A Car-Camper’s Guide to Yosemite
I’ve always loved all things nature and outdoors related, but it wasn’t until Keith that I went on my first camping trip. Granted, I’d flirted with camping since childhood…I spent my hard earned “Piano-Thon” winnings on a tent ($30 at the ArmyNavy store) when I was ten and slept in the backyard for a few hours on several different occasions until the sounds of the coyotes howling in the woods inevitably sent me scurrying inside to the safety of my bed. (Our yard was fenced so there was no real danger, but still…I was ten.)
As a teenager, I did a few weekends at church camp and the like that involved uncomfortable sleeping arrangements in non-airconditioned cabins on plastic bunk-bed mattresses and long walks to the community restroom in the middle of the night with whichever sleepy youth leader was unfortunate enough to be sleeping closest to the door. During my two brief stints at the JH Ranch in Northern California, I had a few nights where I slept outside….once in a spot atop a mountain with fellow staffer Michelle (we later found out our exact spot was a favorite haunt of a family of mountain lions…but thankfully we saw hide nor hair of the them the night we were there), and once just down the street from “Happy Camp” with my small group of high-school girls the night before our big white-water rafting adventure.
But it was Keith who first took me CAMPING Camping. Like, leave-no-trace-behind-pack-your-stuff-in-and-pack-it-out-and-go-potty-behind-a-tree Camping. We went to Rocky Mountain National Park and while I may have been a little nervous to be outside the tent past dark (there had been legit bear and mountain lion sightings on our trail the day before), I loved every minute of it. I knew I wanted to go again, and at the beginning of this summer three different factors began to align into what would become an amazing trip:
- Keith and I have been talking about another camping trip since the Rocky Mountain trip and we felt it was time to make good on all that talk.
- Keith’s brother Mark (who wrote this awesome guest blog for us) has become quite the camping expert and he and Keith have been scheming a joint trip for awhile.
- We’ve been wanting to travel somewhere, anywhere, with our dear friends, Jason & Alexis (who live in San Diego, thus we never see them) for the past 3 years but a trip has never worked out.
When Jason & Alexis mentioned that they do a yearly trip to Yosemite and why don’t we join in this year, we knew that this was the opportunity to fulfill all three desires in one. A camping trip with family and friends alike to one of the most beautiful places on earth? Done. We pulled together our camping gear, made one last trip to REI for essentials (like zip-off pant/capri/shorts for me), cashed in some frequent flier miles, watched the Ken Burns documentary and headed off for John Muir’s Wild West.
With a park as vast as Yosemite, there is truly something for everyone from the hardcore free-climbers who scale Half Dome with nothing but their fingertips to the elderly couple in their RV spending their retirement “seeing America” and buses full of international travelers and everyone in-between. We spent a mere 3 days and 3 nights in the park so I’m not even pretending that we did it all. But if Yosemite is a trip you’re considering and you’re a fairly middle-of-the-road active person/nature lover then I’m thinking that our itinerary might be for you. It worked so well for us and we got a great sampler of all that the park has to offer.
We car-camped at the Upper Pines campground which was (at least when we were there) clean, quiet, well-located…and with a lovely restroom facility. Car-camping was great because unlike back-country sites that require long hikes just to get to your site limiting the amount of supplies, we rolled right up and unpacked several bundles of firewood, a heavy cast-iron dutch oven (in which Jason later made a tasty birthday cake for Alexis!), five camping chairs, a queen-sized air-mattress….even a plastic tub to use as “the kitchen sink.” For those of you who may think that you’re not outdoorsy enough to handle camping, you might want to check out some car-accessible campgrounds. You can bring all the creature comforts that you can fit in your vehicle, and seamlessly transition between the great out-doors and your own well-equipped cozy space.
Although Yosemite has a coffee shop, a couple of deli-style “snack bars” (like you might find at a theme park), two grocery stores, a pizza parlor, and even a fancy restaurant at the swanky Ahwahnee hotel located inside the park, we opted to cook our own gourmet breakfast and dinner and pack our own lunches for during the day. (I’ll bring you some of our favorite camping recipes in the weeks to come.)
Our first day was relaxing as we spent it driving around the park, visiting the little shops and setting up camp. Our second day in the park we rented bicycles from Curry Village (another campground site in the park) for the affordable price of $30 per person for the day and rolled leisurely around the park stopping to take a multitude of photos, take a dip in one of the icy-cold streams and watch some of the climbers tackle El Capitan. The park is totally laid out for these beach-cruiser style bikes as the bike paths are wide and flat and lead to many of the parks sites such as Bridal Veil Falls and Mirror Lake (both of which, were sadly void of any water when we visited…but beautiful nonetheless.) We also saw the headquarters of the Sierra Club which brought back memories of leafing through my mother’s yearly gift of a Sierra Club calendar when I was a kid. I wish I could have taken that charming stone building and the library it housed back to Nashville with me.
Day three was the most strenuous by far, although also probably my favorite day. We caught the 8:30 AM shuttle ($25 a person, reservations required) up the mountain to Glacier Point and hiked the 8 miles down the Panorama trail. Every view was absolutely stunningly beautiful. The first 4 miles were pretty smooth sailing….steep downhills but nothing too difficult. Then we came to a beautiful waterfall where we stopped for lunch, swam in a freezing mountain river and took advantage of the restroom facilities the park has helpfully provided there. The last four miles were for certain the most tiring and tricky….but worth every step (I was super glad we were going down though, and not up!) All in all the trip is totally worth every minute, penny and step for the serious outdoorsperson or the casual family traveler alike.