The Great Outdoors – Yosemite and Lake Tahoe

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is perhaps the most treasured National Park in the US. With over 4 million visitors a year it helps sustain all other NP’s in the country and it’s not hard to see why people flock here in their millions. Its centre piece is Yosemite Valley, a huge glacial carved valley with steep sides, numerous flowing waterfalls and interesting rock formations. This was perhaps the NP we had heard the most about so we arrived pretty excited.

We actually camped just outside the park on the first night as we had arrived relatively late from Apple HQ and didn’t want to find a camping spot in the dark. We settled on a dirt road in the National Forest with plenty of trees for cover from the main road. It was a nice spot but improved dramatically when the guys using the area for shotgun practice left for the night and we had the place to ourselves.

The next morning we woke early and, entering the park from the south, had a scenic drive to the valley. Our first port of call was to the info centre to inquire about a camp spot for our time there. That’s when disaster hit; all campsites were completely full despite it only being 9.30am- bollocks! Having wanted to spend a good few days in the park, camping on the outskirts sounded less than ideal.

We had just put our name on the cancellation list (#2) when someone came to our rescue. A cute couple from San Diego had to leave early, because of a family emergency, with three nights left in the park. Having heard us stressing about where to sleep, and the park ranger not accepting their cancelation as their vehicle was still in the site, they offered us the spot instead. And it gets better: it was the best spot in the camp with great access to walking trails and a stream AND they didn’t want any money for it- amazing!!! Once again our lack of planning had paid off- this time saving us over $90.

Knowing how lucky we had been we made sure to make the most of our time in the park. Over our four days there we covered a lot of ground.

We took in unbelievable views of Yosemite Valley and it’s granite rock formations from both the tunnel view and glacier point. We strolled to Mirror Lake to marvel at its crystal clear reflections. We briefly caught a glimpse of a bob cat prowling the forest and using a fallen tree as a scratching pad (just like a pet cat would do with the arm of a sofa). We visited the river and its deserted beaches for a stroll, sunbath and wash. We scrubbed our clothes in the stream that ran through camp and, in the evenings, we kept warm with campfires while cooking sausages, popcorn and s’mores.

However, what we spent the majority of our time doing was a bit more strenuous- trekking to the tops of waterfalls. On our first full day in the park we woke early and began our ascent up Nevada Falls (181m high). We took the Mist Trail up, named so due to the mist created by the cascading water which keeps trekkers cool (and drenched) as they make the steep climb to the top.

When we arrived at the top in less than an hour, having expected it to take much longer, we decided to carry on up to Verna Falls (97m high). It was worth pushing on. The views from the top were beautiful and both the thundering waterfalls were super impressive. We had our picnic lunch while admiring said views and then took a different trail back down (the John Muir trail) to mix things up.

The next day we moved on to bigger and better things, namely Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls is North America’s tallest waterfall (the World’s 7th tallest) at 739m high and we saw this as a bit of a challenge. Given the relative ease with which we had scaled Verna Falls we decided to give this one a go too.

We woke early so we could get the first shuttle to the trail head and therefore do most of the walk out of the sun. Unlike the previous days trek this did not start directly below the waterfall and it was 1 mile and 60 switchbacks before we even got a glimpse of the mighty Upper Yosemite falls. The falls are separated into upper and lower falls with the trail bypassing the lower half completely.

We then had a hard slog up to the top but again the views did not disappoint. Like the day before it had taken less time than expected and we were eating our picnic lunch with a view by 10am. With some trail running on the way we were down by 12 and ready to make the most of the rest of the day with more river sunbathing.

We took the scenic Tioga Pass out of the park the following day as this led in the direction of Lake Tahoe, our next destination. The views were unreal and we couldn’t resist a coffee stop at the picture perfect snowy mountains surrounding Tenaya Lake.

It was here we ran into Julie and Lucy again, a mum and daughter from near San Fran. A few days previously we had met them at Glacier Point and given them a lift back to Yosemite Valley as they had ran out of energy to trek back. They had been keeping an eye out for us ever since to thank us with a gift of fresh avocados and apples- yummy!

Pretty worn out from our few days of adventure we found a free camp spot near Mono Lake, not far from the park exit. We made dinner while the resident dear roamed by, one stopping to wee as it went, and then had an early night’s kip.

Lake Tahoe
After breakie at Mono Lake viewpoint we headed to Lake Tahoe and, because we were worried about not having a booking (given our near miss in Yosemite) we went to find a camp spot for the night straight away. However, in stark contrast to Yosemite, the problem here was to few visitors, not to many. Almost all of the camp grounds we came across were shut due to it being low season- opps!
Mono Lake
We travelled anticlockwise halfway around this massive lake, passing through Nevada and back into California again and only found one site open. Given that this camp ground was pretty much a car park anyway we opted for a free night in Safeway’s instead.We were also taken unaware by the weather. Due to its elevation the lake was super chilly compared to Yosemite Valley- we went from sunbathing on a river bank one day to wooly hats the next. During our drive looking for a camping spot rain turned to snow and we became a bit glum (we called it the post-Yosemite blues). We did stop to see some beaches and look outs on the way but the grey skies didn’t compliment the lake well. We also stopped at the border of California and Nevada on the Nevada side just to wonder around the huge casinos- it’s sooo much more built up than the Californian side.

After our snowy night in Safeway’s carpark we woke early to brighter skies- yay! With the change in weather came new enthusiasm towards exploring the amazing Lake Tahoe. Despite this our first stop was to Donner Lake, a smaller but equally as beautiful lake nearby. We wrapped up and had breakie on the beach which we had all to ourselves, it was very peaceful. However our zen moment was abruptly ended. An American Bald Eagle swopped down and plucked one of the ducks that was casually floating by right out of the water! The poor little fellow barely new what hit him! Not wanting to risk see another one go we headed off sharpish.
As we were so close, we decided we couldn’t miss out on a trip to the home of the 1960 Winter Olympics- Squaw Valley. Of course we were out of ski season and it was too snowy for trekking so the area was a ghost town but it was still enough to get us planning a ski trip there.
Squaw Valley Lake Tahoe
We then returned to Lake T, continuing our scenic loop drive, when we came across a campsite- woop woop! It was a goody to! We had lake views with our own little path down to the beach- perfect! Giving that we had the place to ourselves- literally we were the only ones staying there- we could see why most campgrounds were shut for the season. It was great!
We set up camp before driving a bit further around the loop to do a short walk. We checked out a Scandinavian style ‘castle’ called Vikingsholm that an eccentric, not to mention very wealthy , American woman had built in the 1920’s. Although access to the inside was shut for the season the outside was rather impressive, beach front views on Emerald Bay and all. We then checked out the bottom of a waterfall (Eagle Falls) before climbing back up to Winnie.
Our last stop for the day was Emerald Bay viewpoint, with a cracking view of the green waters below. We then returned to camp to explore our beach some more and make yummy BBQ’d sausage and egg sandwich.
We spent the last morning ‘hiking’ to another waterfall (Cascade Falls). This time it was to the top not the bottom which provided beautiful views of Cresent Lake and of course Lake T too! We chilled at the top taking in our last view of this insane lake before driving through San Fran, headed to the Big Sur.
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