Although winter is not far off in northern California, there is still time to trek to Yosemite and enjoy the late fall and early winter outdoor adventures that this stunning national park has to offer. While summer means massive crowds of tourists flocking to the park, fall provides a more relaxed and less populated experience in the place where naturalist John Muir said, "nature had gathered her choicest treasures."
We’'e Getting There: Yosemite is a solid six hours north from Los Angeles via Interstate Five and California Highway 99. Take your first bathroom break in Bakersfield and continue north to Fresno to restock your snacks and stretch your legs. The 99 meets the 120 East 114 miles north of Fresno in Manteca, and this scenic stretch will take travelers all the way to the park.
Groveland: 120 also passes though Groveland, a charming mining town fifty miles east of Yosemite's entrance. Reasonably priced overnight accommodations are available at The Groveland Hotel, and the Iron Door, reputed to be the oldest saloon in California, The Iron Door is just a few doors down on Groveland's Main Street and has live music every weekend with an eclectic crowd that likes to get rowdy on the dance floor. Join the tradition of thousands of drinkers who have come before you by tacking a dollar bill to the saloon's ceiling.
Further down the street, Mountain Sage Nursery offers strong coffee, delectable quiche, free wifi, art, maps, books, hand knitted socks and hats, and other odds and ends. The shop is located in a historic house and doubles as plant nursery - offering herbs, plants and other growables. Sip a rooibos tea latte while soaking up the fall sun in Mountain Sage's sprawling garden and plot out your plan for the park.
Yosemite Valley: Perhaps the most famous, (and certainly most visited), spot in the park is Yosemite Valley. Offering incredible views of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome, the valley is also the home of the park's visitor center, as well as Mirror Lake, camping at Curry Village and several of the park's easier, family friendly hikes like the Mist Trail.
Luxury in the Woods: Yosemite Valley is also home to the legendary Ahwahnee Hotel. Opened in 1927, this rustically opulent destination resort and National Historic Landmark features elegant rooms, afternoon tea service, several bars, a year round outdoor heated swimming pool and the famed dining room, in which the annual holiday Bracebridge Dinner happens during the month of December.
Yosemite Falls: One of the park's most famous attractions, Yosemite Falls is also one of its more challenging hikes. The path gains 2,700 feet of elevation over the course of 3.4 miles, making the hike suitable only for fit hikers with sturdy feet. Round trip, the trek can be completed in four or so hours, depending on how long you want to sit at the top, take in the views and congratulate yourself for reaching the peak of the tallest waterfall in the United States. At the base of the falls is famed rock climber mecca Camp 4, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Hetch Hetchy: A bit more out of the way from the hustle and bustle of the Valley is the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Formed by the O'Shaughnessy damn, (which was completed in 1938), this 177 billion gallon reservoir provides 25% of the drinking water for the city of San Francisco. The relatively low elevation of Hetch Hetchy makes for great extended season hiking, and the five mile Wapoma Trail skirts the perimeter and provides spectacular views of Tueeulala and Wapama Falls. On your drive out from Hetchy Hetchy, make sure to stop by the excellent Evergreen Lodge for a cold beer and one of the best burgers in the region. Evergreen also provides charming cabin accommodations.
All photos by Katie Bain.