When we think of Yosemite National Park we most often conjure images of Half Dome. With its wide smooth face overlooking the grandiose Yosemite Valley cutting between sharp cliffs littered in waterfalls. Obviously though, this is a very small portion of the 1,169 square mile park. Although the Valley floor is fantastic and has more than enough to keep you busy for weeks, there are also many must see places beyond the Valley. This is a list of my favorite places to visit that are in the National Park, or just outside.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is Yosemite Valley’s often forgotten sister. Before 1923 it was an open valley, with untouched wilderness and tall granite walls. It was often described as a second Yosemite Valley. In fact, John Muir pressed for the protection of Hetch Hetchy Valley and Yosemite Valley to be under one single National Park. San Francisco looked at the Valley as an opportunity for water storage. By building a dam on one end, they could fill up the entire valley and create a water reserve to feed the city. John Muir fought tirelessly against building the dam and lost with construction beginning in 1914, the year of his death. Today Hetch Hetchy remains a reservoir for the City of San Francisco, and has a few hikes open to visitors.
Wapama Falls is a gorgeous hike that takes you around the edge of the reservoir. On this hike you will cross the infamous O'Shaughnessy Dam that was featured in Patagonia’s documentary Damnation, You will hike through a long tunnel, cross bridges and have a few opportunities to take a dip in pools made by the waterfall. The hike round trip is 5 miles and best during the spring and summer.
Tioga Pass to Tuolumne Meadows
Tioga Pass runs through the Sierra Nevada and is the highest highway in California. It serves as the Eastern entrance to the park. If you are staying in the Valley I suggest you save one whole day to drive Tioga Pass to Tuolumne Meadows. Along the way be sure to stop at Tenaya Lake, make a trip out to May Lake (4 miles round trip) and stop by Olmsted Point. Once you get to Tuolumne Meadows you will be greeted by wide open fields scattered in a watercolor of wildflowers, tall Sierra peaks and pure silence. While you’re in Tuolumne Meadows, plan a hike to the top of Lembert’s Dome (4.5 miles round trip). This will give you a 365 degree view of the High Sierras and endless photo opportunities. To finish off a perfect day grab a bite to eat at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, make sure to make a reservation before arriving, 209-372-8413.
Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias
This grove is located off of Tioga Pass road and is home to several mature Giant Sequoia’s including one that you can walk through. This grove is lesser known than the Mariposa Grove and is a downhill hike. If you are someone who likes to avoid crowds, this may be the grove for you.
Merced Grove is the smallest out of the three Giant Sequoia groves Yosemite has to offer. Because of this it is also the least known, which means no crowds! It is located off of the 120 and is a total 3 miles round trip.
Big Trees Lodge (Formerly known as the Wawona Hotel)
At the 41 entrance this historic hotel sits proudly waiting to greet visitors eager to reach the valley. The hotel was originally built for guests traveling via stage coach from San Francisco and offered them a place to rest the night before they arrived at their desired destination. This beautiful hotel is equipped with an 18 hole golf course, veranda and horseback riding stables (horseback rides go around the golf course). There is also a restaurant where you can grab a delicious meal and a lounge in the front where they play live piano in the evenings. During the summer on Saturdays they have a barn dance where you can learn to line dance and do-si-do. The hotel is located close to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. A must see if you are first timer to the park.
White Wolf Lodge
Think Yosemite Valley is a secluded get away? Wait until you see White Wolf, this Lodge is beautifully located in a wildflower filled meadow surrounded by pine trees. White Wolf Lodge is a great starting point for hikes to Lukens and Harden Lakes. The lodge is complete with 24 canvas-tent cabins and four traditional cabins that include a private bath. In the morning and evenings you are welcome to join other guests in the central dining room and take in the spectacular views.
Badger Pass Ski and Snowboard Area (Winter Only)
Badger Pass is open winter only and when there is snow. The park has a variety of fun snow activities to keep you and the kids busy. These activities range from downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snow tubing, and snowshoeing. There is a shuttle that conveniently runs to and from the Valley to Badger Pass to make your visit as easy as possible.
- Outside of the Eastern Entrance of the Park you will find The Mobil. This is an awesome restaurant that serves great mango margaritas and has live music. It is a locals hot spot during the summer.
- Every other Tuesday in the summer just outside of the Northern Entrance in El Portal, Sal's Taco Truck comes to feed the locals. This is a great social event and they usually have live music and dancing on the grass.
- If you drive south on the 395 outside of the Park you can find the Mammoth Hot Springs. This is a killer excursion if you are into soaking in a secluded hot tub in the middle of the High Sierras. Plan to car camp next to the hot springs if you want to see more stars than you've ever seen before and get in a steamy soak before the sun rises.
Author and Photographer: Ariel Blandford