Things to Do in Yosemite Valley

Glacier Point View of Half Dome

We originally planned to do a one night backpacking trip on the Pohono Trail for our first weekend in Yosemite Valley. After Leigh’s surgery, we were back and forth about whether or not backpacking was the wisest choice. Leigh is recovering well, but it would be terrible if she started feeling bad in the middle of the trip. We did more research on the Pohono trail and discovered that we can do day hikes to see most of the highlights instead. We have another backcountry permit for the next weekend, so we decided to skip the Pohono trip and start with day hikes to see how Leigh feels.

Glacier Point

For our first day in the park, we packed a lunch and drove to Glacier Point. The drive is about an hour from Yosemite Valley. On the way up, we stopped at Tunnel View overlook and then Washburn Point to check out the views. Tunnel View is probably the most famous overlook in the park. It offers a great view of Yosemite Valley.

Tunnel View in Yosemite Valley
The amazing view of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View
View from Washburn Point
Washburn Point View

The views from Glacier Point are some of the best in Yosemite, and we really enjoyed this as a first stop. Glacier Point seemed crowded, but I imagine it is much worse when the park is at full capacity. We spent a couple of hours here eating lunch and enjoying the views.

Glacier Point picnic
Best picnic spot ever

Taft Point / Sentinel Dome Hikes

On the drive back down, we stopped to hike Taft Point and Sentinel Dome (two of the highlights that would have been on our backpacking trip). These hikes were perfect for Leigh to test out how she feels. Taft Point is 1.1 miles to the left and Sentinel Dome is 1.1 miles to the right, so we would never be more than 1.1 miles away from the Jeep if we needed to get back to it.

Taft Point trail marker
Trail marker to prove I didn’t overdo it on Day 1 – I waited until Day 2 for that!

The views at Taft Point are amazing. There are also fissures in the rocks as you approach Taft Point where you can see down to the valley floor. Pretty crazy since you are 3,500 feet off the floor here! The actual point was beautiful, but I don’t like heights so I didn’t want to go too close to the edge. Leigh did manage to convince me to get close enough for a quick selfie.

Taft Point
Taft Point

After swinging by the Jeep to pick up the hammock for Leigh to take a quick break, we hiked on to Sentinel Dome. The views from on top of this dome are mind blowing as well. We hear the sunset from Sentinel is amazing, but we didn’t want to stay out that late. Given the short distance from the parking lot to both of these points, we recommend both of these hikes if you visit Yosemite.

Upper Yosemite Falls

On Sunday we decided to do a longer hike since we had all day. We chose the Upper Yosemite Falls hike because it’s one of the most visible things in Yosemite Valley right now. This is a beautiful hike, but way harder than we expected. We thought the hike would be around 6 miles, but our GPS watches told us it was closer to 9. The elevation gain was the real issue though. On the hike, you gain over 3,000. We thought we would turn around if Leigh wasn’t feeling up to it, but she did the whole thing!

Resting at the top after a pretty strenuous climb – awesome view!

The hike completely wiped us out. We didn’t have a reservation for Upper Pines campground this night, only the backpacker’s campground from our original backpacking reservation. Therefore, we would have to pack up our tent and sleeping bag and set up in the backpacker’s campground when we got back to the RV.

This seemed like a lot of work after a full day of hiking. On the way to the RV, we pulled into the Yosemite Lodge to see if they had any openings. We didn’t expect them to, but they did and we scooped it up. The room really wasn’t that nice at all, but it was glorious. We took long showers, got a beer at the lounge, and ate dinner. The hotel cost us more for one night than our entire last month of camping, but it was totally worth it!

Cathedral Beach

After our strenuous Upper Yosemite Falls hike, we decided to take it easy on Monday. We started the day at Curry Village and eventually moved to Cathedral Beach to finish out the work day. After finishing work, we took our beach chairs down to the beach to relax before moving back to Upper Pines Campground.

Cathedral Beach in Yosemite Valley
Cathedral Beach – super relaxing way to end the workday

Mirror Lake

After work on Tuesday, we decided to hike Mirror Lake. This hike is much easier than what we did on Sunday, The trail is mostly flat, around 5 miles, and can be done straight from Upper Pines Campground.

Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley
Mirror Lake

The hike is totally worth it though. The lake is pretty small but views are beautiful. The are also plenty of interesting trees and boulders. We did the loop all the way around the lake, but there are shorter options also.

Along the way, I caught a glimpse of something moving on the ground right in front of us. It’s a good thing we stopped because it was a rattlesnake. We think it was getting sun on the trail and started to slither away as we approached. After that sighting, we definitely paid more attention to the ground the rest of the hike!

Rattlesnake in Yosemite Valley
Do you see the rattlesnake???

Lower Yosemite Falls

On Wednesday, we did another easy hike at lunch to break up the workday, Lower Yosemite Falls. The trail is only around a mile long. It has beautiful views of the lower falls and tons of people. This was a good way to do something while resting up for our backpacking trip on Thursday. We moved back to Upper Pines after the hike and took our chairs down to the river to cool off.

Lower Yosemite Falls
Lower Yosemite Falls

Vernal and Nevada Falls

On Saturday, we did another hike straight from Upper Pines Campground, Vernal and Nevada Falls. This hike is really crowded but the falls are amazing. We hiked the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls. The trail has a mist from the base of the waterfall crashing on the rocks that sprays you as you climb. It was really refreshing! At the top of the falls you have amazing views of the waterfall from above.

The camp hosts told us before we left to avoid swimming in the lake above Vernal Falls because people get sucked over the falls every year. A lot of people were swimming there oddly enough, but we definitely heeded this advice. We sat by the lake for a minute enjoying the view, but we were too nervous watching the people swimming so we continued our journey.

The trail continues up to Nevada Falls. The camp hosts also told us that the best views of Nevada Falls are available without hiking all the way to the top. This sounded similar to our experience with Upper Yosemite Falls, so we were content to only do part of the trail. It was only about a half a mile to a great viewpoint of Nevada Falls. Once we saw the impressive waterfall, we hiked back down to the John Muir Trail.

Nevada Falls

Due to COVID-19, the Mist Trail is one way from 9am to 4pm. So, if you hike to the top of Vernal Falls, you have to come back down on the JMT. This added a little distance, but it also had some amazing views looking back at the waterfalls! Clark Point is on this trail too and it is an impressive lookout!

Vernal Falls - one of the most popular trails in Yosemite Valley
View of Vernal Falls from the JMT

After the hike, we again took our beach chairs down to the river to cool off. We found a spot upstream from the dump station that has amazing views down the river and of Yosemite Falls. We visited this spot a few times during our week!

Merced River Relaxing in Yosemite Valley
“Our spot” in the Merced River – amazing view and refreshing water

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