May 05, 2023

Yosemite National Park - So Worth the Effort! (National Parks Trip #3)

Early in March, Alan and I enjoyed our first snowbird adventure when we spent time in Florida, Georgia and Virginia.  Now that I’ve completed documenting that expedition, I’m returning to our West Coast National Parks trip in the summer of 2017.  On that trip, 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.

Yosemite National Park is a tough ticket to get.  Camping reservations within the Park are extraordinarily difficult to come by, crowds are extraordinarily easy to run into, and Mother Nature always feels free to throw one of her famous curve balls, making a ticket that’s tough to get even tougher to hold onto.  About a week before I began drafting this post, Yosemite Valley was closed to visitors for a number of days.  The record snowpack in the Sierra Nevada had started to melt, and above average temperatures were predicted, creating perfect conditions for the Merced River to reach flood stage and impact Yosemite Valley.  Visitors who had planned to arrive in late April and early May, had their hopes dashed, as the National Park Service closed Yosemite Valley out of concern for the public’s safety.  This year’s visitors aren’t out of the woods yet.

Route 120 (Big Oak Flat Road) is closed west of Merced Grove, preventing access to most of Yosemite Valley from the west.  There is a large crack in the road and it appears to be getting worse.  The National Park Service doesn’t anticipate re-opening Big Oak Flat Road until late June or July.  Meanwhile, Tioga Road is closed from the Tuolumne Grove to the Tioga Pass entrance station due to heavy winter snow that hasn’t yet melted.  That effectively precludes access to the Park from the east.  Glacier Point Road remains closed due to snow, as well, and Park officials anticipate a later than usual opening for both roads. According to the NPS website, “The winter of 2022-2023 is the largest recorded winter snow pack for Yosemite, with over 240% of average snowpack for the benchmark April 1 survey.”  (I did not spell "snowpack" two different ways; they did.)  The trail report is not a pretty one.  Trails throughout Yosemite National Park will remain snow covered later into the year.  Those that are passable may be slick or muddy, and impassable at higher elevations.  Deeper snowpack is resulting in higher water flow, making stream and river crossings unpredictable.  Visitors will find themselves adjusting to the whims of nature more so than ever this year.

Yosemite's West Entrance on Big Oak Flat Road (Route 120)

My heart always goes out to prospective visitors when the plug is pulled on a well-planned vacation due to Park closures.  When we traveled to Yosemite in 2017, I worked long and hard to snag a camping reservation.  Then we tried to see as much of Yosemite as we could in the time we were there.  Even so, the Mariposa Grove area was closed due to planned renovations or rehabilitation, but we knew that going in.  We still missed out, despite our best efforts, but at least we didn’t have the rug pulled out from under us.  Actually, we were incredibly fortunate that we got into the Park and were able to tour as much of it as we did.  Beautiful weather was icing on the cake.

The good weather gods were smiling down upon us.

On the first morning of our three full days in Yosemite National Park (that’s Day #14 of the 5 ½ week trip, if you’re keeping track), we enjoyed a delicious and delightful breakfast buffet at the Ahwahnee Hotel.  Fully fueled, we headed out to explore some of the highlights of Yosemite’s nearly 748,000 acres.  On this particular day, we concentrated on the sights in Yosemite Valley, including Yosemite Falls.  The photo of the Upper and Lower Falls from across the meadow is an iconic one that can likely be found in many a visitor’s collection of pics.  While we do have that one, this photo – with Kyra posing on a rock in front of the meadow – happens to be a family favorite.

Our 5' daughter in front of 2,425' Yosemite Falls

In 1997, the Merced River rose almost 14 feet above flood stage due to a combination of more than 20 inches of rain and the melting of the winter snowpack.  The ensuing flood washed out roads and bridges, leaving more than 2,000 visitors and staff members temporarily stranded in Yosemite Valley.  Kyra’s rock and, indeed, the entire meadow were flooded, and she would have been at least partially submerged.  The Park was closed for more than two months.  The flood of 1997 was the most damaging one in Yosemite’s history, and the sign below, near the edge of the meadow, remains a poignant and solemn reminder.

During the summer, the leisurely pace of the Merced River beckons visitors to the simple pleasures that can be had on a lazy afternoon in Yosemite.  Cooling off in the river is a popular activity, as is rafting - which, I imagine, can easily convince a visitor of his or her insignificance as one floats beneath the Park’s monoliths.  Amid the summer bustle that marks Yosemite National Park, we found magnificent beauty and a quiet retreat along the Merced at Cathedral Beach.  Despite Cathedral’s location right in Yosemite Valley (and under the watchful eye of El Capitan), the beach felt secluded and not terribly crowded.  It was a gem, and we would return the next day to soak up the scenery and the relative solitude.

Yosemite visitors rafting the Merced River

We briefly stopped at the LeConte Memorial Lodge (now known as the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center) to educate ourselves on its history and admire its impressive architecture.  The Lodge was built by the Sierra Club and dedicated in 1904.  It was the first permanent public information center in Yosemite Valley, and the Lodge was subsequently designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Architecture like this never fails to impress me.

Did you know that Yosemite National Park has its own zip code and, therefore, its own Post Office?  We didn’t either!  Mail service into the Park area actually began in the late 1860’s, long before Yosemite became a National Park.  The Post Office in Yosemite Valley was designed by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood who also designed the Ahwahnee Hotel.  It was built in in 1924 and boasts Yosemite Falls as a glorious backdrop.  Park staff members pick up their mail from brass mailboxes sporting the beautiful patina of age.  A television show from years ago made the zip code for Beverly Hills quite famous (“90210”), but 95389 is more up my alley.  Or should I say, “Valley?”

Yosemite National Park Post Office - Zip Code 95389

Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley is a favorite of photographers.  Another popular image of the Park is one of North Dome and Half Dome reflected in its calm waters.  We took a short hike to Mirror Lake, hoping to see that iconic image, but knowing that the lake often dries up later in the summer.

I'll bet there was a lot of snow in Snow Creek this year!

It was a lovely hike on a busy trail.  Although the lake wasn’t at full capacity, at least we had water in our lake photos.  Any chance of capturing a mirror image was negated by the number of people taking the opportunity to cool off from the summer heat in Mirror Lake.  A trip to Yosemite would have been a lot better without all those other visitors there.  Of course, they were probably thinking the same thing about us.

Darn tourists!

The next day, we continued exploring Yosemite Valley, and added another iconic Yosemite National Park image to our photo collection.  If you’re thinking you might know what it is, you’ll find out if you’re right in the next post.



  1. OK, Yosemite is a treasure, that is for certain. I can't even imagine the disappointment for the spoiled plans. But, I guess that area is happy in some ways for the rain and snow...sometimes things get pretty dry out west. I have been there once, and I was totally in awe. I bet that HAS to be one of the most beautiful places on earth!? Sadly, I haven't been to too many others yet. I was there in 1977 I think, and it was somewhat crowded then. I remember while somewhat fit enough for some of the trails, we were embarrassed when after we turned around, giving up, we were passed by a beautiful family coming back from the top lugging babies and strollers! I guess we were NOT too great. 😏 I have to smile at the P.O. information. Several times over the years, on vacation I have seen tiny Post Offices that were seasonal...and, they look for staff each year for that period. I used to think that was the BEST job ever - I should have applied! Yosemite would be a dream come true for anyone! Looking forward to more!

    1. I was never able to choose a favorite National Park - there are just too many magnificent ones - but Yosemite is definitely in my Top 5. And I agree with you; it is truly awe-inspiring. Your story about being outdone on the trail reminded me of one of ours. The four of us were at Bryce Canyon National Park, hiking a loop trail that went down into the canyon and then back up. It was hot and we were tired. And we got LAPPED by a guy who was RUNNING the trail like it was a gorgeous day in the 70's instead of 100 degrees. It's a good thing he was out of sight pretty quickly - if I had watched him for long I would have needed a nap!

  2. Mary,
    I may have told you this but, in 2021 we didn't find out until it was too late that we needed to purchase a pass to enter Yosemite in our car. It was a new policy. We could only ride the shuttle to the Visitor Center and that was it! In 2020, we had to cancel our campground reservation due to wildfires. Yosemite was not meant to be for us. Thank you for taking us along with you and Alan. Have a great week. Joe

    1. I do remember that you tried to get to Yosemite a couple of times, but not the details as to why it didn't happen. Wildfires are yet another heartbreaking curve ball, and I'll bet they often lead to canceled trips or chronically smoke-filled vistas. Either situation is tremendously disappointing. Don't give up on Yosemite, Joe. You know what they say - the third time's a charm!

  3. I haven't been to Yosemite since I was a child on a road trip from Florida with my folks...and although Eric grew up in Los Angeles, the last time he was there was age 10. (So, a very long time ago for both of us, LOL.) We considered several times including Yosemite in our cross-country trips, but something always got in the way. I think you're right, it's going to be more and more difficult to visit Yosemite. You were so fortunate to see most of what you wanted to see, and to have beautiful weather and no wildfires!

    1. Just think how easy it would be to plan a stop at Yosemite if/when you decide to return to Oregon for a visit! Yosemite had been on our bucket list for a number of years, but it required a huge amount of planning, and it had to fit in our schedule at the right time. We REALLY did luck out in reference to weather and wildfires - they're always wild cards no matter how much planning you do. I will stand by the title of this post, though - I believe that Yosemite is worth whatever effort it takes to get there!


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