When we approach Yosemite Valley, we are all excited: we have heard a lot about the natural beauty of the national park, and we are about to see it all ourselves. Moreover, the sky above us is clear blue. The only worry we have is the snow: we have read that some trails we want to hike are still closed. The ranger at the entrance takes away our fears: heavy rains just days before have washed away much of the snow, and yes, our plan to combine three trails into one is possible. Our first view of the valley is from Tunnel View: ahead of us, we see the arresting sight of El Capitan on our left, the Half Dome in the distance, and the Bridal Veil Falls on our right. Continuing our way into the valley, we see the delicate Horsetail Falls off El Capitan, and then park our car at the trailhead of Four Mile Trail. A sign warns us that the trail is closed after 2.8 miles, but we decide to head up anyway. From the warmth of the valley floor, and the absence of snow at higher levels, combined with the words of the ranger, it is hard to imagine that reaching Glacier Point would be impossible. So we set off on the climb, and to our surprise, see asphalt on the trail. In the early 1870s, John McCauley actually constructed a road up, which was supposed to be a toll road. Back then, the length of the road was four miles, but after the trail was redone, it is now closer to five.
Switchbacks and a steep incline quite soon give us views as a reward: especially Yosemite Falls are clearly visible, and get more beautiful the higher we get. The sun is still on the other side of the mountain wall above us, so the temperature is perfect for hiking. We see some patches of snow, which we can easily climb around, until we are surprised to find the trail closed off by a barrier. It cannot deter us, and we continue our hike up the mountain. Indeed, soon enough, we have to make our way through fields of snow. A detour brings us to Union Point, with spectacular views over Yosemite Valley. We now see El Capitan and the Cathedral Rocks, this time from the eastern side. A little higher up, we find a curve with a big pile of snow, and a steep slope to the left. We kick footsteps in the snow and work our way forward, after which we find a stretch of snow in the woods (at one point, our feet end up in a stream under the snow) until we reach Glacier Point. The viewpoint is one of the best in the valley: below and in front of us, we see the Half Dome, the upper part of Yosemite Valley with the Merced river snaking through, the Nevada and Vernal Falls, the snow-capped mountains in the distance - and nothing to block those views. We stay a while to enjoy the tranquillity: the road here is still closed, and so is the trail, officially. We now start the Panorama Trail, gently sloping down to the top of Illilouette Falls. This is another sight to behold: the water thunders down a narrow chasm, the sun creates a rainbow in the spray below, while above it, the unavoidable onlooker, Half Dome forms a perfect backdrop.
After passing both Nevada and Vernal Falls, we descend the Mist Trail, and reach the Happy Isles trailhead just before darkness envelopes us completely. Starving, we are a little disappointed to find only a pizza place open for dinner - we had expected big dinners to be waiting for us after the long hike over three trails. The next day, we walk on both sides of Mirror Lake, enjoying the reflection of mountains on either side of the Merced river in its perfectly smooth water surface. We do other, shorter trails, one of them the trail to Inspiration Point which offers even better views of the valley from above Tunnel View. Even though some trails are still partly covered in snow, we are convinced to visit in a perfect season. The waterfalls are at their best, and the patches of snow give an extra dimension to the landscape. The temperature is never too low, especially on sunny days, as the sun already has enough power to warm us up. All combined, when we leave the spectacular landscapes of Yosemite Valley behind for the last time, we feel satisfied and a little sad, and determined to come back, to explore more of it.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Yosemite landscapes (United States). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Yosemite landscapes. Read more about this site.