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I’ve been to Yosemite National Park in California twice before – once in the summer with Craig (2006), and then in the spring as a family (2019).
While the pace was intense on both, I loved experiencing one of the USA’s best national parks through adventurous hikes at a rapid pace.
Those previous, in-depth experiences gave me more space to enjoy my more recent, gentler Yosemite National Park trip with Globus Journeys.
We were saving the best part for last on our 9-day Northern California Dreaming tour itinerary. We had made our way to our grand finale via the surprisingly delightful places of Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, Mammoth, Bodie Ghost town, and Mono Lake.
Our tour group spent three days in Yosemite at an ambling pace, which allowed me to soak up the views, the warm Fall temperatures, and experience a few new things like a Ansell Adam’s inspired photography tour of Yosemite Valley.
In this post I’ll share my slower Yosemite experience, including some epic viewpoints and the Choices Excursion options that Globus offers.
You can read our previous post with in-depth suggestions on things to do in Yosemite – the highlight hikes, views, and more.
Our visit to Yosemite was part of our Choice Touring Northern California Dreaming tour. This tour style offers a selection of experiences in a particular destination, allowing you to move from the standard-all-visit the same thing, to being able to choose an experience more suited to what you like.
I joined the Globus Tour on a paid partnership project with iambassador and Globus Journeys. You can read more of this trip where I share why I loved the Globus group tour, and the main highlights from our Northern California trip.
Tioga Pass Road
As we were coming in from Mammoth and the Eastern Sierras regions of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, we entered Yosemite by the less frequently visited Tioga Pass Road.
It’s the highest road in California with an elevation range from 6,200 feet to 10,000 ft. The road is closed for half the year due to snowy conditions. The high snowfall up here feeds most of the waterfalls that will gush down those Yosemite Valley walls during the Spring.
The 39-mile scenic drive takes you through Yosemite’s high country, past forests, meadows, lakes, and granite domes. Tuolumne Meadows is a popular place for adventure hikes to several lakes and domes.
Olmsted Point is where you’ll find dramatic panoramic vistas of the granite cliffs and boulders that form so much of Yosemite and makes rock climbers around the world happy.
This is your first view of Half Dome, the iconic, dome boulder that looks like it’s been shaved in half. This view shows the backside of it, which is very different to the Half Dome view you’ll see throughout Yosemite Valley.
You can see it from the parking lot, but if you want better unobstructed views, take the short, paved path that goes down from the parking lot. Thanks to our tour director, Derek for that insider tip!
The views here are 360 so be sure to turn and take in the views behind you overlooking Tenaya Lake which just as dramatic and beautiful.
Named after Chief Tenaya of the Ahwahnechee people, who inhabited much of Yosemite before their forced relocation in the 1850s.
Tenaya Lake was our picturesque first stop along the Tioga Pass. There’s a nice sandy beach here with beautiful views of the surrounding glacially shaped domes that look snow covered, but is just the granite sparkling!
The best view is meant to be the west end which is accessed by the Clouds Rest/ Sunrise Lakes trailhead.
Black and White Photography Tour
When you think of Yosemite, two renowned artists and naturalists names come to mind: John Muir and Ansel Adams, both advocates for persevering special places in nature.
My Choice Excursion for the Yosemite National Park part of our trip was to walk in the footsteps of Ansel Adams.
Yosemite was Ansel’s chief source of inspiration for most of his life, and his photos of Yosemite would become treasured around the world. He spent many years in Yosemite working as a High Sierras photography tour guide, placing the half dome cable system each year for hikers, and as caretaker of the Sierra Club’s LeConte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite Valley.
Our guide and avid photographer, Blake shared the story of Ansel and his photography journey as we walked through the meadows of Yosemite Valley.
We’d stop along the way to look at some of his photos, hear the story behind them, and learn a few photography techniques: how to keep scale for perspective to give photo justice to real life, how to use darkness and tall structures to distract and block wandering eyes, and how Ansel developed the Zone system for black and white photography which grew in the histogram system we now use on our digital cameras.
The following two images were our perspective practice – changing where we stood to add space between the tree and the Cathedral Rock. Something so small can completely change the image captured.
Tell me in the comments which image you prefer.
Chamonix 45 4×4 View Camera
The highlight for everyone was Blake setting up a Chamonix 45 4×5 view camera on the Swinging Bridge. It was a camera similar to what Ansel would have used.
It was enlightening to see the time and effort that went into capturing one photo with little room for error. I don’t think anyone in our modern days with our automatic captures and overused delete button would have had the patience to capture anything. No wonder it was a job for the true artists.
It costs Blake about 5- 6 dollars to produce just one photo from this camera!
Ansel Adam’s was a silent but persuasive voice in getting Kings Canyon to become a national park in 1940, through his images from the Muir Trail that President Roosevelt loved.
It was here that Ansel realized his photos could be used for something greater than his own benefit of sharing photos.
I connected to this story so deeply as it was that kind of thinking that led me to travel blogging – allowing my stories from a life of travel to be used for something greater than just my own enjoyment of them. I decided to start a travel blog to learn the lessons and inspire others to pursue lives and experiences that help them tap into (and expand through) joy, awe, and wonder.
And as a Kodak color film tester, we can say Ansel was the original “influencer” and Blake assures us he would have been very accepting of how photography has evolved since his black and white view camera days.
This was a private photography tour organized by Globus Journeys. I loved how all of this was taken care of for me and I just had to say I want to do this tour and turn up. Independent visitors to the park, will need to check with the Ansel Adam’s Gallery to see what kind of photography tours are available to you.
Wander (or bike) Yosemite Valley
Craig and I hired bikes back in 2006 to cycle around the valley floor, which I loved. When we visited with the girls, we spent little time exploring the valley’s meadows and viewpoints as we were hiking to waterfalls instead.
On this trip – September – the waterfalls weren’t running. As they are mostly snowmelt fed, they tend to dry up by the end of summer. This year was a particularly bad year for snow – 30% less than normal, which meant the trickles were now bone dry.
This was the perfect opportunity for me to wander the valley floor with my new friends and just enjoy the waterless, yet still beautiful views and gentle walks.
Yosemite Valley is famous for its rock formations, massive cliff faces and plunging waterfalls, including Yosemite Falls. It’s open year-round and is where you’ll find many hiking trails and park amenities like general stores, visitor centers, cafes, Starbucks, accommodation, campgrounds, cabins, museums, and the Ansel Adams Gallery.
If you are hiking, my favorite hike is the Mist Trail up to Nevada Fall – and if you have longer than three days, go off the beaten path at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
Don’t miss the view of Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge. If the wind is not blowing, you will get great reflections in the Merced River.
There are also plenty of sandy banks along the Merced River to soak up the rays. I saw some people floating in tubes.
And Swinging Bridge is also another popular viewpoint and place to enjoy the river.
Others from our tour group hired bicycles for the two hours we had on the valley floor and loved cycling all the way to the stunning and popular The Ahwahnee Hotel.
Gaze up at (or climb) El Capitan
The sheer rock face of El Capitan is enormous and all encompassing. It’s one of the top attractions in Yosemite, especially if you are a rock climber.
If you don’t want to scale the gigantic, sheer cliffs of the granite monolith, El Capitan, one of the most famous rock climbs in the world, you may want to stand at the viewing place on the Valley floor and see if you can spot them climbing 3,593 feet to the summit.
If you ever needed a sense of scale in Yosemite, this is it. They are black specks against the snowy white walls.
There are about one hundred ways to get to the top, and while some have managed to race up it, even without equipment, most do it in 2 days, sleeping tied to the rock face overnight. NO THANKS!
Note: I was quite cranky to later learn there is a team of rangers who’s job it is to climb the walls (perhaps once a week or every two weeks) and clean up after the rock climbers who leave their rubbish tucked into the rock crevices.
What a TERRIBLE use of resources.
If you can carry your food up the walls with you, you can carry your trash back out. I was so shocked to hear of this as my assumption was rock climbers would be one of the most protective of our precious natural resources with what I thought would be a natural affinity with nature.
A top Yosemite view not to miss down in Yosemite Valley is Valley View.
It gives you the best view of Bridalveil Falls (if running) and the valley from the bottom up. Take your gazing up at the valley photos and then sit back to absorb the real view. This is one of a kind. As is the following view.
One of my favorite views in the USA is of the Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View. As the waterfalls barely flow during the Fall, the view was slightly less mind glowingly beautiful than the Spring.
But, still beautiful at any moment. All I feel when I look down this lush valley bordered by these steep granite walls is complete heavenly bliss. And when you see the peregrine falcons flying through the valley all I feel is freedom (and some envy of their ability to soar)
Tunnel View is pristine perfection.
And then in Spring – just look at how those walls are crying with the waterfalls teaming down them all along the valley on both sides.
Tip: The light is best in the afternoon. In my opinion the best time to visit Yosemite is in May when the waterfalls are gushing.
We could not access Glacier Point by bus on this Yosemite trip. It’s one of the best views in Yosemite, and the only one I haven’t yet done! The Sentinel Dome and Taft Point hike is one of the most popular in this area with dramatic 360 views. Some of the travelers on our tour group hired a private car to take them to Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove.
See the Sequoias at Tuolumne Grove
The best place to see sequoias in Yosemite Valley is at Mariposa Grove near the South entrance of the park. Thanks to COVID, Yosemite National Park is not running any shuttles, which is the only way you can get to the grove from the parking lot. Unless of course you hike the two miles in.
Our tour director, Derek was planning to take us to nearby King’s Canyon instead to make up for it, but the fires in Sequoia National Park (next to it) quickly put an end to that plan as Kings Canyon had to close.
I was so grateful to have someone else making these quick alternative plans, as it involves a lot of Derek’s plan C was to take us to Tuolumne Grove in the western corner of Yosemite on the Tioga Road. It’s not as well known or visited as Mariposa and with only 25 sequoias, has a much smaller sequoia grove, but it was worth a visit to see these largest living trees.
Even though I have hugged those bigger sequoias at Mariposa, I still enjoyed hugging the Tuolumne Grove sequoias as well. I know for many first-time sequoia gazers on our Globus trip, they were thrilled by this experience.
The hike is about three miles return and loops around the grove at the bottom. You’ll have an opportunity to walk through the tunnel of a dead giant sequoia and even crawl through the trunk of a dead one now sleeping on the ground.
And the gnarly roots of the upended sequoias adds a different element of texture to explore.
Sequoias don’t have long roots, but they have pretty sturdy, intertwined wide reaching roots which tend to use up most of the resources and so stops other flora from growing here.
Note that it is quite a steep climb coming back out of the grove.
Stay at Tenaya Lodge
I was happy to return to Tenaya Lodge for three-nights on this Yosemite trip. We stayed here for four nights with the girls previously and loved it. It’s one of the best places to stay near Yosemite.
It does take about an hour to get to Yosemite from here, but due to limited accommodation in the park, and most other accommodation is outside, it’s worth staying here.
It’s comfortable accommodation, with an excellent restaurant, ambiance, swimming pool, spa, and amenities.
There are fun things to do on the property, like nighttime guided walks, archery course, and star gazing, and there are nearby hiking trails, including one to a waterfall. You can read our full review of Tenaya Lodge.
IMPORTANT: Reserve your place in the top USA national parks
Due to an overwhelming number of people visiting because of COVID – which is hard to imagine it could be worse than our Times Square like experience in the summer of 2006 – Yosemite National Park now has a reservation system during the peak summer months.
That meant it was blissfully serene and felt like we had the park to ourselves for most of the time.
I’ve heard of travelers coming from England to visit Yosemite and could not get in because they did not know they had to reserve in advance. That’s why you should read travel blogs! Here is your notice!
The beauty of visiting Yosemite on a Globus Tour meant our spots were reserved and we were guaranteed to have those stunning Half Dome views all to ourselves.
Be sure to check current conditions as the free shuttle buses weren’t running through the park due to COVID. You’ll need to plan accordingly.
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