After living in Vietnam for two years I knew when I came back to the U.S. I wanted to spend my summer outside as much as possible. I’m a pretty outdoorsy person but living in Vietnam made it difficult to do as much outdoor activity as I would’ve liked. Part of it was the availability of outdoor activity where I lived and the other part was the differences in culture of how I like to experience the outdoors compared to people around me.
So knowing I’d be back in the U.S. I was itching to plan some outdoor trips. I’ve always wanted to visit Yosemite National Park so when a good friend of mine’s wedding would be within a few hours drive, I knew my friends and I all had to make a trip of it.
Reserving a Campground in Yosemite
If you want to camp in Yosemite National Park during the summer months you will need to plan far in advance. There are 13 campgrounds in Yosemite and 7 of which that are available on their reservation system. Reservations open 5 months in advance on the 15th of every month. Reservations for May-September are typically filled the first day they become available. And while there are first-come first-serve campsites at Yosemite, it’s a bit of risk.
We were looking to camp in June so reservations for campgrounds in June became available February 15 at 7 a.m Pacific time. My friend jumped on the reservation site to make sure she was on by 7 a.m. and within an hour all the campsites were booked. We BARELY got two campsites at Hodgdon Meadow Campground which is 45 minutes away from the Yosemite Valley but still inside the national park. We reserved our campground for 3 nights and 4 days. If you’re planning a trip to Yosemite I would suggest staying for at least 2 days.
While in Yosemite
There’s so much to see and do in Yosemite! Do your research beforehand and if there are any must-dos or sees on your list I would suggest doing a little bit of planning. Yosemite is a huge park so you’ll have to put that in account. For us, we had to travel at least 45 minutes to get to the Yosemite Valley. To get to the Tuolomne Meadows from our campground was probably about an hour. If you want to hike Half Dome you’ll need to get a permit. There are a couple ways to get a permit for Half Dome, a preseason and daily lottery. If you do the preseason lottery, you will apply in March. You can apply for the daily lottery 2 days in advance of your hiking date. We tried for the daily lottery which has about 50 permits available per day. We didn’t get the permits, but luckily, there are so many other great hikes to do.
Here’s what we ended up doing:
Lower Yosemite Falls. Lower Yosemite Falls is an easy 1 mile round trip paved hike. It’ll take about 30 minutes. More if you wanted to hop the fence and journey close to the falls itself.
Upper Yosemite Falls. Upper Yosemite Falls is a difficult hike. It’s a 7.6 mile roundtrip uphill. Be prepared for LOTS of switchbacks on this hike. This entire out and back hike should take 6-8 hours. Once you get to the falls, it’ll be about another 1 1/2- 2 hours until you reach the very top of the falls. Make sure to bring lots of water on this hike with you. I had about 2 liters but still needed to refill at the top. I refilled with the water from the waterfall at the very top and didn’t have a filter. I didn’t get sick so if you don’t have a filter with you and need to refill, the water should be fine to drink. The valley’s parking lot fills up quickly so once we’re in the valley we just found parking and walked to the trailhead.
Bridal Veil Falls. This is another nice short and leisurely hike. It’s .5 miles round trip and will take you about 20 minutes. The falls offers some nice mist if you’re looking to cool off a bit. There’s a small parking lot near the trailhead but plenty of parking nearby right off the road if the parking lot is full.
Tuolomne Grove of Giant Sequoias. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias was closed for renovations when we were there so we checked out the Tuolomne Grove which isn’t nearly as big as Mariposa but still a fun walk. There are a lot of mosquitoes when you’re in the grove so be sure to spray on that bug repellant before the hike. We made the mistake of not wearing any bug repellant and all got eaten alive. This is a 2.5 mile round trip out and back hike. It’s downhill on the way there and uphill on the way back. It should take you about 2 hours to complete the hike. There are about 2 dozen giant sequoias in this grove. It’s a really fun one since you can walk through a dead giant sequoia log. There’s parking lot at the trailhead for this hike. If you arrive early, there won’t be a problem finding parking.
Tuolomne Meadows. The Tuolomne Meadows is gorgeous and less crowded if you want a slower pace kind of day. We picnicked in the meadows and basked in its beauty.
Driving. We did a lot of driving and stopped off at the different scenic points to take pictures and walk around. If you don’t have time to do a lot of hikes this is also a nice way to explore Yosemite. There are a ton of beautiful scenic turn off points through out the park.
Last few things..
And if you forget anything, the Yosemite Village store is well-stocked. We had almost everything we needed but would go to the store to load up on ice. Since some of my friends drove to Yosemite we were able to have a very nice stove where we cooked. My must-have for this trip was my hammock. I even slept in it for one night and it was one of the best things for camping. If you’re interested in an affordable hammock you can find it here on Amazon. It looks the same as the expensive Eno hammocks and it works well for what I need it. I also bought these tree straps which are great for fast easy hammock set up. If you’re like me and have no idea how to tie ropes to set up a hammock, you’ll need some tree straps.
Yosemite National Park also has an app that you can download that lists all of the hikes. It was a huge help planning our trip. Make sure to download the offline maps before you get there though. Reception is very limited depending on your service. I have T-mobile and I didn’t have any service for the entire 4 days that we spent there, even at the visitor centers and Yosemite village. This company also has apps for a bunch of other national parks. I downloaded apps for Yosemite, Zion, and Bryce Canyon National Parks which were all awesome.