Just two weeks ago, the girls and I took a trip up to Yosemite while the boys were on their Sierra backpacking trip. It was the first visit for Sami and a second for Emily and myself. We spent two days at the park, and while a beautiful time, it wasn’t nearly enough time to see all the wonders Yosemite has to offer.
Yosemite National Park is one of the oldest national parks in the US, first protected in 1864 by President Lincoln. The park sits in the Sierra Nevada mountains in central California and extends across four counties. Most of the park is considered wilderness, but its wild beauty attracts millions of visitors a year, consistently placing it in the top ten most visited national parks.
Carved by glaciation, the Yosemite landscape is dominated by granite features across coniferous forests. Two major rivers run through the park, the Merced River and the Tuolumne River to the north. The park is very ecologically diverse, with plant zones ranging from scrub forest and chaparral to subalpine forests and alpine meadows. It was so interesting to watch as the scenery changed as we drove from the western Big Oak Flat entrance through to the Tioga Pass.
The girls and I camped outside of Yosemite. While there are many camping options within the park, reserved sites fill up well in advance, and drive-up campgrounds early in the day. It tends to be easier to find a site as you move away from the Valley, but by the time we entered the park our first day, all Yosemite campsites were full, as were many of those lakeside off Tioga Road. We were fortunate to find a spot at a drive-up campground further east on CA-120 called Aspen Grove in the Inyo National Forest east of the park and down the pass. Our little spot was the perfect size for our minivan, tent, and gear for three female campers. And the view of Lee Vining Creek from our campsite was gorgeous.
We picked up our Junior Ranger books at the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center before exiting the park. I was disappointed to find that the Junior Ranger booklet is now sold for a small fee, rather than being free as it was just three years ago. However, we were pleased to find out that at time of writing, there are two other Junior Ranger patches that can be earned: You can become a legacy Junior Ranger, which celebrates the Yosemite Grant Act, signed by President Lincoln, and established the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove as the first protected areas by the U.S. Government. The other patch you can earn is the Preventive Search and Rescue patch. This booklet aims to teach children and their adults to plan, prepare, and be aware of dangers within the park, and to follow rules to stay safe. While geared toward children, there really is no upper age to become a Junior Ranger. I’ll admit here that I collect the badges myself, and have convinced the husband to start as well. It has been a fun family activity on our adventures together. Picking up the booklets before heading to our campsite gave us something to work on as we sat by our campfire and lanterns in the fading light. The only bad thing was that Sami was a little freaked out about our creekside campsite after learning about the dangers of swiftwater.
This is the first in my Yosemite series. Our too-short time at the park yielded many fun experiences and photos that I’ll share in the next two posts. Happy trails!
Campsite info: U.S. Forest Service, Lee Vining area
Yosemite info: National Parks Service