Before another crazy school year was about to begin we knew we had to escape to somewhere quiet and relaxing where we could enjoy nature and each other. We have a family tradition of bringing the kids camping each summer. This past summer our escape would be Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is best known for magnificent granite cliffs, beautiful waterfalls, and the ancient giant sequoia groves.
Because we waited until the last minute to make reservations we were fortunate enough to snag a few reservations at a few different campgrounds within Yosemite Valley. This was not the most convenient situation but ended up being worth it and one of the best vacations in the end. For the first two nights we stayed in North Pines Campground, then we headed into the small quaint town of Mariposa for a night, then back to Yosemite, this time pitching a tent in Upper Pines Campground for three additional nights. The location of our site in North Pines Campground couldn’t have been more perfect during those hot August days. Luckily for us our site was within feet from the Merced River. So when the days were 100 degrees, the ice cold water of the Merced River was a refreshing welcome. Due to the California drought the Merced River was very low by mid August and they had already closed guided rafting for the season, so we had to take it upon ourselves to do our own rafting adventure. The water is so clear that while splashing and swimming we spotted two water snakes slithering through the rocks within the water. Swimming and rafting in the Merced River was definitely the highlight of the trip for the kids.
The Upper Pines location wasn’t next to the Merced River, however, it had a beauty of its own. Our location was much more spacious then the fist location. It was surrounded by large trees which made for a lot of shade. Large pines were located across the path and each morning the deer came out to feed.
During our first day in Yosemite we took a bike ride half way to Mirror Lake then hopped off the bikes and hiked the remainder of the way. The lake is situated in Tenaya Creek directly between Half Dome and North Dome and displays beautiful reflections of the cliffs during the spring months when the lake is filled from snowmelt. Unfortunately, due to the time of year we weren’t able to witness the beauty of the water, but instead saw a grassy meadow, and lots of mud surrounding a small pond.
Although the waterfalls were running scarce, partly due to the season and partly due to the drought we decided to hike the trail to Yosemite Falls which still had a trickle of water. The trail was paved and had an easy rating for those that aren’t looking for a strenuous hike or simply have 3 young children in tow.
Vernal Falls also had water flowing, although not much, so we decided that waterfall would be our next hike. This trail was definitely more challenging as it has an elevation gain of 400 feet over 1.6 miles. But the kids are troopers and did amazing. There is a footbridge at the halfway point which gives a nice clear view of the falls. Next time we would definitely continue on towards the falls along the Mist Trail.
Although the Mariposa Grove of giant Sequoias is closed until spring of 2017 for restoration, we decided to hike 2.5 miles to The Tuolumne Grove which is a smaller grove containing about 20 mature sequoias. But the mightiness of these trees is so impressive that we thought 20 was plenty. A mature sequoia can reach heights of 280 feet tall and measure 26 feet in diameter. Some of the oldest are 3000 years old. These trees were so mighty they made you feel small. This was such a fun and unique hike with so much to do. The kids enjoyed exploring the fallen trees by climbing on top of and inside them.
We spent the evenings relaxing around the campfire roasting marshmallows and making our favorite camp dessert, s’mores. Yum!
We were pleasantly surprised by the endless amounts of planned activities Yosemite hosted throughout the week, many of which were free of charge. We did a children’s hike through Happy Isles where the kids were encouraged to close their eyes and listen, smell, and feel Yosemite. The kids really enjoyed this short but fun and informative hike led by a Yosemite Ranger. At the end of the hike the kids took an oath and became Junior Rangers.
We also had the opportunity to hear stories and learn new games from the Ahwahneechee Indian Tribe. One of our favorites was atlatl or spear throwing. The kids loved trying to throw the spear. However, the adults looked to be enjoying it more. In the end I think the parents were using their children to retrieve the spears as they took over the throwing.
Madelyn and Maddox also had the opportunity to participate in an art workshop and receive an art lesson from Steven Riley, the author of Little Ty Cooney and the Big Yosemite Race. He taught them how to draw the main character from his book, Ty Cooney the raccoon. Madelyn was also fortunate enough to receive an illustration of herself courtesy of Steven Riley.
To celebrate our 15 year wedding anniversary, we made dinner reservations at the historic Ahwahnee Dining room which was built in 1927. The Ahwahnee displayed some seriously stunning views from the expansive windows of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point. And what an exceptional choice it was! We ate a delicious gourmet dinner of seared sea scallops on a bed of rice with asparagus and pickled radish accompanied by freshly baked bread and crackers. We decided to forgo the mouth watering desserts for an ice cream cone in Curry Village.
In the middle of our trip we drove about an hour out of Yosemite Valley to the town of Mariposa. I’m so glad that we got to spend a night in this quaint town. There are delicious restaurants, little shops, a museum and even a brewery. The Mariposa Museum and History Center has a “5” Stamp Mill used to crush ore (quartz) and is one of the only running stamp mills still left in California gold country. Inside the museum they have a small replica that shows how it works. That evening we had an amazing dinner at Savoury’s Restaurant. The Chicken Marsala, Ceasar Salad and Blackberry Spritzer may be the best we ever had. And to top it off, Savoury’s is known for organic non-gmo food and grass fed meat, just the way we like it. Of course, a trip to Mariposa wouldn’t be complete without making a stop at the local brewery. Prospectors Brewery Co. is a small tap room with big taste. They were running a special batch of beer that weekend. It was a vanilla cream nitro beer that was very rich and creamy. It was the best nitro beer we have experienced yet. Unfortunately, they weren’t selling it to go but we did leave with a jug of Midnight Stout.
Yosemite Valley is large enough that you don’t feel crowded by the flocks of tourists that visit throughout the year, but small enough that you can walk, bike, or take a free shuttle throughout the valley. They actually encourage those ways of transportation to cut down on the motorized vehicles driving throughout the park.
All the grandeur of Yosemite, in all its wonder, is so majestic. Looking around and being surrounded by granite rock for as far as your eye can see is beyond amazing! It’s an experience that we feel so fortunate to have had while living here in California. Now that school and activities are in full force all we can do is dream of being back in the tranquility of Yosemite. We dream of experiencing the rushing waterfalls in the spring or the colorful leaves in the fall. Ahhh, take us back…