I went to Yosemite last week, and going this late in October was a little worrisome because of fall arriving, possible cold nights, and services shutting down as the tourist season draws to a close. Instead, we discovered that it couldn’t have been a more perfect time to visit since the recent heat waves in the Bay area were also giving Yosemite valley the most glorious, sunny, warm weather imaginable, and with summer winding down and tourist numbers lessening, it was like we had the whole park to ourselves.
Yosemite covers around 1900 square kilometres of protected wilderness in the Sierra Nevada of California. We drove in through the Big Oak Flat entrance, winding past beautiful big oak trees, and hiking into the Tuolumne Grove of massive, giant, thousand-year old Sequoia trees. We only paid a $20 park entrance fee for the car, and $20 for one nights accommodation in the maintained Crane Flat campground, but discovered that the tourist information centres distribute free wilderness permits that allow you to hike and camp basically anywhere you want, as long as you’re a mile away from the nearest road or trail. We decided to hike out to the now-closed May Lake campground to sleep with the most spectacular view at 9,400 feet.
We spent a lot of time in big, open meadows that randomly and unexpectedly pop out of this heavily forested, mountainous terrain. We were lucky enough to see mule deer a handful times from a very close distance, lots of chipmunks and squirrels, but only saw droppings as evidence of the many brown bears that roam around. They often get warned off by bear bells and loud screaming – we heard a lot of that too, and late at night it was a bit unnerving.
We also spent a day in Yosemite valley, where tourist services were all still running and the area was bustling with families, RV’s and rangers. In the valley you are surrounded by the most breathtaking, mountainous peaks you can imagine, called epic names like El Capitan and The Cathedral Ranges, as well as the more famous Mt Lyell and Half Dome (the highest peak and the most popular, 12 hr hike – respectively). Then there are some very large, majestic waterfalls fed by melting snow and glacier run off like Yosemite, Bridalveil and Ribbon falls, that tend to dry up by the late summer/fall, so we were only lucky enough to gawk at Bridalveil falls.