First and foremost, thirty-six hours is not enough in Yosemite.
I think you could spend a full year in Yosemite and it wouldn’t be enough. So for anyone who thinks we were mad to only do thirty-six hours in Yosemite, we know. We think we’re mad too.
To say Yosemite was a comedy of errors is doing it no justice. It was on another level of comic failures. We left Santa Monica early on the Thursday, we’re talking gone at 6:30 am early. We wanted to make sure we made the most of the day. Well that went quickly out the window when we passed an outlet. “We’ll just make a quick pit stop”, “Good excuse to stretch the legs”, “It’ll be the only chance we get to go to an outlet” (you’ll laugh at this quote soon). We arrived an hour before it opened. We decided we’d wait it out, have some breakfast with the bits we had picked up in Target and we’d only need thirty minutes in the outlet anyway.
After the outlet trip, which ended up going on a little longer than planned, obviously, we headed back on the road. We were keen to get to Yosemite with enough time to have a little walk around, get some dinner, and prepare ourselves for another early morning the next day. That all went out the window when we passed outlet number two. “That last outlet wasn’t great”, “It looks like there’s more options here”, “We can get lunch while we’re here”. Long story short, the driver couldn’t see out the back of the car once we were done.
It was now about 2pm and we had at least three hours to go. We decided to get back on the road, no more outlet stops no matter how appealing it was. We had our GPS on and I was tracking the journey on my phone too as there were different route options.
Yosemite is stunning. I feel like we were pointing out every tree and rock like excited toddlers. It’s another level of breathtaking. We met the nicest park rangers at the entrance who clearly hadn’t met a car full of Irish females in a while as they ran around to jump into photos with us. We caught Tunnel View as the sun was starting to go down, lighting up El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall. It was stunning.
And then we took a wrong turn. We somehow ended up on a one way road, the only way we could go, was around the entire valley. In a split second we added about an hour to ninety minutes onto our drive. Bear in mind, we had now been travelling for about nine hours. True, several of those hours had been in outlets. But it was still not the most thrilling realisation to know we had more time in the car.We eventually got to our accommodation when it was pretty dark. I think all told, we arrived at our place about 13 hours after leaving Santa Monica… Not ideal.
For context, this was about a week after the wildfires. One of the wildfires, according to the Google satellite that I was obsessively checking, was close to where we had been planning on staying. If you’re planning on staying in Yosemite, know that the lodges and hotels are non-refundable. We held off as long as we could from booking somewhere due to the wildfires, but eventually we had to book with the only place that was refundable. It was called Yosemite Westgate Lodge. It was fine. Clean, little pool, easy route to get to San Francisco (our next destination), an hour drive from the start of most trails. When you compare it to Rush Creek Lodge, which is where we wanted to stay, you’ll see there’s no comparison.
We were exhausted at this stage, so we went to the restaurant next door, grabbed food quickly, and then headed back to get ready for the next day. Our plan was to get up at about 8, go have breakfast at Rush Creek, and then head for a day long hike.
Here’s where the now-that-I-have-some-distance-from-the-situation-it’s-hilarious story begins. There is a bus that goes around the Yosemite Valley, essentially enabling you to get to the trails easily. After all the driving the day before, we were all feeling allergic to the car, and too tired to drive, so the bus was the best solution. There was a stop outside our lodge and one outside Rush Creek, about a twenty minute drive away. We hopped on the bus at 8:30 to Rush Creek for breakfast, and planned to get the 10:30 bus from Rush Creek to the trails, a forty minute drive from Rush Creek.
Breakfast was so good, if you get the chance to stay in Rush Creek then you’ll be spoiled with good food. Even if you don’t stay there, go for a feed, it’s really good. We finished up and headed down to the bus with fifteen minutes to spare. 10:30 comes and goes, no bus. 11:00 comes and goes. Hmm ok. Let check with the front desk. They tell us they have nothing to do with that bus service, but generally it only stops if people book it. We booked in for the 11:30 service (don’t you love an hourly service?!), and decided to wait beside the pool at Rush Creek.
Let’s skip ahead a little here. It’s now 1pm. We’ve been waiting for the bus for two and a half hours. Nothing. No bus passes, people on the phone can’t tell us where it is. Nothing happening. We would walk back to our lodge to get the car, but if you’ve been to Yosemite then you’ll know that you don’t casually walk along the roads. There’s no paths, it would be so dangerous. So we’re stranded. A member of staff in Rush Creek called Buck offered to drive two of the girls back to collect our car, as he couldn’t fit us all. What an angel. We thanked him about a million times as two of the girls hopped in and three of us stayed at Rush Creek.
Twenty five minutes later, Eimear gasps. And not in a “oh my god look at the cute deer over there” kind of way. In the “shitshitshitshitshitnonononono” kind of way. It’s then we realise that the two girls are at the lodge with the car, and we are at Rush Creek with the car key. You couldn’t make this shit up. Honestly. After a moment of shock, we basically broke down into hysterical laughter. We were in the middle of a gorgeous park, sitting on the side of the road, in the heat, with no shade, going on three and a half hours now, completely stranded. In addition, for some reason, none of us had working phones, it was like all wifi was rejecting us.
Thankfully, our angel Buck came up to tell us that the girls were on their way back and shouldn’t be far behind him. “Haha, oh Buck do we have a funny story for you pal!”. Cue Buck laughing his head off and driving us back to our lodge where we reunited our car and key.
There we were, at least five hours after leaving our lodge to get breakfast, back at the lodge, and not a single step of the trail walked. After another brief hysterical laughter breakdown, we decided we’d hop in the car, find our way to a trail and try to make the most of what was left of the day. An hour later, we arrived at the visitors centre, where every ranger told us to just “hop on that bus to get to this trail”. Yeah, we’re not getting on a bus. “Ok then. If you just get into your car an-“. Yeah, no cars either. All we wanted to do was walk, hike, anything that involved movement! After being in a car, or stuck on the side of a road for so long, we just wanted to get going!
Eventually we were told about a trail called the John Muir trail, which went up to a waterfall called Sentinal Falls (I think, memory is a little fuzzy on this!). The John Muir trail is 211 mile trail in total, we obviously only did a teeny tiny portion of it! The view was unbelievable. It’s honestly easy to run out of superlatives when talking about Yosemite, because it really is on another level. The view across the valley as the sun went down, the rainbow going through the waterfall, the granite mountains appearing out of nowhere. It was insane.
I’m not going to lie, I’m very unfit. So between that, and the heat, I was a sweaty mess at the top of that waterfall. Expect to have burning calves and butt cheeks the next day, those trails are no joke. But it felt so good to accomplish something after our disaster of a day! To be out in nature and just get to enjoy it is something I don’t savour enough.
We headed back to Rush Creek for dinner (if it ain’t broke), and may have hung around their campfire taking advantage of the s’mores for a while (we had earned it ok?!). After a long ass day, we headed back to our lodge and went to bed as we had, yet another, super early morning the next day to get to San Francisco. That comedy of errors will be live soon!
In hindsight, you could easily and happily do a full holiday just in Yosemite. I think we all just thought we’d rather see it, even for a short time, than not see it at all. I don’t regret going, it is a priceless story after all, but I also wouldn’t recommend going for such a short time. If you can, go for a week at least and just enjoy being in nature, enjoying the sights and going for as many hikes as you can handle.