yosemite in winter

A Weekend In Yosemite by Courtney Stewart

One of the best things about living in San Francisco is the city’s proximity to tons of cool things (Napa, Big Sur, Tahoe etc.). We didn't have any Valentine's plans, so this past weekend we took advantage of how close SF is to Yosemite National Park. Alex had never been before, and I had been there once before on a trip for work, so I didn’t really get the whole experience. 

The drive is only about 3 to 3.5 hours, so instead of Alex taking time off work, we woke up super early on Saturday and drove there. We got to the park around 9:30 am, but what we didn't realize that once you get to the entrance of the park, it is another 45 minute drive to Yosemite Valley which is where many of the hiking trails begin.  We ended up parking in Parking Lot A in Yosemite Village (which ended up being an amazing choice but more on that later). In Yosemite Village, there’s also a general store, a few restaurants and cafés, an information center and several campsites.

After getting our bearings we hopped on the Yosemite Valley Shuttle, which takes you to the two main villages (Curry Village and Yosemite Village), a few different campsites, and the heads of several hiking trails. One thing we did not really consider before coming to Yosemite in February is how many of the hiking trails would be closed due to weather. We originally wanted to hike to Glacier Point, but that trail was closed due to conditions. We ultimately decided to hike to Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail. The shuttle dropped us at Happy Isles (Shuttle Stop #16) trail, so we could begin our hike.

Creek at Happy Isles

Creek at Happy Isles


It was a pretty strenuous hike, but when we finally got to see the falls it was definitely worth it. 

View of Nevada Falls from John Muir Trail  

View of Nevada Falls from John Muir Trail  

The trail did continue on past this view, but it looked too treacherous because of snow and ice to continue in my running shoes. Alex made me promise to come back in the summer and hike the rest of the way.

At the end of the day as we were walking back to our car, we noticed traffic was really bad leaving the park. Like cars-were-completely-stopped bad. We were not looking forward to sitting in said traffic but decided to go for it anyways. Pulling out of the parking lot we noticed that the source of the traffic was the four-way stop to leave the parking area and that after the intersection, traffic cleared up. So, we ended up not hitting any traffic at all. Our advice: try to get to the park early to park in the main parking area in Yosemite Valley and avoid the traffic leaving the park (this only applies if you are leaving through the west side of the park).

We woke up early again and parked in Lot A (Yay for avoiding traffic!). This time we took the Shuttle to Stop 17: Mirror Lake. During the late spring and early summer, you can see the reflection of the surrounding cliffs in the water, hence the name Mirror Lake. At this time of year though, much of the lake was covered in ice and snow.

The hike there was only a mile, so we continued on the trail that loops around the entire lake. We walked along Tenaya Creek and eventually crossed over a footbridge to loop back around to the lake. We really enjoyed this part of the hike because there were a lot fewer people and it was very peaceful. Considering we were only expecting to see the lake, we encountered some surprising and breathtaking views.

Views along Tenaya Creek

Views along Tenaya Creek

Because this was kind of a last minute trip (and because I'm not the greatest camper) we decided to stay outside the park at the Holiday Inn Express Merced. Although it was a little farther from Yosemite than we would have liked (about 1.5 hours) and there are hotels closer, we booked this hotel for two reasons. Number one: I have an obsession with earning points and miles (which I will hopefully be able to share insights about on this blog as well). Alex has top status in the IHG Rewards Program which the Holiday Inn brand is part of. Number two: The hotels closer to or inside the park were significantly more expensive.

Even though this trip was short, we saw some amazing views and cannot wait to go back. Next time, I am going to suck up my fears and we hope to camp inside the park instead of staying at a hotel.