Day Tripper: Yosemite National Park

Sometimes, a change of pace is just what I need. After a long six months of training for two marathons a month apart, I’ve spent the summer rediscovering my love of cross-training and have been running only occasionally. Mostly this has consisted of indoor cycling, barre classes, and yoga, but earlier this week a running buddy and I decided to get out of town and take a hike.

The destination: Yosemite National Park. The drive from Fresno is just under an hour and a half, so we figured we could drive up, complete a short hike, and return home before dinner.

Even with a late start (had to wait until we could drop our kids off at daycare/summer school), we got into the park a little after 10 a.m. and were hiking by 11.

Our trek took us from Curry Village (now known as Half Dome Village, but it’s still Curry Village on the maps — and in my heart) to Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail.

The hike itself — we managed to cover about 7 miles, round trip — was fairly easy. The views? Spectacular.

See, all that rain we got over the winter that made it really, really difficult to train for a marathon has also made Yosemite really, really beautiful. I’ve never seen so much water there.

The Mist Trail lived up to its name. Certain sections of the trail near the falls were very wet. At some points, it felt like we were walking through a light rain. It was a nice respite from the heat.

Due to time, we didn’t quite make it to Nevada Fall. We hiked for about 15 minutes beyond Vernal Fall before turning around. We stopped for lunch in a relatively uncrowded, shady area with a view (and some brazen squirrels who stole food from one of our packs) before making our way back to Curry (Half Dome, whatever) Village.

You know how I said I’ve never seen so much water in Yosemite? I’ve also never seen so much wildlife just hanging out. We saw a squirrel essentially performing for the stream of hikers from atop a rock on the side of the trail. He was just standing there chirping, probably hoping for tips in the form of food.

Later, a snake crossed our path.

That’s in addition the the deer we saw hanging out in the parking lot as we left.

As short as it was, the day was a much-needed change in scenery and routine. I woke up on Wednesday morning feeling muscles I haven’t worked in a long time. If you’re up for it, a Yosemite trip is something I recommend doing at least once every summer. Particularly this summer, when the falls are so full. You won’t regret it.

8 things to keep in mind if you’re planning a day trip to Yosemite:

  • Arrive early. We had no problem getting into the park or finding a parking spot, but by the time we set off the trails were already fairly crowded. It honestly was not a problem — occasionally, we had to stop on a narrow section to let hikers coming from the other direction pass, and it was slow going in some spots, but not annoyingly so. However, had we gotten an earlier start, we no doubt would have been able to move a little faster and cover more ground.
  • Plan to visit on a weekday, if possible. The park gets very crowded on the weekends.
  • There is some construction going on in the park, which can cause some traffic delays. Check for traffic alerts before leaving home.
  • Do you have a 4th grader in your household? The Every Kid in a Park program offers every 4th grader in the country a one-year pass to our country’s National Parks — for free. Yes, you will need to have your 4th grader in the car with you — the point, after all, is to help our kids discover our nation’s natural wonders and historic sites — but there are plenty of day hikes and experiences in Yosemite that are appropriate for 4th graders. Visit Every Kid in a Park for more information and to download your pass, which can be exchanged for a permanent pass at the gate.
  • If you’re going solo, consider taking public transportation. The vehicle fee is $30, so it makes sense to drive in if you’re in a group. However, a round trip adult fare from Fresno to Yosemite Valley, via Yosemite Area Rapid Transit System (YARTS), is also $30. For each paid adult fare, one child under 12 rides for free. If you don’t want to drive, it’s a solid option. (The buses even have storage space for strollers and hiking packs.) Visit YARTS online for schedules and fees.
  • Dress for comfort and functionality. You won’t need hiking boots if you’re sticking to the well-traveled Mist Trail, but you’ll want supportive footwear. I wore a pair of trail runners but I saw people in everything from regular athletic shoes to Keen sandals. I knew I would be most comfortable in shorts and a tank top, but others on the trail wore leggings or jeans.
  • Carry a pack. I used a borrowed hydration vest that had just enough room for a sandwich, a plum, and some trail mix; small bottles of sunscreen and bug spray; a small notebook and pen (just in case inspiration struck); and an extra bottle of water. (If you stick to the Mist Trail, there are plenty of fountains along the way where you can get refills.)
  • Be prepared to get wet if you’re near the falls. If you’re worried about your phone, pack it in a Ziploc bag or keep it stored in your pack. (For the record, I kept mine in my pocket and it was fine.)

The National Park Service also has some tips for hikers, particularly if you plan to venture away from the busy, popular trails:

  • Carry a headlamp, even during daylight hours
  • Carry a minimum of 1 quart of water (per person) for every two hours. Don’t drink untreated water from streams or lakes.
  • Hats, sunscreen, and light-colored clothing should be worn to protect you from the sun.
  • Stay on established trails.
  • Each member of your group should carry water and food, in case you become separated.
  • Learn to identify poison oak.
  • Don’t approach a bear. (We did not see bears … but it’s sound advice in just about any situation, really.)

 

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