More and more lately, Cole and I have been intentionally slowing down. We began this trip under the mindset of seeing as much as possible at each park. We’d exhaust ourselves trying to hike every trail and read every exhibit.
We thought this approach would give us more insight into the parks, and it did. We could recommend one trail over another, and advise which points of interest to skip over.
But this pace also made us frantic. (Okay, mostly me.)
Now, in light of our trip’s mid-life crisis, we go a bit slower. We stop at overlooks and just stare. We walk through the backcountry slowly. We skip trails.
This evolution has been key for our connection with and enjoyment of the parks. And that’s exactly how we think everyone should approach visiting national parks.
Yosemite can be very chaotic if you let it be. Our first day in the Valley was stressful; we tried and failed to find a campsite, driving and parking was a nightmare, and we listened to several disgruntled visitors complain about the smallest things to lodge employees. And there were herds of people everywhere.
It was not pleasant. At that moment, the park seemed a far cry from John Muir’s “unspoiled” vision.
Then, we spoke to a ranger. Our saving grace. Probably the most helpful and honest ranger we have encountered yet. He helped us create a plan for the next six days that would include a backpacking trip, some free camping, four longer weekday hikes, and a snowshoe ranger program. We were feeling much better as we drove away from the Valley and the weekend masses.
We were able to find so many amazing moments in those six days.
We highly recommend you take on Yosemite with a similar mindset. Aim to fully enjoy and truly connect with the park. Try to learn something about the park that you never knew before. Challenge yourself. Walk into the wilderness.
In this post, I thought I’d provide a few tips for maximizing any Yosemite trip, without feeling the stresses of itinerary-following and crowd-dodging.
How to Foster Connection + Enjoyment in Yosemite Valley
P.S. We visited in the spring, when most roads (including Tioga Pass and Glacier Point) and wilderness trails were closed, so these tips reflect those limitations.
1. Multiple Days
I read in our guide book that once, a visitor asked a ranger what he’d do if he had only one day in Yosemite. He replied, “I’d weep.”
Obviously, the best way to slow down and see more at Yosemite is to spend more time there. With multiple days, you’ll be able to set a much calmer and slower pace. You’ll be able to relax in the evenings and get an early start.
I can’t recommend a one-day itinerary. But that’s how long many visitors spend in Yosemite, so whether you are going for a day or a week, I thought up several ways you can see a lot without feeling hectic.
2. Research ahead of time
There is plenty of information about Yosemite online and in print. I’d suggest downloading their monthly newspaper guide from the NPS website first, because that will have the most up-to-date and accurate info. You won’t waste precious time driving to an area that is under construction (like the Mariposa Grove, until 2017), or planning to hike a trail that is closed for the season. You’ll also want to check out driving times within the park, because that is a sneaky time-suck. Calling a ranger to confirm your ideas is also helpful. (Although the one in Yosemite we talked to said Valley campgrounds were first-come-first-served and we could climb Half Dome in March… both completely false.)
3. Combine activities & elements
Once you have an idea about what Yosemite has to offer (a lot!), it’s time to prioritize. I’d recommend focusing on just one or two larger activities per day you are in the park. Surely you could run around the Valley checking things off a list… waterfall, check! Learn about geology, check! Take a picture of El Capitan, check! Or, what I strongly prefer, you could look for one hike that combines several of those. Not having to navigate crowds in between short activities will be much more relaxing. By not rushing from one activity to the next, you’ll also be able to sit in deeper enjoyment of the beauty around you.
Here are a few fun, color-coded formulas based on what you’d like to do in Yosemite:
4. Start early & stay late
Especially if you only have one day to visit Yosemite, maximize it by using all the daylight you can. Early sightseeing will lead to more solitude, and the extra time you have given yourself can be used for slowing down and taking it all in later. Staying in the park after it gets dark can also be a great time to relax at an evening ranger program or grab a beer at the Yosemite Lodge Lounge. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, end your day with a bucket-list dinner at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee). Just remember that reservations, a dress code, and a fat wallet are required.
5. Pack a lunch (& dinner!)
While there are numerous eating options throughout Yosemite Valley, we suggest you pack a lunch and/or dinner to make your trip less chaotic (and, of course, less expensive). This allows so much flexibility to be able to eat wherever you happen to be in the park. We love a good waterfall picnic 🙂 You can purchase groceries inside the park, but they are much cheaper outside in neighboring towns.
6. Smile, you’re on vacation
On our first day, when we were rushing around trying to snag a last-minute waiting list campsite, we saw a sign in the reservation office that said “Smile, you’re on vacation.” I didn’t realize how relevant that would be until Cole and I sat in the Yosemite Valley Lodge lobby (using their free wifi) and overheard a slew of disgruntled guests, either about their inadequate rooms or disappointment at the fact that it was cold. I think that office sign says a lot. Making things complicated and trying to squeeze many activities into one day can add quite a bit of stress to your trip.
Alleviate that intensity by slowing down. Try to make a connection with Yosemite. Walk patiently through the crowds. Focus on the views. Be flexible. If you don’t get to see everything that the beautiful park has to offer, simply make a promise to return soon.