The Drive Into Yosemite Valley


Once you reach the end of Tioga Pass Road, hang a left, and head towards the heart of the park, Yosemite Valley.  With any luck, the giant RV you’ve been following for the past 10 miles will turn the other way.

Heading into the valley, you’ll cross over two concrete arch bridges, with ample parking on either side.  Most likely, there will already be plenty of people milling about on the road here, so don’t run over them.  Instead, join them, as they check out the waterfall that flows right under the bridge.

I’m sure park officials would frown on my next move.  I climbed down underneath one of the bridges in search of a few good photos.  This is the kind of place where my mother would feel compelled to tell me to be careful.  And indeed, that’s good advice.  Wet rocks are slick, and the drop-off is steep.  But how could I resist exploring this cool bridge, up close?

From here, the water continues cascading down the rocky falls.

The view downhill from the falls and bridge.

A wide angle lens would have been helpful here.  I climbed out onto the farthest rock I could (to a reasonable degree of safety) and still had trouble fitting the entire scene into the photo.  Oh well.

Once you’re in the valley, the most prominent waterfall will be Yosemite Falls.  It seems no matter where you’re at, you can look up, for a great view.

I took this picture of Yosemite Falls from the parking lot at the Village Store… no lengthy hike necessary.


Yosemite’s waterfalls only run when snow is melting, so if you visit in late summer, you’ll miss out on the full experience.

There is a short trail that takes you directly to the base of Yosemite Falls (technically, Lower Yosemite Fall, a much longer trail winds its way to the Upper Fall).  The trail is paved, flat, and provides an unobstructed view of the entire falls (Upper and Lower) at once.

This is as close as you can get to Lower Yosemite Fall, unless you choose to ignore all those signs warning of slick rocks and potential death.  Even from the well-trodden path, you may get wet from the spray of the waterfall, so protect your camera.

The drive into Yosemite Valley can be confusing and frustrating.  Many of the roads are one-way, so if you end up headed the wrong direction, you’re stuck. Add to that, some signs are unclear. For now, I’ll avoid a long-winded rant on how the park could make things better.  But I will leave you with this advice: allow extra time for wrong turns.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.

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