There are four good reasons why you should visit Yosemite this summer. Thanks to an unusually wet winter and cool spring, the park's four beautiful waterfalls will put on their most spectacular display in more than 20 years.
Is the Great California Drought finally over?
Not necessarily, but last winter’s unusually wet weather and a cooler than average spring have left a significant snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where approximately 500 inches of snow have accumulated.
What’s more, the snow will melt far more slowly than usual.
As a result, waterfall season in Yosemite National Park will be extended much further into summer than usual this year. The spectacular aquatic display will be the best and longest in more than two decades!
Highway 120 Reopens!
And there’s more good news for Northern Californians! The shortest route from the San Francisco Bay Area to Yosemite National Park has reopened.
Highway 120 was closed in February because of road damage caused by the torrential rains that wreaked havoc throughout the Northern part of California last winter.
133 miles from the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the Big Oak Flat entrance is the closest entrance to Yosemite National Park from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Taking the route along Highway 120 through Tuolomne Country can save road warriors fully 90 minutes in travel time over other routes from the Bay Area to the park.
Record Number of Visitors
Whether this is good news or bad news depends on your point of view, but Yosemite National Park hosted a record 5,028,868 visitors in 2016.
Not only that, fully 95% of park visitors experienced only seven square miles of the park, which is known as Yosemite Valley or the Valley Floor.
Even more shocking: park visitors spent an average of only five hours Yosemite National Park.
As someone that grew up in California, where camping in Yosemite was one of the rites of summer, I find this disturbing.
I never thought of Yosemite as a tourist attraction. I thought of it as a place to chill out and unwind.
Quick Guide to the Four Waterfalls
There are four waterfalls within Yosemite Valley, and the walk to the base of two of them is within the reach of most visitors – even senior citizens and those in a wheelchair!
The tallest, most famous, and most accessible waterfall is Yosemite Falls, which is actually two waterfalls: Upper Yosemite Fall and Lower Yosemite Fall.
Water in Yosemite Falls is expected to flow my longer than usual in 2017.
Yosemite Falls can be seen from various spots within Yosemite Valley, and the walk to the base of the lower waterfall is not challenging.
The half mile hike is appropriate even for families with young children and senior citizens. The path is paved and wheelchair accessible.
A hike to the top of the upper waterfall is appropriate only for the physically fit, and would be an all-day excursion.
The second most popular waterfall in Yosemite National Park is Bridalveil Fall, which is the first waterfall you see when you enter Yosemite National Park.
Like Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall can be viewed from several spots within Yosemite Valley. The hike there is also not challenging.
The path to the base of the waterfall is paved, appropriate for families with small children and senior citizens. It is also wheelchair accessible. Pets on leashes are also welcome.
Vernal and Nevada Falls
The walk to the base of Vernal Fall is also about half a mile, and the best time to arrive is about 12 noon. That is when rainbows are visible in the swirling mist.
The trail continues to the Emerald Pool at to the top of the waterfall, but swimming is not advised. The water appears calm, but there is actually a very strong current.
This is a good spot to take a rest and enjoy a picnic lunch before continuing to the fourth waterfall in Yosemite Valley: Nevada Fall.
The bridge above the waterfall affords panoramic views of Yosemite Valley.
Many people end their hike here and head back, but the trail continues to Half Dome. The hike to its summit is for serious hikers only. A special permit is needed to ascend the back of Half Dome.
You can either return the way you came or take the John Muir Trail, which is longer, not as steep, and much less crowded.
What to Do in Yosemite
There is far more to Yosemite than waterfalls.
Located high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California, Yosemite National Park features some of the world's most spectacular scenery: soaring granite cliffs and towering sequoia trees, which are the oldest living things on earth.
Every summer ending with the year I graduated from high school, my family and I went camping in Yosemite, staying for two full weeks.
We spent the days swimming in the icy waters of the Merced River, picnicking on its shores, and hiking on the many trails.
Something else we used to do, which you can't do anymore: ride our air mattresses and inner tubes down the river.
It was outlawed because some people didn't have the brains to head for the shore before reaching the rapids, which was dangerous.
There were variety shows in the evening followed by the nightly fire fall from Glacer Point, which sadly ended in 1968.
And there were roasted marshmallows, stories, and singing around the campfire at night.
But camping in Yosemite was never about what you did. It was all about that altered sense of being. There were no newspapers, no radio, and no television.
The "real world" was sort of put on hold while you were there.
Which raises an interesting question: I wonder if they've now got Wi-Fi? Just kidding …
Most overnight visitors to the park camp in the designated campgrounds of Yosemite Valley.
There is a housekeeping camp for those without their own camping equipment.
There are other types of more "conventional" accommodation such as hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts in nearby communities such as Mariposa and Tuolomne County. Within the park itself are at least two hotels.
Click here for a complete guide on Where to Stay in Yosemite.
Location and Transport
The main entrance to Yosemite is roughly 200 miles from San Francisco. Don’t believe Yahoo Maps. The drive without heavy traffic takes about 4 and one-half hours.
If you're traveling from the Bay Area, you can save about 90 minutes by taking an alternate route through Tuolomne County, entering the park through the Big Oak Flat entrance.
Yosemite is about 300 miles from Los Angeles, and the drive takes at least 7 hours.
The nearest large city is Fresno, and Yosemite/Fresno International Airport is the closest major airport.
The airport is served by AeroMexico, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Volaris.
There is scheduled non-stop airline service to Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Guadalajara, Mexico; Los Angeles, California; Phoenix, Arizona; Portland, Oregon; San Diego, California; San Francisco, California; and Seattle, Washington.
Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System provides regularly scheduled transportation to Yosemite National Park from gateway communities near the park as well as the Amtrak station in Merced and Yosemite/Fresno International Airport.
A free shuttle bus operates within Yosemite Valley.
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