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Road trip from Sonora to Yosemite Falls, California

22 June 2022

Chris and Mary Bancroft drove a Ford Fiesta for 4,000 miles in western USA, including this mountainous Californian leg...

El Capitan in Yosemite
El Capitan in Yosemite. Getty

8am Sonora

Visiting Yosemite National Park in California is, as the Americans would say, an awesome experience, but to stay in the park itself is a lot more expensive than in the towns outside. So, to explore Yosemite from its western side, we stayed in the town of Sonora, about 130 miles east of San Francisco and two hours’ drive from the park. Sonora was founded in the Californian Gold Rush and is one of a number of settlements in the area from that time – some are preserved to look exactly how they would have done in the 19th century. The drive east towards Yosemite – along California’s Route 120 – takes you past other Gold Rush towns as you climb through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, preparation for the drama that awaits.

10am Big Oak Flat Entrance

Driving into the park you are soon greeted by a view along the Yosemite Valley, from which you can see two of the area’s mountain landmarks: Half Dome and El Capitan. Both stand thousands of feet above the valley floor.

11am Glacier Point

If you take Wawona Road from the valley floor, it will eventually bring you to Glacier Point, where Mary and I stood with Half Dome behind us. As the crow flies, it is quite close to the valley floor, but so steep are the mountain sides here – often vertical – that the road has to weave a circuitous route to reach Glacier Point. Back along Wawona Road are two more areas where you can hike for spectacular views: Sentinel Dome and Taft Point (where, unbelievably, I saw some people dangling their legs over the sheer face). Fortunately, there is not much uphill walking here – as you are so high already!

2pm Mirror Lake

The further you go along Yosemite Valley to the east into the mountains, the quieter it gets, and there were very few people around when we reached Mirror Lake, the last remnant of a large glacial lake. This is where to go if you really want to be by yourself.

3pm Yosemite Falls

Yosemite is famous for its many waterfalls including Bridalveil Fall and Yosemite Falls. But water is seasonal here and when we went – 21 September, 2019 – summer had curtailed the flow. But that did not detract from a stunning trip of spectacular mountain scenery, which was no struggle even for our Ford Fiesta hire car!


If you love trees, Tuolumne Grove – on Route 120 (Big Oak Flat Road) – has huge sequoias including a dead one you can walk through.

Discover the USA, from the Pacific Coast Highway to the neck-craning skyscrapers of New York. Find out more here


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.