I’ve never been much of a nature person. But even so, it’s a little embarrassing to admit that it took a global pandemic and moving out of California for me to plan a family trip up to Yosemite.
Five hours north, passing many many fields, many many cows before finally reaching the picturesque part of the state.
When it comes to natural beauty, California is blessed. From the incredible coast to the , whether it’s state parks or national parks, there’s no shortage of options to see natural wonders. And then there’s the mountains. I’ve never been much of a mountains person (I prefer my hikes to be in the , but even I can’t deny the allure of Yosemite’s cinematic panoramas.
I mean, look at this.
And when strange times call for avoiding flights, staying far apart from people, and staying outdoors, Californians have plenty of options within driving distance that are viable year round. Throughout the year, people escaped to the desert, flocked up the mountains and found every excuse to get outside, even if just for a weekend. By the time December rolled around and half the roads closed for the season, even the more popular Yosemite trails were sparse enough to not have another human in sight.
National Parks are the perfect COVID-friendly vacation, even when everyone has the same idea, it’s not hard to stay socially distant. So up we drove, on the CA-99 all the way up to Mariposa, where we settled into a 3-bedroom Airbnb for a four day trip. Stopping by Lodge Bread on the way up to pick up lunch and bread and a pizza kit, we got to Mariposa in the late afternoon with a car full of food, just in time to go out to the patio for a killer sunset view. Much of the town was closed, and we were tired from the drive, so we stayed in. That night, we had pizza for dinner and an espresso almond pie hauled all the way up from Republic of Pie.
While there are many lodging options closer to the park or in the park, we opted for a house in Mariposa for more space and more distance from other travelers. It was about an hour each way to get into the park, but with no traffic and a lazy itinerary, it was the perfect home base.
Though many of the roads and trails had closed for the season, and public transportation closed, it was really easy to get around, and to find parking. The weather was beautiful. Endless blue skies. Hanging in the low 50s, just high enough for you to warm up a few minutes into a hike. There was a little snow on the ground. The waterfalls were little more than a trickle over the stained granite, but the vistas still did their magic.
Above: little troll looking hairy bushes(?) covered with patches of snow
Right: if you look very very closely you’ll see the little trickle of water left of the falls
The first day, we drove in from the west and headed to the Lower Yosemite Falls trail as an easy warm up. Needless to say, the waterfall itself was underwhelming, but it was nice being out in the crisp air.
Then, we headed over to Mirror Lake, which again, was hardly a lake, given it was fully dried up. But the trail was a nice one, nearly empty, and the bed of the lake offered great views of the mountains surrounding. There were so few others that if you stood still, it was perfectly silent, and you could feel perfectly unplugged from the world.
After an in-car lunch (options are scarce during a pandemic), we stopped by Swinging Bridge to walk it off before making the hour drive back to Mariposa and warming up with hot pot for dinner.
The next day, we left early in the morning and headed straight to Tunnel View for the best view you don’t have to work for. The only hike scheduled for the day was Mist Trail, which we took up to Vernal Falls. Though it was decently steep at some points, it’s fairly accessible for this first stretch. This was definitely a more populated trail, but still a far cry from its usual level of crowds.
Next time, maybe if visiting in spring or autumn, I would definitely want to continue on to Nevada Fall. The views are so picturesque, from the crystal clear water at the trailhead to the snowy mountain tops afar.
On our last day, after a sit down breakfast at the Airbnb, we checked out and headed into the park one last time, this time coming up from the south side, to Mariposa Grove.
This road was notably more forest-y, the trees growing taller as we neared the park entrance.
During the winter, the road to the grove closed to the public, and due to COVID restrictions, the buses weren’t running, so it was about a 2 mile hike in. The trail is well shaded, weaving through the forest before dropping you off right in the parking lot for the grove, which has guided pathways to visit the many famous trees.
It made for the perfect half day excursion before driving straight south for hours, back past the cows, back through the fields, back home to SoCal.