Springtime In Yosemite – A Wonderful Time To Discover The Park

  • Tuesday, January 3, 2023
  • Ann N. Yungmeyer

In the early 1900s, celebrated photographer Ansel Adams caught the attention of the art world with his stunning black and white images of Yosemite National Park, ever since inspiring travelers to see firsthand what makes it one of America’s greatest national treasures. Known for extraordinary granite cliffs, high waterfalls and giant Sequoias, Yosemite National Park attracts four million visitors a year, from nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts to photographers and scenery buffs.

My husband and I made our first visit to Yosemite last March and were immediately awed by the geology around us as we descended the winding mountain road into Yosemite Valley, where American Indians first put down roots more than 6,000 years ago. Spring is a fine time to discover the richness of the park, when the massive waterfalls pound and gush and wildflowers begin to pop. The weather is cool but generally pleasant and it’s a good time to explore the park’s many paved walkways and overlooks or enjoy a picnic beside a rushing stream. Most hiking trails are open, but some will still have pockets of snow in shady spots.

Crowds are fewer in early spring, and the big advantage is having a good chance to book a hotel room inside the park before the tourist season heats up. By mid-April, park amenities including nature programs, shuttle services and bike rentals are available, though access to high country areas will open later depending on snow melt.

History and Highlights

President Abraham Lincoln signed a grant in 1864 that permanently protected an expanse of land that included Yosemite Valley, and a few years later conservationist John Muir wrote about it as, “by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” Preservation efforts continued through the influence of Muir and fellow conservationist Robert Underwood Johnson, resulting in Yosemite becoming a national park in 1890.

In the community of Wawona at the southern end of the park, you can glimpse into regional history at the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, which displays a collection of antique horse-drawn wagons and cabins of early settlers of the 1800s. The area is also home to one of Yosemite’s most magnificent attractions, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Yosemite Valley is the heartbeat of the park and deserves at least a couple of days to explore. Here you’ll find several lodging options and Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, a general store, nature center, the Ansel Adams Gallery, Yosemite Museum and the Indian Cultural Exhibit.

Park rangers are available at the Visitor Center to answer questions and advise about hiking trails and attractions. We chose two popular hikes from the village (2-3 miles each) to Vernal Falls and Mirror Lake. Along the trail we had a glimpse of the famous Half Dome rock, which was meaningful to see, as our daughter had recently made the trek to the top.

The park newspaper, Yosemite Guide, lists information on seasonal tours and programs including naturalist-led walks, a Valley Floor Tram tour, art activities and photography walks offered by Ansel Adams Gallery. Biking is also a popular way to explore the area along the flat, 12-mile valley loop.

Natural Wonders Not-to-miss

Yosemite Falls is one of the world’s 10 tallest waterfalls at 2,425 ft. and the tallest in North America. You can walk to the base of the lower falls from the Village and take in views of both upper and lower falls along the pathway. I also enjoyed sunlit morning views of the falls from my hotel room in the valley.

Bridal Veil Waterfall is known for its swirling winds across the sheer cliffs that blow the falling water side-to-side in a delicate descending spray. Highlighted in Ansel Adams’ earliest works, it is one of the most photographed falls in the park. You can view it from many vantage points and there is a newly refurbished parking area with a short walking path to the base of the waterfall.

El Capitan is a massive granite monolith that stands at 3,593 feet from base to summit, approximately the height of three Empire State Buildings. Experienced climbers come to Yosemite from all over the world to scale the granite wall by several arduous routes.

Half Dome is touted the park’s most distinctive monument, the crystallized granite and overlaid rock deemed 87 million years old. Rising at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, the dome gently tops at 8,842 ft. of elevation, dominating views in the valley. It, too, is extremely popular for climbing, allowed by permit only.

Mirror Lake, so named for its mirror reflections of Tenaya Canyon and Half Dome, is a body of water only in springtime after the snowmelt. It is often referred to as Mirror Meadow when the water dries up by late summer. A sign on the hiking trail tells the story of a historic lakeside inn, circa 1870, that became a saloon featuring a dance pavilion over the water.

Unique Stays

Park lodging ranges from upscale and moderate hotel rooms to cabin rentals, platform tents and camping. The Ahwahnee Hotel in the heart of Yosemite Valley and Wawona Hotel near the south entrance are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and each offers guests a slice of park history.

The 95-year-old Ahwahnee, described as the crown jewel of national park lodges, was designed to highlight the natural surroundings with views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point from some of its cottages, suites and rooms. Soaring ceilings and massive windows in the dining room set a tone of grandeur that matches the extraordinary outdoor scenery. Over the years, The Ahwahnee has been a destination of celebrities, royalty and presidents, offering a pleasant blend of elegance and history. (The hotel is closed from January to March 2023 for upgrades and renovation.)

The Wawona Hotel is the park’s most historic lodging, offering a simple but comfortable stay on the quiet south end of the park. Established in 1856, the hotel property includes several Victorian-style cottages, a golf course and a large dining room, which is open to the public. Even in springtime you can cozy up to a roaring fire in the stone fireplace in the main lobby, where families gather for board games and reading. The hotel reopens for the season in late March.

If you go:

-Make plans and reservations for your visit as early as possible.

-Park entry passes are $35 per vehicle good for 7 days. Annual and senior lifetime passes can also be used.

-Call the Visitor Center or check website for current restrictions. At times, due to crowds, park entrance will be by reservation. Also, certain areas can be closed for restoration at any given time, from re-vegetation projects to controlled burns and weather related closings.

The park is a four-hour drive from San Francisco.



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