVID struck. We hope to re-schedule it within the next few years. Fingers crossed that we can manage to squeeze Yosemite in, too.

  4. Once again, you've shown the rest of us how to plan a trip and thoroughly cover the destination. I want to return to Yosemite, and I'll use this post as a travel brochure. Cathedral Beach is my kind of place--no UFTs. Have a great week! Joe

    1. Joe, one of the old WPA-style National Parks posters we have in our travel trailer depicts several rafts floating down the Merced River in Yosemite. Not only can you see the awe-inspiring beauty, but you can easily sense the tranquility of the majestic setting. I can't think of a better place to enjoy the ambience of Yosemite than Cathedral Beach. I plan to have a good week, and I hope you and Helen do, too!


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