Before arriving at our next destination – San Francisco – I had been doing a lot of research into a trip to the nearby Yosemite National Park. We had anticipated doing an organised tour from San Fran, but the cheapest one I could find was around the $400per person mark – far too much for our tight budget. We worked out it would be cheaper to sort a trip ourselves by renting a car from San Francisco airport, buying a cheap tent, stove and food supplies from a Walmart on the way, and camping in one of the many campsites available in the park.
The only problem we had was that all of the campsites that can be reserved in advance were already fully-booked. Our only option was to get to the park in the early hours of the morning and queue for one of the only first-come-first-served walk-in campsites. So at 4am (after a nap in the car) we set off for the park and arrived at Camp 4 only to find the queue had already formed!
Luckily, there were spaces available for 51 people that day, so we were able to get in and pitch our tent right in Yosemite Valley. We hadn’t realised at the time, but Camp 4 is probably one of the best campsites available – it’s great value for money, the location is perfect and you can cook your own food (which we’ve heard you’re not able to do in a lot of the rest of the park).
One of the first things we had to get used to was locking everything scented (including toothpaste) in a bear locker. Nothing was allowed to be left in the car because bears would happily rip it open to get at whatever you’d left inside. Apparently this has happened many times before for as little as a forgotten sweet wrapper left in the boot!
The second thing was the sheer beauty of the place. Where we’d entered the park in the dark, we couldn’t fully appreciate the scenery that surrounded us. But now we were settled, our tent was pitched and our food and belongings were stowed away in a locker, we were struck by how picturesque the valley is. Huge granite cliffs rose up all around us, a silvery waterfall cascaded down in the distance and the scent of pine filled the air. It was like waking up in a dream!
We couldn’t wait to get going and see more of the park, so we walked over to take a closer look at Yosemite falls and then got one of the free park shuttles over to the trail to Mirror Lake, to see the mountains reflected in the pools.
Disappointingly, the more established trails were busy with lots of people around, which almost spoiled the tranquillity of it all. It didn’t take us long to find an older less-used trail though, and we ended up walking through mountain lion territory! Although we didn’t see any lions, the signs had told us what to do if we did see one – apparently, you shouldn’t run but try scare it away by making yourself look as big as possible and making lots of noise. If that doesn’t work and the lion attacks you, you should ‘fight back’!
The next day we decided to take what the park guide described as a ‘strenuous’ trek to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls – the tallest waterfall in North America at 2,425ft. It was certainly hard work and it took us four hours to reach the top after negotiating slippery steps, tackling uphill paths that were like steep sand dunes and nearly running out of water in 40degree heat! It was all worth it though for the view. And we got to dip our feet in the lake of cool spring water at the top of the falls! Some crazy people were brave (or stupid) enough to swim in it, but one wrong move and they’d have been making their way down the mountain very quickly.
One of the things I was really hoping to see while at the park was one of the bears. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any during the two days we were there – but a bear did come into our camp on two separate occasions during our stay. The first time was in broad daylight, but we were out of camp on a hike. The second time, the bear came right through the middle of the tents at 4am looking for food. Dale was woken up by people shouting and banging to try and scare it away, although when he poked his head out of the tent to look it was too dark for him to see anything!
On our last morning, we decided to try and seek out a bear. We’d been told the best times to spot one were at night (when it was too dark to be wondering around in the woods) or early in the morning – so at 5am, we got ourselves up and headed out into the wilderness. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any bears, but we got to appreciate a fantastic sunrise as first light spilled into the valley and we did see lots of deer and a coyote having his breakfast!
Yosemite was fantastic and we both recommend it as a great place to visit. We would have loved to have spent more time there (and to see a bear!) but San Francisco was calling. We will just have to go back again another time…