aka The Trip That Didn’t Want to Happen
You know those trips that the universe just doesn’t want to happen? Where literally everything seems to go wrong up until the moment that your trip starts? Yeah, this was one of those trips.
I began planning a surprise weekend trip to Yosemite for my boyfriend about three months out. We were going to drive up from Los Angeles on Friday after work, stay in Oakhurst that night, and then stay in a heated canvas tent in Half Dome Village on the Saturday night. I was beyond excited.
Enter scene: first setback. About four weeks before our trip, an insane winter storm descended upon the valley, dropping three feet of snow, causing hundreds of trees to fall, and destroying most of the canvas tents. The storm ended up displacing about 150 park employees, so I waited about a week for Yosemite to deal with the more pressing issues before calling about my reservation. The reservation specialist said that he hadn’t heard when Half Dome Village was supposed to open, but my reservation had not been canceled yet. I had no idea just how bad the destruction actually was, so I thought, great! We’d still be able to stay in the tents! Yeah… no.
About two weeks out, I received a call about my reservation. It had been canceled – Half Dome Village was not opening any time soon. Major bummer. I frantically made reservations at a hotel about 12 miles outside of the valley (which ended up being amazing! see below), and I thought that was the end of our troubles.
Enter scene: second setback. Now, I get it. This one is partially my fault. Anyone who plans a trip to the Sierras for the first week in March has to understand that the weather in the mountains is unpredictable. So, when I started seeing signs of rain on the weather forecast during the week before, I can’t say I was surprised, but I was a little bummed. I checked back every day to see if the weather had changed, and it definitely had, but not in the way that I was expecting. By the time we left Los Angeles, the valley was expecting drenching rain all weekend and had issued a severe winter storm watch. Alrighty then. We made sure to pack lots of waterproof clothes…
Enter scene: third setback. Yeah, those waterproof clothes that I packed? Did not come in handy. Not because we didn’t get drenching rain all weekend (we did), but because upon arrival in Oakhurst, I popped my trunk to realize that I FORGOT MY ENTIRE SUITCASE AT HOME. Five hours away. Sitting on my bed. After the initial shock of “how the hell did that happen” wore off, I couldn’t help but laugh. This trip absolutely refused to happen… and I absolutely refused to let it refuse to happen!!
Enter scene: Yosemite magic. They say bad things happen in threes, right? Well after the third setback happened, it was smooth sailing from there. Fortunately, the rain kept the crowds at bay, and we got to experience an empty park.. which is pretty unheard of. Our back-up hotel ended up being absolutely amazing. And I got some pretty sweet new clothes from the clearance rack at Big 5 (aka the only store in Oakhurst that sells clothing). All in all, we couldn’t have asked for a better weekend in Yosemite.
Since we drove in from Los Angeles, we took Highway 140 from Fresno into the valley. No trip to Yosemite, especially those starting from Highway 140, is completely without stopping at the famous Tunnel View: your first glimpse of the valley floor. When we first arrived at Tunnel View, the valley was shrouded in clouds. You could barely make out the outlines of El Cap and Bridalveil Fall. But within minutes, in pure Yosemite-magic fashion, the clouds slowly melted away and the valley came into view!
El Cap and Bridalveil Fall looked absolutely stunning in front of a dark, cloudy backdrop. The rain made all of the waterfalls cascading into the valley completely swollen, and new “mini-waterfalls” were spouting off of the granite walls as far as the eye could see. The valley was experiencing a bit of cloud inversion, in which clouds form below the tops of the granite walls, which made it all the more mysterious and spooky.
The first turn-off on Highway 140 after Tunnel View is the trail to the base of Bridalveil Fall. Although the hike in is only a quarter of a mile each way, the ice and steep grade made it a little tough! We were slipping and sliding all over the place. In the summer months, the trail to the base of the waterfall is paved, but still tends to be slippery – the mist coming off of Bridalveil Fall can sometimes fly a quarter of a mile away! Despite this, however, the trail is very easy, which makes it one of the more popular trails in Yosemite. We hung around the viewing platform for a few minutes before getting out of the spray and making the short trek back. Although the “hike” to Bridalveil Fall is short, it is beyond sweet, and offers a big reward for not much effort. A must-see!
Half Dome Village
We decided to take a drive to Half Dome Village to see if we could peep the tents that we were originally supposed to stay at. Considering Half Dome Village was closed due to destruction, we were surprised to see that the road was still open to the public. There were a bunch of signs telling people not to approach any of the buildings… and for good reason! While some of the tents were still standing, the majority had been crushed by falling trees and debris. It was a pretty crazy sight to see! I have no idea whether Yosemite has a projected opening date for Half Dome Village, but considering the damage that we saw, I have a feeling that it isn’t going to be open for a while. Definitely a bummer, but just a part of developing in the mountains!
Lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Dining Room
By far, the highlight of our trip was having lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Dining Room. We actually kind of happened upon the Dining Room by mistake… The only food options in the valley that I know of were in Half Dome Village which, if you remember, had been partially destroyed in a snowstorm about a month ago. We were visiting the Village Store when we happened upon a digital map (for lack of better term) and tried looking for places to grab a drink and some lunch. On the digital map, we could see that there was the Mountain Room Restaurant and Mountain Room Lounge somewhere in the park, which sounded right up our alley. Every time that we clicked on the map to see where they were located, however, it kept on showing us our location at the store, so we figured the map was broken or they were located outside of the valley. In retrospect, we found the Mountain Room Restaurant and Lounge the next day at the Yosemite Valley Lodge the next day, about a quarter of a mile from where the map was, so I’m thinking that it was actually showing where it was, but we didn’t realize it was so close. Oops.
Anyway, the only other dining option that we were seeing was the Lounge and Dining Room at the Yosemite Grand Lodge (previously the Ahwahnee Hotel), so we decided to head there! When we got there, we originally put our name in for the Lounge, but it really only had bar food, so we decided to put our name in at the Dining Room. We ended up having to wait for about 30 minutes, so we grabbed a drink from the Lounge and waited in the Great Lodge next to the fireplace for our names to be called!
Soon enough, our names were called, and we entered the Dining Room. Both of our breaths were instantly taken away… the Dining Room is absolutely BEAUTIFUL.
Built in 1927, the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Dining Room boasts 30-foot tall ceilings, beautiful stonework, and floor-to-ceiling windows. The hotel was declared a historical landmark in 1987, and for good reason.
As we walked towards the tables, I noticed a table for two right next to one of the floor-to-ceiling windows. I thought for sure that they weren’t going to seat us there, but lo and behold, we got the window seat! As soon as they sat us down, we immediately looked at each other with such excitement… I swear, we felt like we were two kids at Disneyland for the first time!
For lunch, I had the pulled pork sandwich and Matt had a burger. They were both extremely delicious! Since we were celebrating his birthday, we indulged in the apple cheesecake… my LORD. So good. 10/10 recommend. The food prices were surprisingly moderate, considering how fancy the dining room felt! I’m sure in the summertime, you’ll need to make a reservation to grab a table, but we were able to put our name in and get seated within about a half an hour. We ended up being the last two people in the Dining Room… we wanted to stay forever! The Dining Room is an absolute must-see if you are heading to Yosemite!
Bonus… If you are a fan of Santa Ynez/Santa Rita Hills wines, they have a FABULOUS by-the-glass wine list. Andrew Murray syrah and Zaca Mesa cuvee? Okayyy then.
Lower Yosemite Falls
After lunch, we decided to hike the 1-mile loop trail to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls, with a total drop of 2,425 feet, is the largest waterfall in the United States. Although you can only see Lower Yosemite Falls from viewing platform, the trail itself gives you plentiful views of both the upper and lower falls together, where you can take in just how large the entire drop is! In the summer, the trail is a flat, paved walkway that winds through the forest, traversing over Yosemite Creek by footbridge. In the winter, however, the trail is almost completely covered in snow.
The trail to Lower Yosemite Falls is one of the most popular trails in the valley, so despite all of the snow, it was still very easy to navigate. Because we were dealing with both snow and rain, the trail was extremely slippery, which made out hike pretty slow-going! Be sure to take it carefully if you hike to the falls in the winter.
We did the loop counter-clockwise. For the first half mile, the trail winds through the old-growth upper montane forest, giving you beautiful views of the surrounding ponderosa pines, live oak, and incense cedars. It isn’t long before you begin skirting the granite walls of the valley and, with a careful eye, are able to spot climbing bolts making their way up the granite. Soon enough, you’ll arrive at the Lower Yosemite Falls viewing platform, where you can truly take in the grandeur of the 320-foot drop.
Once you are at the viewing platform, be sure to turn around as well! The view of Yosemite Creek and the granite walls rising from the opposite side of the valley is just as beautiful as the falls themselves.
If you choose to leave the viewing platform and scramble across the boulders for a better view, just make sure to be careful! The mist coming off the falls is no joke, and the boulders tend to be extremely slippery year round.
Yosemite View Lodge
Due to our original Half Dome Village reservation being canceled about a month out from our trip, we needed to find a new place to stay – and fast. I desperately wanted to stay in the valley, but the prices at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel were just too expensive, and the Yosemite Valley Lodge was full. I did a quick Google search for the closest next option and happened upon the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal, 12 miles west of the valley floor.
Now, if I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t expecting much. The price was too good for me not to expect that there was some catch involved. But lo and behold, as soon as we arrived, it blew our expectations out of the water!! We had a room right on the raging Merced River, a large patio with a table and chairs, a full kitchenette (complete with a two-burner stove!), the biggest jacuzzi bathtub you ever did see, and a mounted flat-screen TV right in front of the california king bed! The hotel was definitely old, but they did a really great job of keeping it clean and functional! If given the option, I would literally move in in a heartbeat!
I had picked up a bottle of Yosemite Cellars Rim Fire Red at the Valley Store earlier that day, so before dinner, we enjoyed the bottle outside on our patio, listening to the rain and the swollen Merced River. It was lovely! We could have stayed there all night.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with El Portal (me before this trip), the “town” of El Portal is basically just the Yosemite View Lodge. We had anticipated it being more of a town, so we didn’t plan for dinner or the next morning’s breakfast well. Fortunately, they have a restaurant at the hotel! Albeit being a little expensive, dinner was delicious – and there were a ton of different options on the menu! I would highly recommend the restaurant for dinner. Breakfast.. not so much. We went to the restaurant for breakfast not knowing what to expect, and the only option was a less-than-ideal breakfast buffet for $17.95 each. Yikes. We decided to hightail it back to the valley, and ended up finally stumbling upon the Mountain Room Restaurant that we had been searching for the day before! Much better of a deal than the breakfast buffet.
Sans breakfast buffet, the hotel really was amazing and I would highly recommend it to any Yosemite visitor. The amenities were stellar for the price point (at least in early March), and the location was perfect to get to-and-from the valley floor. Being right on the Merced River was incredible, and I would highly recommend asking for a river-view room when you check in.
Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
We had originally tried to go to Yosemite Valley Visitor Center on Saturday, but the walk from the parking lot to the Village is about 10 minutes, and the rain was relentless that day. On Sunday morning, we decided to try and check it out once more before heading home, and we were so glad that we did! The Visitor Center is super cool, offering multiple museums and restaurants, a bookstore, and the Ansel Adams Gallery. I would personally describe it as more of a “village” than a “Visitor Center,” just because there were so many different buildings and things to see.
We really enjoyed walking around the Miwok Village of the Ahwahnee, which showcases a reconstructed native village in the exact spot that it existed in the 1870s. The cabins and bark homes were fascinating to see, especially considering that we got to experience it during a severe winter storm watch – you could really see just how protective these shelters were, even in the elements. There is also a ceremonial roundhouse that is still used for ceremonial activities by a local native community! I really loved seeing the crossover between the history of the native population in the valley with modern-day usage, as well as the celebration of a community in the valley that was ultimately evicted from its home and almost forgotten.
All in all, a great weekend to Yosemite! It is always fun to experience your favorite places in new elements, and this was no exception. I can’t wait to visit the park in the winter again… except this time maybe in a heated tent… and DEFINITELY with my suitcase!
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