Our favorite time of the year to visit Yosemite is mid-May. The waterfalls are gushing and the crowds haven't hit yet. That isn't to say it isn't bit crowded, but nothing compared to the summer throngs. There are a few roads inside the park that may not be open.
Every trip to Yosemite should start with a look at the National Parks Yosemite website. Most people congregate in the valley - a tiny percentage of the total area of Yosemite.
We haven't been able to camp in the park yet. We usually stay at the Yosemite/Mariposa KOA in Midpines, about 30 miles from the park. there are campgrounds closer to the park, but the drive along the Merced River is a nice preview of the park. Most campsites inside the park are available by reservation, but they are hard to come by.
An alternative to driving is to take the YART (Yosemite Area Regional Transit) bus. Cost is around $5 for a round-trip for an adult and child. Stops are at the campgrounds and lodges from Merced to El Portal along highway 140. The drivers we've ridden with are pretty good guides to the history and nature you'll see along the road and in the park.
Once inside the park, whether you come in by YART or drive, there are free shuttles (runs every 10 minutes) to most of the sites within the Yosemite Valley. If you drive, parking spots may be difficult to find. Neither YART nor the shuttle goes to Bridal Veil - so you will want to drive there or take a guided tour.
The Yosemite Valley floor is about 4,000 feet above sea-level. On all sides are towering granite cliffs. For example, Half Dome tops out at 8,836 feet while El Capitan rises to 7,569 feet.
Just a quick note about the geology of Yosemite. The valley started as a canyon carved by the Merced River as the Sierra granite block rose from the earth. Many years of glaciers carved the canyon deeper and polished the granite cliffs. This process left feeder streams like Bridal Veil "hanging". Eventually the ice melted and left a lake in the bottom of the valley, which then silted in and left us with the flat valley floor we know today.
More information is found at the Yosemite web pages of the National Park Service.
There's lots of Yosemite that we haven't seen. So far our "exploration" has been limited to the valley. But there's so much to see and so little time ....
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