Breathtaking scenery and amazing waterfalls: Discover the Yosemite National Park
Breathtaking scenery and amazing waterfalls: Discover the Yosemite National Park
OUR WRITER sets off on an unforgettable road trip through Yosemite National Park.
There are 1,500 square miles of breathtaking scenery just waiting to be explored
Mention Yosemite National Park and the first image most people tend to conjure is the sheer granite cliff face of El Capitan, with dozens of microscopic climbers dangling from ropes as they inch their way to the summit.Â
The good news is you donâ??t have to have aspirations to rival Spider-Man â?? or even a head for heights â?? to make the most of a visit to the park. As the 3.7 million people who visit every year have discovered, there are 1,500 square miles of breathtaking scenery just waiting to be explored.Â
This month, Yosemite commemorates 125 years since it was declared a National Park.
The legislation preserved a diverse expanse of land that includes a giant sequoia-filled valley (some of the trees are over 2,000 years old), the rapids of the Merced River and the high-altitude magnificence of Tuolumne Meadows, with its expansive, glassy lakes and grassy plains up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.Â
My husband, Alex, and I had decided to self-cater for three nights and stayed at The Zâ??s Retreat, a wooden-slatted house in Mariposa, a gold rush mining town on the edge of the National Park.Â
Having eaten breakfast in the sunshine on our porch before driving the 30 minutes into Yosemite, it came as something of a shock to arrive at the parkâ??s entrance to see the weather close in and the downpours begin.
This, it turned out, was to be just phase one in a crash course in microclimates.
Thankfully, we quickly discovered the benefit of being in Yosemite when itâ??s raining: the waterfalls are at their most spectacular.Â
Take a walk to the bottom of Yosemite Falls, fight your way through the gawping throng and youâ??ll find an impressive cascade that measures a breathtaking 2,425 feet from peak to pool â?? one of the tallest in the world.Â
A short drive away is Bridalveil Fall. As it surges down 600 feet of cliff face, the water is whipped away by the wind before it can hit the rocks below, providing some fabulous photo opportunities.Â
Heading up to a scenic overlook, only to discover the parkâ??s most famous granite cliffs â?? El Capitan and Half Dome â?? were shrouded in cloud, Alex and I decided to drive through the mile-long Wawona Tunnel to see what awaited us on the other side. We hadnâ??t anticipated emerging in Narnia. Fir boughs bent under the weight of snow, the air was thick with white flakes and the road slushy.
Fog blotted out views of the valley below but did nothing to disguise the sheer drop at the side of the road. The high sierra had received 20 inches of snow, rendering much of the park inaccessible so we took the first safe opportunity to do a three-point turn and headed back to the valley floor.
While we didnâ??t come face-to-face with any of the black bears that make the park their home, we saw a coyote brazenly walking alongside the road in broad daylight and were thrilled to spot a bald eagle, Americaâ??s national bird, soaring majestically above the Merced River on the hunt for lunch.Â
The wilderness of Yosemite may only be a three-hour drive east from San Francisco but rather than head straight there we had come via one of the most famous roads in the USA â?? Highway 1, home to the rugged coastline of Big Sur.
We stopped at Old Fishermanâ??s Wharf in Monterey Bay to tuck into steaming clam chowder served in sourdough bread bowls while watching the trawlers at work. Then we strolled along the pier to try the love-it-or-hate-it speciality candy, salt water taffy.Â
Hofsas House, a Bavarian-style four-storey guesthouse, which has brilliant ocean views, was the perfect place to stay overnight. Itâ??s in the heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a sleepy, white-picket-fenced town where Clint Eastwood was once mayor.Â
The biggest mistake many people make when driving along Big Sur is to think the coastline, albeit some of the most spectacular in the world, is the only draw. But leave the tarmac behind and explore on foot and youâ??ll find deserted coves, jaw-dropping redwood forests and fantastic cafÃ©s and restaurants.Â
We made our way to Treebones, a collection of yurts set back from the cliffs high above the Pacific waves. The owners pride themselves in being eco-friendly and â??off-gridâ?, while its elevated position makes it the ideal spot for whale watching.Â
It was also perfectly placed to head to Nepenthe Restaurant. With views that stretch from the Santa Lucia Mountains to the ocean, I couldnâ??t have imagined a more idyllic place to enjoy a goldfish bowl-sized glass of Californian red as the sun went down.Â
A sea arch at Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur
Ten things you must do in Yosemite and Big Sur
1. Sign up for a stargazing tour and discover what the park has to offer after dark.Â
2. Board an open-top tram for a two-hour valley floor tour so the park rangers can introduce some of Yosemiteâ??s most famous spots, including climbersâ?? mecca El Capitan.Â
3. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife â?? Yosemite is home to black bears, coyote, ground squirrel, bobcats and mule deer, as well as a host of birds.
4. Walk the two-mile Mirror Lake trail to discover amazing reflections of the surrounding cliffs in the pools created by melting snow.Â
5. Stare up in awe at Yosemite Falls; its total drop of 2,425 feet makes it the fifth highest in the world.Â
Sign up for a stargazing tour and discover what the park has to offer after dark
6. Stop for photographs â?? at every opportunity! Donâ??t miss Bixby Bridge, withits enormous arches spanning spectacular crashing surf and craggy cliffs.
7. Explore Point Lobos State Natural Reserve to meet the local sea lion and seal colonies.Â
8. Enjoy elevenses at Big Sur Bakery, where coffee and doughnuts are an art form.
9. Take a walk in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park to see the enormous coastal redwood trees.
10. Dig down to discover the purple sand on Pfeiffer Beach, which also has some amazing rock formations.
Way to go Â
Virgin Atlantic (0844 2092 770; virginatlantic.com) flies daily from London Heathrow to San Francisco from Â£720. The Zâ??s Retreat (yosemiteexperience.com/booking/zs-retreat) offers self-catering accommodation from Â£110 per night (sleeps four). Treebones Resort (treebonesresort.com, +1 877-424-4787) has yurts from Â£170 per night. Hofsas House (hofsashouse.com, +1 800-221-2548) offers rooms from Â£90 per night. For details, see visitcalifornia.co.uk. For Rhino Car Hire, see rhinocarhire.com.Â
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