We were told by a few people that Yosemite in summer should be avoided. Sure, it’s hot, but no where near as hot as some of the other parks. The problem is crowds. As one of our friends put it, “Yosemite in summer is Disneyland”. Although we were originally going to heed the advice and bypass Yosemite altogether, we were so glad we didn’t. We managed to avoid the heat and crowds by starting our days at sunrise and having the park almost completely to ourselves. It was magical.
We first arrived at Yosemite in the late afternoon, not to see the sights but to find some bear lockers for our food as tree hanging is illegal in the park. Sure enough, the park was absolutely crawling with people. On my hunt I got talking to a man and seasoned camper who told me that if we were camping outside of the park it would be pretty much bear free, so we threw our stuff back in the car and headed for our free camp spot just outside the gates.
We arrived to find the entry to our chosen spot blocked off, and with no wifi or back up plan we were a little stuck. We drove further down the road and found a seemingly abandoned van parked under some trees next to a river, so parked Fuego up close, entered stealth mode, and got settled in for the night.
The next morning we rose at 4:45am to give us enough time to take a quick stroll through Cooks Meadow and then continue on to the Sentinel Dome trailhead as the sun hit the sky. We hiked to Taft Point for an incredible view out across the valley, then on to the popular Glacier Point for a view across to Half Dome, finishing at the top of Sentinel Dome, just shy of a complete 12km round trip.
By this stage the day had started to heat up so we were eager to find a less rapid spot on the river for a dip that would double as a bath. We found the perfect spot next to the river, so parked Fuego under some trees and spent most of the day switching between our bed and the water.
That evening as we were relaxing in the van, another car pulled up next to us and an Aussie named Rae introduced herself. She asked if we were planning to sneakily stay the night in the spot we were in and joined us in setting up for the night. Over some of Rae’s donated beers we discovered that we had both planned to tackle the Mist Trail the following morning, so agreed to go early together.
The next morning we did exactly that, waking up at the crack of dawn and trekking it up the steep incline that is the Mist Trail. We stopped briefly at Vernal Falls for an obligatory shot, then continued on up the hill, stopping for some more amazingly unpassable photo opportunities. When finally reaching Nevada Falls we were in complete awe, staring down at the valley below to the sound of crashing water. We followed the Muir Trail back to our parking spot and enjoyed a picnic lunch together, said our goodbyes to Rae, and headed to the much higher and cooler east side of the park.
Funnily enough Rae was just telling us how eager she was to see a bear while in Yosemite, and as we headed east up into the mountains we spotted a cub run out across the road in front of us. Unfortunately after speaking with Rae soon after our sighting, she hadn’t had as much luck as us.
We first stopped by absolutely stunning Tenaya Lake and found a quiet secluded beach to rest our weary heads after a refreshingly cool dip. On our steep decline from the park to our free campsite in Lee Vining just outside of the east gates, I could hear an unhealthy squeal and smelt the all too familar stench of burning brakes. A local mechanic quickly determined that we needed new rear brakes but couldn’t fit us in for a few days, so we decided to just take it easy on them until we reached Las Vegas and have them replaced there, albeit on the other side of the notoriously hot and barren Death Valley. We parked Fuego just above the stunning Mono Lake and spent the rest of the afternoon taking in the view as we drifted off to sleep.
After two early rises and big days of hiking we had the most blissful sleep in on our last day at Yosemite. We were spending the day at Tuolumne Meadows, a more relaxed, less crowded, but equally beautiful section of the park. We went for a walk through the meadow, stopping at the Soda Spring for a mouthful of strangely fizzy natural spring water. We stopped at a shady spot for some lunch and then left the park for a cold beer at a nearby stop.
After our beer we drove to the Whitmore Hot Springs, about 30mins south of Yosemite, and spent some time soaking our sore muscles with a view out across the mountain range. As the hot springs also sat on public land, we decided we’d camp there the night and be well and truly rested for our early morning drive to Death Valley.