Taking the trip to Yosemite Valley can be a once-in-a-lifetime-adventure OR just a lot of driving and frustration. Make sure your trip is the former. Look at the maps, plan your hikes ahead of time. Take the YART if you’ve never driven 6000 ft mountains before.
While it’s best to plan Yosemite across a couple days, if you’re strapped for time or only willing to make that crazy death defying drive into the park once… here’s what to know.
Yosemite Valley gives you the most bang for your buck. 24 hours in Yosemite Valley should satisfy you and the family until your next adventure out.
To enter the park drive north on Rt. 41.
At the park entrance you pay 30 bucks to park, there’s a bathroom stop about 5 minutes later… but this is not the visitor center. That comes later- much later.
You will know you’ve officially arrived when you see Tunnel View: aptly named this is a combo view of half dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. A trifecta of amazing scenery it appears right after you clear the only tunnel you will go though on Rt 41. This is a photo op, not a hike.
TIP: Slow Down: The tunnel road is the flattest, safest part of your drive into Yosemite, if you’re going too fast through the tunnel you won’t be able to slow down in time to make the sharp right into the parking lot that appears right after you clear the tunnel. You can also make a left into the parking on the left hand side. Another TIP: Make sure you gas up before entering the park. Gas station are few and far between and with limited phone reception throughout Yosemite, this is not a chance you want to take!
You’ll have to drive about another 30 minutes before the waterfalls start to appear.
Waterfall #1: Bridal Veil Falls
On the right hand side watch for signs and pull in to park. The falls are about down a path, about 1000 feet from the parking lot. This is a hike with a slight incline but very easy. If you want to seem like an expert- bring a poncho! Bridal Veil Falls is gorgeous, causes a ton of mist and a lot of splash. It’s not uncommon to come away from this one soaked, which is why our picture is of the very bottom of the falls.
Waterfall #2: Lower Yosemite Falls
After you’ve found a spot along the road to park ( which could take some time). Lower Yosemite Falls is at Shuttle Stop #6. It’s on the left hand side before you reach the main intersection. It’s a small hike from the road, has bathrooms and is part of the pathway that connects the shuttle stops, visitor center, Ansel Adams gallery and village shops.
Waterfall #3: Ribbon Falls
After spending some time in the village and taking pictures of all the towering mountains you can head back towards Bridal Veil Falls… this will bring you pass Ribbon Falls. Ribbon falls doesn’t have separate parking, but you can pull off the road and get a nice view for pics or hike alongside the river.
To get home from here drive back into Yosemite Valley to the main intersection and turn left on Rt 140. The general practice is to take 41 on the way in and 140 on the way out. Both have gorgeous views and loop back to Oakhurst(if thats where you’re staying) on the south side of the park.
TIP: Most of these waterfalls have specific times of year in which they fall; if you want to see a specific waterfalls or group of falls, make sure you check here to see when the waterfalls generally flow and when their “peak” time of year is.