By Linda Wong
Yosemite National Park is a well-known destination and one of America’s most beautiful and visited parks. As the global pandemic continues, it has adopted a temporary day use permit through the end of October.
With a recent three-day weekend for San Francisco Unified School District, I grabbed the opportunity the spend time outdoors with Tristan, my youngest son, who’s 11 and has been camping since he was an infant. He loves visiting national parks and collecting Junior Ranger badges by completing activity books handed out at the visitor center and turning them in to be “sworn in” as rangers.
He received his Yosemite badge on a previous visit, so we did not participate this time. Instead, we visited different parts of the park each day and were able to enjoy ourselves even during the health crisis.
Following safety guidelines, visitors are asked to practice social distancing and wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible and in common areas. On the trails, many people either had their face covering on or readily available. I felt comfortable walking around and it was nice to be outdoors again. The air quality from nearby wildfires had also improved.
Day 1: We started the morning with a drive on Glacier Point Road heading toward the Taft Point Trailhead to meet with friends. Taft Point is known for its jaw-dropping views of the Valley, granites and the fissures.
It is easy to capture amazing photos from many angles without the need to put oneself at danger for that last photo. Do be careful as you reach the top and enjoy the views. There is one small section of railing, but even that may be intimidating for some. I consider this trail to be easy, mostly flat with little elevation gain. There were families on the trail with young kids; it is important to keep them nearby.
After Taft Point, we continued to the end of the road to Glacier Point for more breathtaking views. This is a leisure walk to the vista points. It is also a nice spot to sit and enjoy lunch with fantastic views all around. Glacier Point Road is usually accessible from June to October, depending on winter conditions and how much snow is present.
After lunch we made our way into the Valley. I was fortunate to grab a campsite reservation at the Lower Pines Campground with amazing views of Half Dome and the Merced River running adjacent to the site. We set up tent and walked around Curry Village, grabbed a light snack at the taco food truck, and took a stroll through the meadow, along the river, and back to camp. With the blink of an eye, nighttime came and it grew dark. Due to wildfire danger, campfires were not allowed, so we warmed up a quick dinner before playing a game of cards.
Day 2: On the agenda was the Mist Trail hike up to Vernal Falls, a 317-foot waterfall. This hike, while only 1.2 miles, has an elevation gain of 1,000 feet and natural giant staircases. The hike can be completed as an out-and-back trail, or trekkers can continue toward Nevada Falls and hike out on the John Muir Trail, which adds an additional four miles back to the Valley.
We opted for the additional four miles to see more of what Yosemite has to offer; I would not hesitate to do that again. The hike provides great training for Half Dome, as it’s part of the same trail. With the elevation gain, I would consider this trail to be moderate difficulty. There were also young kids on this trail, including some who moved quite fast.
After about a five-hour hike, we ended the day at Cathedral Beach to relax and admire the climbers atop El Capitan. It is fascinating to watch the climbers and wonder what it’d be like to be up there. Binoculars are helpful to get a closer look.
Day 3: We drove to the southern portion of Yosemite to Mariposa Grove to explore the giant sequoias. As the shuttles were not running, we added a two-mile walk from the welcome plaza to the start of the Big Trees Loop, the site of the Fallen Monarch. It has not been determined how old the tree is, nor when it fell. The tree continues to be protected by a natural compound, tannins and it may be awhile before it decomposes.
The trail from the welcome plaza is forested and provides some shade. As the temperature dropped, we decided to walk along the road back to our car, a slightly faster route. After three days of hiking, we were ready to rest our feet before embarking on the trip back home to San Francisco, which takes approximately four hours without traffic.
For day use reservations, which include back country and Half Dome permits and are in effect through Oct. 31, visit recreation.gov. Visitors with vacation rentals, confirmed lodging or camping reservations inside the park receive a day use permit. The $35 entry fee allows unlimited reentry for seven consecutive days. For up-to-date information about the park’s phased reopening and winter road closures, visit https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm.
Linda Wong is a San Francisco mother of two and enjoys spending time outdoors. She is a certified camp leader for Camping at the Presidio and has led groups on camping trips.