From dawn to dusk and every hour moment between, Yosemite National Park is magnificent and stunning. It’s always been my favorite National Park and where my journey in landscape photography began. When I write about Yosemite, it’s meaningful in many ways.
While I was saddened to miss my normal visits earlier this year due to Covid-19, it was understandable and actually exciting. Yosemite needed a well-deserved reprieve from the constant traffic, and the park benefited from a few quiet months. During the break, I imagined the wildlife taking advantage of the empty park and throwing a party. The bears even took to the park roads to celebrate.
When I got word that Yosemite was re-opening, I immediately secured my pass. Through October 31st, visitors must make a reservation for day use. The online process is very simple, and the park provides clear instructions for your arrival. Make your reservation at Recreation.gov, and be sure to check the park’s web site for updates and alerts.
With my pass in hand, I invited my friend and avid hiker Nate to join me for a quick day trip. It’s always great to collaborate with friends in the outdoors and share the experience.
From my home, the drive to Yosemite is roughly 4 hours, and I always drive overnight to arrive at sunrise. When we reached Tunnel View, we threw on our KÜHL jackets and set up. There weren’t many other visitors, maybe 5 cars total, which is low compared to past experiences. As we watched the morning sunlight hit the valley floor, everyone was excited to be in the park again. It was the perfect way to start the day.
Before hitting the trail, Nate and I drove around the valley to check out the waterfalls. The valley was empty of visitors, a welcome change from the bustling Yosemite of the past. I’d only ever seen the park that quiet in a snowstorm. The quiet and peaceful atmosphere was an entirely new experience for me and Nate.
We decided hike Four Mile Trail, which starts on the valley floor and finishes at Glacier Point. Visitors can drive to Glacier Point, but the trail experience and views are worth every step. One of my best Half Dome images was taken from this trail, and you have incredible views of Yosemite Falls along the way.
When we reached Glacier Point, we watched the puffy clouds roll by and refueled with Keto meals Nate brought to share. With its easy access, Glacier Point is a popular tourist spot, and it’s usually teeming with buses coming and going. This time was different. With no buses and no crowds, it was brighter, cleaner and even more amazing.
We spent the majority of our day exploring the area. On our way back down to the valley we ran into a Park Ranger. First, she verified the fresh scat we had just seen on the trail was from a bear. Then she told us, in her 30 years working in the park, she had never seen it like this. She said it was like the park could breathe again. It was quiet; the flowers were blooming brilliantly; and the animals were roaming freely. Like us, she felt the closure did some good.
To finish the day, we chose to watch sunset near Half Dome Village in the large meadow. Deer were grazing as I set up my camera. We sat watching the color light up the clouds over Half Dome.
Unfortunately, at the tail end of our day, we watched life flight pick someone up from a very serious situation. While we had quite the peaceful experience in the park, this was a reminder that safety always remains the top priority, and we hope our fellow hiker made a full recovery.
Tips for Visiting Yosemite During Restrictions
- Make sure you have your pass; you won’t be allowed entry without it. The day use reservation is good for 7 consecutive days with unlimited re-entries.
- Plan for the weather and pack layers. I always pack a KÜHLjacket for cool evenings.
- Take plenty of water and snacks. Many park facilities remain closed, so plan accordingly.
- Start as early as possible to avoid the midday heat.
- Drive with caution through the park and stay on the lookout for roaming wildlife.
- Pack bug spray and apply generously.
- Don’t forget you camera (or phone) so you can capture the amazing scenery and cherish the memories.
Yosemite is a special place and certainly worth the wait. The new experience is different from what we’re used to, but I’d wait months again to have it that way every time.
Royce Fonseca is a member of Adventure Crew USA, a group of like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds with a passion for the outdoor life and photography. You can follow Royce on Instagram at @casunshine0508 and @vantasticparks where she documents the renovation of her Sprinter van.