Yosemite National Park is one of those places that's incredibly near and dear to my heart. In so many ways it's why I decided to make the move to the United States, and the decisions I made when exploring the area changed my life forever.
Let me explain. When I was in high school, I spent a summer break in the United States on a part-exchange. My host family were based in California, and they took me to Yosemite National Park for a week. I absolutely fell in love with this beautiful area.
In fact, I loved it so much I decided that I was definitely going to be a park ranger one day. (I didn't know then that you had to be a US citizen to be a park ranger!) Yet because of that summer, I decided that I wanted to be involved in the environment, and so I majored in environmental studies.
Getting to Yosemite National Park
Today I live about 190 miles away from Yosemite National Park. This is about a four hour drive through some of the most beautiful California landscapes. You get to see everything along the way, from fruit trees and fields to the wind generators. Along the horizon you can see the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The first sign you're close to Yosemite National Park is when you reach the old Western town of Groveland. This town calls itself the Gateway to Yosemite and has a lot of really interesting museums and cute places to eat. The entrance to the park is about 25 miles from here.
We always stop at Groveland for lunch and a chance to stretch our legs. From May to October, the Groveland Visitor Center has a Yosemite National Park Ranger on site to sell park entry passes and offer detailed advice about visiting the park and all that Yosemite has to offer.
Sierra Nevada Mountains & Learning to Rock Climb
Lots of people think that you need to enjoy hiking to enjoy a trip to Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I was definitely not sure the first time. Yosemite is for everyone and has something for everybody from hiking, camping, to rock climbing, there are some activities for people of all ages.
On the way to the valley, there are a few vista points where you can pull over and take pictures of the park and the Half Dome. As you get closer, you see the valley before your eye and how expansive the park is.
The park is big. It's really, really big, roughly 1,168 square miles. However, most visitors spend their time in just 7 square mile area. Quite a large area of the park is covered by snow in the winter time so the only time they are available is after summer begins.
When I first moved to the area, I used to go to Yosemite National Park and camp in the High Sierra Nevada Mountains with friends, away from the crowds in the Valley and enjoy the wilderness. My other favorite part of the area is the Mariposa Grove.
The Mariposa Grove: Home to the Giant Sequoias
The Mariposa Grove is about 14 miles south of the entrance to Yosemite National Park, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This part of Yosemite is completely different from the valley. It has several hundred matured Giant Sequoias and a few that are the largest in the world.
After you park in the parking lot, there are a few trails that will take you from the Lower Grove to the Upper Grove. It's not a difficult hike but do plan on taking some snacks and lots of water. It's about a 5-6 mile hike and close to 1,000 feet in elevation. Definitely not for beginners!
At the beginning of the trail, you'll see the Fallen Monarch. Instead of the roots of this giant sequoia going into the ground, they spread out near the surface to capture water.
Did You Know That Scientists can Understand Climate Change and How Wet and Dry the Past Years Were from Studying the Rings of a Tree?
After hiking up 400 feet in elevation, you'll see another tree, and this one is called the Grizzly Giant. This tree is so famous it even has its own Wikipedia page! It is the 25th largest giant sequoia living in the world today.
The giant sequoias are not the tallest or the widest trees in the world. However, volume wise these trees are the largest living things on the earth as we know today.
Very close to the Grizzly Giant is the California Tunnel Tree. This tree has a tunnel carved through the bottom of it which dates back to 1895. This was to let the horses and travelers make their way through the tree.
On the way up, you see a lot of the trees that have been burnt. When people discovered the Giant Sequoia Grove, to protect them natural fires were put out. This caused other plants to quickly spread throughout the forest.
When these plants covered the soil, sequoia seedlings couldn't get the direct sunlight it needs to grow. The Yosemite National Park Service does "prescribed burns" in the spring and fall to allow these new sequoias to grow and thrive.
Heading back down, you'll see the Telescope Tree. As you look up you could see the sky through its center. This giant sequoia is still alive and producing seeds today.
At the Clothespin Tree, the tree looks like it's walking towards you with its two long legs. It kind of reminds me of a dancing tree or walking tree. Instead of the other tunnel trees, who had their tunnels created by humans, this tree's tunnel was made from natural fires.
If you visit California, don't forget to enjoy this amazing beauty that mother nature has created. Try to avoid the summer season as the park becomes extremely crowded and it could ruin your experience. When we went in late April, the park was not too crowded and we had an amazing time.
For more info about camping, click here.