north rim of Yosemite valley
Trip Duration: 2 days
Distance: 15.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,600 ft
This visit to Yosemite National Park was not planned in advance. Trying to get an overnight backcountry permit for Yosemite one day in advance is nearly impossible (to avoid this in your future, see our Custom Trip Planning options). After hiking around the Sierra Nevada for a while, and ultimately finishing in Bishop, we decided that we couldn't leave California before seeing the coast again. But, getting from Bishop in the Eastern Sierra Nevada to the Coast without a rental car is no easy feat.
PRO TIP: Other than LAX, Fresno is one of the cheapest cities from which to pick-up/return a rental car.
Knowing that picking-up a rental car in Fresno and returning it at LAX when we fly home was the cheapest option, the question became how to get from Bishop to Fresno 1) as cheaply as possible, 2) as quickly as possible, and 3) As enjoyably as possible. Turns out that Yosemite National Park is halfway between the two cities (not as the crow flies, but rather, as the cheap traveler rides). Therefore, our itinerary was as follows:
Eastern Sierra Transit (EST) bus from Bishop to Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre
Spend three nights in Yosemite
YARTS bus from Yosemite Valley Visitor Centre to Fresno Airport
Pick-up rental car at Fresno Airport
Drive to down the California coast
Return rental car at LAX Airport.
Having just finished exploring the Sierra Nevada, our goal for this trip was simple: Explore an area of Yosemite that showcases the unique things about the Park while avoiding the hoards of tourists. Our bus arrived at the park in the early afternoon. We went straight to the Ranger Station and were lucky enough to get a free walk-up permit to hike up the Snow Creek Trail starting the next day (we were assured that there would be few other hikers). This permit also granted us the right to stay at the Backpackers' Campground for one night on either end of the trip for $6/person/night. The following morning, we took the Park Shuttle out towards Mirror Lake and walked to the beginning of the Snow Creek Trail
Even though we had just been hiking in the Eastern Sierra, the beginning of this trail kicked our butts. The initial 1.7 miles involved 2,800 feet of climbing out of Yosemite Valley up onto the North Rim. Most of it was spent trying to avoid the berry-filled bear poop that was all over the trail. We were warned beforehand by Park Rangers that this area was home to a very active bear, and that because of her, no camping was allowed along Snow Creek.
Once up on the North rim, the trail smoothed out and entered a moderately forested area. After being in wide open areas with expansive mountain views for the past week, the forest was a surprisingly welcome change. Having read a couple of books by John Muir, we couldn't help but imagine the wonder with which he must have explored this area. The big views are impressive, but so too are the details. From this forested area, geographical features such as Indian Rock, North Dome, and Basket Dome could all be accessed via spur trails. Our goal, however, was to spend the night away from crowds and get a view of Half Dome.
PRO TIP: Crowds are generally concentrated on trails leading up to significant geographical features. By studying a map, one can often find less direct trails, or unique vantage points of significant geographical features without the overuse/overcrowding.
Following the trail along Lehamite creek (back towards the rim of Yosemite Valley), we started searching for a campsite for the night. This involved a lot of reading of topographical maps to try to find flat areas with a view. Bushwhacking and assessment of dead tree sturdiness took up a significant part of the afternoon.
WIDOW MAKER: A dead standing tree that, if it falls on you, will likely make a new widow.
Many sites, like the one below, seemed decent at first with a great view, but ultimately were either 1) not flat enough to comfortably camp on, 2) were too close to standing deadwood, or 3) were too close to the trail (Yosemite N.P. has regulations regarding how close one can camp to the trail)
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Eventually we came across this previously-used campsite with it's own fire ring (fires were not allowed at this time of year), no standing deadwood within reach of our tent, and perhaps the best view we've ever had. Although there were other sites to put up a tent within a couple hundred meters, not a single soul came by our site the entire evening. I guess when there's 3,000 feet of elevation gain involved in reaching a point like this, most people will stay away. The setting sun quickly made it clear how amazing of a spot we had been fortunate enough to find.
Undisturbed by any bears or other hungry critters overnight, we slept soundly. The plan for the morning was to head back down into Yosemite Valley via Yosemite Falls Trail (an elevation loss of over 3,000 feet). Having always found the downhill component of a hike to be more challenging than the uphill, we were a little wary of the way back down.
As we climbed down past Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, the crowds increased considerably. Maybe I've just never been that amazed by waterfalls (It's hard to compete with Niagara Falls), but we were a little surprised that so many people were just hiking up to the falls and then turning around. Putting in only a thousand more feet would have brought them up into an area much less touched by tourism and the impact of humans. And this is exactly what we wanted to accomplish on this trip: See the Park's wilderness in it's most natural and unspoiled form just like the explorers of yesteryear.
In every trip that I go on, I try to take away at least one lesson. The lesson from this trip was how with knowledge of the permit requirements of a region, an understanding of route planning principles, and a little creativity, one can find incredible hikes anywhere. If you're interested in hiking a certain area and would like some help in planning out your trip, checkout my Custom Trip Planning services.