Yosemite National Park
Hike, climb or raft through heaven on earth
“No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite,” wrote naturalist John Muir, the conservationist whose work led to the founding of Yosemite National Park in 1890. Most of the park’s natural attractions have become icons of the American landscape, immortalised by the photographs of Ansel Adams.
Marvel at the bald image of Half Dome, Yosemite’s 8,842-foot trademark peak. And El Capitan, the largest single granite rock on Earth, rising 350 storeys from the valley floor (twice the size of the Rock of Gibraltar) and drawing rock climbers from all over the world. Venture deeper into the park and visit the magnificent Yosemite Falls, the highest on the continent at 2,425 feet.
Millions converge in high season on this temple of nature, most heading for the star attractions and awesome beauty of the mile-wide, seven-mile-long Yosemite Valley, intersected by the Merced River and guarded by sheer granite cliffs and domes, rising 2,000 to 4,000 feet from the valley floor. Avoid the park’s notorious summertime people-jams by exploring the backcountry—the wilder 95 per cent of the 1,170-square-mile park.
Yosemite’s 800 miles of trails, ranging from easy day hikes to challenging overnight trips, can be covered by horse, mule or on foot. One of the most popular is the moderately strenuous Mist Trail, offering a close-up view of 317-foot Vernal Fall and the wispy, 620-foot Bridalveil Fall. The most ambitious hikers tackle some or all of the 211-mile John Muir Trail, which travels end-to-end through three national parks—Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia —along the backbone of the Sierra Nevada. Named after the founder of the Sierra Club, the trail was created between 1915 and 1938 and runs from the summit of Mount Whitney in the south to the Yosemite Valley in the north.
For those who prefer to remain in the car, the park offers 196 miles of paved roads. (Head to Glacier Point for spectacular views of the valley below.) Or experience Northern California’s great white-water rafting on the Merced River, where rafters can find virtually any class of rapids over a 28.3-mile stretch, or on the Tuolumne River, just outside the park, which offers over 18 miles of scenic Class IV rapids.
The Ahwahnee, a luxurious lodge named after the Native American word for this region (roughly ‘valley that looks like a gaping mouth’), is a 1927 showpiece of stone and native timber with heart-stopping views. Inside, Native American motifs blend with massive chandeliers that look like they were meant for a castle and fireplaces large enough to walk into.
South of Yosemite, Château du Sureau is an enchanting 10-room country inn where the crackling fires, goose down quilts and attentive staff just might spoil you for staying anywhere else. Its acclaimed restaurant, Erna’s Elderberry House, where the six-course menu changes daily, draws ‘foodies’ the way ‘El Cap’ lures climbers.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.