Thursday, May 01, 2014

Yosemite Primer

The latest edition of  "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron's free quarterly newsletter is out.  This issue gives tips for visiting Yosemite National Park.  If you are not a subscriber you can see the newsletter below:

Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's quarterly newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website,, to learn more about our private, custom tours.

A Yosemite Primer
Yosemite National Park is one of California’s (and the country’s) great natural wonders. Located four hours (200 miles) east of San Francisco, many visitors to the city also include a trip to Yosemite on their vacation itinerary. The park covers 1,200 square miles of the Sierra Nevada, which makes it slightly bigger than the state of Rhode Island. Most visitors confine their visit to the eight square miles of Yosemite Valley. While there is much to see and do in the Valley, there are equally great attractions in the rest of the park. This newsletter is not a comprehensive guide to Yosemite National Park. Rather, it contains some tips for enhancing your Yosemite visit. For more comprehensive information, check out the park’s official website at

Getting to Yosemite National Park

If you are traveling to the park by car, there are two entrances on the park's west side, one entrance on the southern end of the park, and one entrance on the east side of the park near the Nevada border. CA 120 and 140 enter the park from the west. CA 120 is the shortest way to get from San Francisco to Yosemite Valley. This route contains one stretch of road that is twisty and steep, so many large vehicles prefer the slightly longer, and much flatter, route via CA 140. CA 41 is the way to the park’s southern entrance, which is the closest entrance to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. During the late fall, winter, and early spring chains can be required, so check road conditions in advance.

The eastern entrance to the park via Tioga Pass (CA 120) is closed during the winter. If you want to enter the park from the east during the spring or fall, check the road conditions as you plan your trip.

Vehicles longer than 45 feet in length are prohibited. Tall vehicles should check the heights of the tunnels along CA 41, 140, and 120 (from the west).

No gasoline is available in Yosemite Valley. Gas is available at Wawona, Crane Flat, and El Portal 24 hours per day with a credit card. Gasoline is also available in the summer at Tuolumne Meadows.

There is limited public transportation to the Yosemite Valley. Amtrak offers a bus/rail combination from San Francisco to Yosemite Valley. Greyhound provides bus service to Merced where you can connect to a YARTS bus to Yosemite Valley.

Blue Heron and other companies offer tours to Yosemite National Park. Most of these tours are day tours to Yosemite Valley. It’s a lot of driving for a few hours in the park. If you’re pressed for time and don’t think you’ll have another opportunity to visit Yosemite, you might want to consider taking a tour. Some companies, Blue Heron included, offer multi-day tours.

The closest airports to Yosemite Valley are in Modesto and Merced, but both have very limited commercial service. More frequent service is available to the airport in Fresno, which is about 90 minutes from the southern entrance to the park and 2.5 hours from Yosemite Valley. The majority of visitors will find it most convenient to fly to San Francisco (SFO) or Oakland (OAK) and drive to the park.  

When to Visit  


Summers in Yosemite Valley can be extremely crowded. Lodging in the park fills up well in advance. Lines at the restaurants are long. Day trippers have trouble finding parking. Fortunately, the park has an excellent shuttle that circulates through the Valley. Once you park your car, leave it and ride the shuttle. If you are staying in Wawona and want to visit the Valley, you can take a free shuttle that runs once a day between Memorial and Labor Days.

The small parking lot at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias frequently fills up in the summer. You may want to park your car at Wawona and take the free shuttle to the grove.  


A fall visit lets you avoid the summer crowds. The weather is usually very pleasant. The main downside to a fall visit is that the seasonal waterfalls in Yosemite Valley are dry and those that flow year-round do not have much water in them.  


Glacier Point, the high country, and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias usually cannot be accessed by car during the winter. Cross country enthusiasts can ski to Glacier Point. Those who snow shoe can make their way to the Mariposa Grove. Badger Pass on the Glacier Point Road is usually open for skiing.

Winter is the quiet season in Yosemite Valley. You can still enjoy the beauty of the granite cliffs, and some hiking trails are open. Seeing Yosemite Valley covered in snow is a breathtaking sight.  


Spring is the best time to enjoy the waterfalls. The warming days melt the snow in the high country. If the winter was wet, visitors often cannot walk close to the bases of Yosemite or Bridalveil Falls without getting drenched. (That won’t be a problem this year.) Depending on the amount of the winter snowfall, the roads to Glacier Point, Mariposa Grove, and Tioga Pass will likely open in May or June.


Lodging options inside the park range from tent cabins at Curry Village to very comfortable rooms at the Ahwahnee Hotel, one of the grand National Park lodges. DNC Parks and Resorts operates all lodging within the park. Its website,, provides complete information on the options available. Lodging in Yosemite Valley consists of the Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, Housekeeping Camp, and Curry Village. The Lodge seems to book out the furthest in advance. Sometimes rooms at the Ahwahnee, which are expensive, and tent cabins at Curry Village, which are cheap, are available for last-minute bookings.

The Wawona Hotel is a Victorian hotel close to the Mariposa Grove and south entrance to the park.

DNC also operates Tenaya Lodge, about 15 minutes outside the south entrance to the park.

Lodging in the high country is available at the High Sierra Camps, White Wolf Lodge, and Tuolumne Meadows Lodge. Accommodation is fairly basic and fills up very far in advance. Think about booking a year ahead of time. A lottery is held for reservations at the High Sierra Camps.

The National Park Service operates campgrounds throughout the park. Thirteen campgrounds accept reservations through The remaining campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. During the summer, these campgrounds are frequently filled by noon.

Information on lodging outside of the park and on private lands within the park boundaries is available at


One doesn’t visit a national park for its great food. In Yosemite Valley, dining options range from a cafeteria at The Lodge and pizza at Curry Village to the beautiful dining room at the Ahwahnee Hotel. You can see a full list of dining options at DNC’s website, If you are staying in Yosemite Valley, try to eat one meal at the Ahwahnee Dining Room so you can enjoy the 34 foot high ceilings, log support beams, and floor to ceiling windows. “Resort Casual” attire is required. Reservations for dinner are recommended and can be made through the DNC website or Open Table. Some of the restaurants and snack stands are open only from April to October.

At the south entrance to the park, you can eat at the Wawona Dining Room. If you enjoy fine dining and don’t mind driving 45 minutes along CA 41, try Erna’s Elderberry House in Oakhurst. This Relais and Chateau property serves delicious food in a refined setting. You can also stay at the adjoining Chateau du Sureau.


There is so much to do in Yosemite that this newsletter does not have the space to cover everything visitors can do in the park. Hiking is one of the principal activities. Trails abound in Yosemite Valley, the high country, and around Wawona. You can hike through all three groves of Giant Sequoias: Mariposa, Tuolumne, and Merced. A less crowded and relatively easy trail is along the shores of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Yosemite is world famous for its granite cliffs. Experienced rock climbers can’t resist the allure of climbing El Capitan. The DNC website has information on rock climbing lessons.

The Valley is flat and great for biking. Rentals are available at Curry Village and the Lodge.

A nine-hole golf course in Wawona is open during the warm weather season.

Horseback riding, river rafting, tours, nature tours, and guided bus tours are available.

During the winter, visitors can ski at Badger Pass along the Glacier Point Road. The road is closed to vehicles beyond the ski area in the winter but is open to those who enjoy snow showing or cross country skiing. Ice skating is available at Curry Village during the winter. More information on activities is available at and

Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful places on this planet. In 1864 President Lincoln granted the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the State of California for their protection, the first time ever that land had been set aside solely for its beauty. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, making it a great time to enjoy this beautiful National Park. Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel offers one-day and multi-day tours to Yosemite from San Francisco. For more information contact us at (866) 326-4237 (toll free), (415) 337-1874 (local), or

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