TUNNEL VIEW & GLACIER POINT
You’re heading out of San Francisco today, about as far as you can geographically get, swapping the city streets for the granite cliffs and wildlife-filled woods of YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK. Pick up your hire car and set out across the Oakland Bay Bridge, following I-580 E and I-205 E to Manteca, then CA-120 E all the way to the park (it’s around 165 miles in total, or just over 3 hours). Everything in Yosemite seems supersized, from its towering rock faces and giant sequoias to North America’s largest waterfall. This is a region of lush valleys, sub-alpine meadows, glacial boulders and vast tracts of beautiful backcountry – nearly 95 percent of the park is untamed wilderness.
By the time you arrive after the drive from San Francisco, you’ll be better off saving Yosemite Valley itself for tomorrow and instead heading up into the surrounding peaks for glorious views from above. It takes just over half an hour to drive from the Big Oak Flat Entrance [open 24 hours a day | $35 per vehicle, valid for 7 days] to the head of Yosemite Valley (you’ll pass the Tioga Road turnoff for Tuolumne Meadows, Day 6’s destination, around a third of the way). Cross the Merced River onto Southside Drive, but instead of following it into the Valley, turn sharp right onto the Wawona Road. Just a few minutes’ drive up here, on the right, TUNNEL VIEW provides one of the most iconic views of the Valley: Bridalveil Fall tumbling down towards the river, with the humpback Cathedral Rocks looming just behind, and the whole dramatic scene bookended by the granite monoliths of EL CAPITAN, in the foreground, and HALF DOME to the east, rising nearly 5000ft above the Valley floor.
If you think nothing can top this outlook, then carry on driving up, away from the Valley, and take the left turn onto Glacier Point Road. At the end, 23.5 miles from Tunnel View, is GLACIER POINT, which will make you think again. This is the most spectacular view in the park, a sweeping – and, if you get right up to the edge, quite unnerving – panorama 3500ft above the Yosemite Valley floor that takes in plunging waterfalls, the unmistakably rounded Half Dome and the distant snow-capped peaks of the High Sierra.
TOP TIP Yosemite can get busy in summer, so try to enter the park before 9am (or after 5pm) in order to avoid hour-long queues to get in. You’ll be given a detailed MAP at the park entrance (to help plan your visit, you can download this in advance from the National Park Services website, which breaks it up into maps of the whole park and of Yosemite Valley), as well as a copy of the Yosemite Guide, which provides a list of seasonal RANGER-LED ACTIVITIES that range from Junior Ranger programs and stargazing events to kids’ campfires and guided walks on everything from waterfalls to wildlife. Yosemite Valley is by far the most popular part of the park, so you’ll need to leave your car at either your lodge or at one of the Valley’s three CAR PARKS (note that they’re usually full by 9.30am in July and August) and then use the free SHUTTLE BUSES; you can also rent BIKES from Yosemite Valley Lodge and Half Dome Village and pedal yourself around the flat Valley loop road. Remember that this is BLACK BEAR country, so drive carefully, don’t leave any food unattended and keep your distance if you see one; although rarely spotted, MOUNTAIN LIONS also call Yosemite home, so keep your kids close by when you’re out walking the trails. Note that the Tioga and Glacier Point roads are usually closed from November to late May.
THE LIJOMA LOWDOWN
Delve deeper with our tips on what to read and watch before you go, foods and drinks your kids must try, and some key cultural advice
From beachfront hotels to Downtown B&Bs – our pick of the most memorable places for families to stay in California
NEED TO KNOW
A handy overview of California’s weather and climate throughout the year, with recommendations for the best time to visit
Pre-trip practicalities, including getting there, visas and passports, health and safety, and how to get around
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