Visiting Yosemite National Park — The Insider Guide
While California is certainly full of things to do and see, I don’t think anything comes close to hiking in Yosemite National Park. Take it from someone who has spent considerable time wandering around the state this year — Yosemite is worth whatever means you have to take to get there.
For us, “means” meant staying in Yosemite International Hostel, which is a little sketchy (they only take cash) a lot dirty (hello shower flip flops) and in the literal middle of nowhere on Highway 120 (aka scariest road ever at night and heart attacks were experienced.) Yosemite International Hostel is in Groveland, which, despite it’s Boonie-ness, is a good jumping-off town to get to Yosemite from. It took about an hour total to get into the park, and while it wasn’t dirt cheap, it was far less expensive than staying in Yosemite.
My advice: book rooms early if you are going to visit Yosemite. Try to get a good hotel outside of the park in Groveland, Fish Camp, or another nearby town. The prices are not absurd — you just have to get them early before they fill up.
If you end up in Groveland, make a stop at Firefall Coffee Roasters. We went there each morning we were in Groveland (because I am a monster crybaby without coffee — imagine Kanye West as a child throwing a tantrum.) It may be the only coffee shop in the entire world that doesn’t charge extra for almond milk — yes, folks: there is hope.
Anyways, Yosemite has free parking lots located in multiple spots. You can take a YARTS bus to get in to the park if you don’t want to worry about parking, but if you leave early enough (we left at 7 to be there by 8) then there are still plenty of spaces available. The road in is an easy drive from both Highway 120 or 140 — you only need snowchains/sled dogs/etc. if you are going in the winter. Driving in yourself gives you the flexibility to leave when you want (you’ll want to stay after 7 to avoid the mass traffic leaving the park) so if you have a car, it’s definitely the way to go. There is SO MUCH to see in Yosemite — you don’t want to have to cut your day short because your bus is leaving. Ew. Don’t let YARTS run your life.
Once you’re in the park, just stick your car in the lot and keep it put — there are free shuttles going all over the park every few minutes. You don’t want to lose your parking spot when everything starts to fill up later. We parked in a free day visitor lot by Yosemite Falls, since that was the hike that we were gonna do, but there are a few others.
You can bring food in and keep it in your car as long as you make sure everything is bear-proofed. If you’re only going for the day, its easy to do. We brought a cooler and ate our meals on the back patio of Yosemite Lodge — within distance of the gift shop, which was basically the highlight of the trip for my mother. (Ok. I bought a hat. I liked it too.)
If you don’t want to bring your own food, the restaurant is actually very reasonably priced — like $7-$15 meals. I stuck with my own food for celiac reasons, but I did grab a coffee, which had the ever-necessary free-refills included (see the above about me being Kanye.)
The day honestly flew by and I wished we had planned to go in multiple days in a row. We did the Yosemite Falls hike (separate post coming soon) and it was absolutely incredible, but it also wiped out any energy that we had to explore other parts. An extra day or two would have been perfect. There is an entry fee to the park, so take that into consideration when you’re planning — if you want to go in multiple times, it might be cheaper to just book a room in the park. We somehow missed paying the fee — the both was closed when we went in and again when we left — but I think it was about $30 for the car or so.