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.
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