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Travel Guide To Yosemite National Park

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Yosemite-National-Park

This is a guide on how to have an epic adventure at Yosemite National Park. This guide is meant for people of all ability levels. When I say people of all abilities I mean those with disabilities, those with physical or mental limitations, and those who don’t have any limitations at all. I like to find hikes and activities that accommodate everyone.

When to visit

Peak season 

The peak season in Yosemite is usually May-September. When planning your trip make sure to check if you need a reservation to enter the park. We visited the last week of May before Memorial Day and we were glad we did because of the spring wildflowers starting to bloom. The weather was perfect but it did get a bit chilly in the evenings while we camped. I would not recommend going to this park in June, July, or August because there might be a few crowds.  You will have crowds throughout the year, but it’s busiest in summer like most US National Parks.  

Off-Season

The offseason is usually October-April because of the road conditions and lower temperatures. I have visited many national parks in the off season and while some things may be closed there is so much beauty to see.  Yosemite National Park is a popular destination for people because of its beauty in the snow. 

What to bring

Along with our regular traveling gear and essentials these were a few things that we were happy that we brought along.  

Extra jacket or sweater – It can get chilly in the evenings. I brought warm clothes and summer clothes. It warmed up during the day but in the early mornings and evenings I’m glad I had something extra.  

Wheelchair (or other mobile devices) if you use them full or part time –  I use a wheelchair part time but I’m glad I brought mine on this trip because there were several paved trails all through the Yosemite Valley that made it a little easier to get around. 

Bike – Obviously this is not a must but like I stated above there are many paved trails and we saw dozens and dozens of bikers on the trails riding amongst the beautiful scenery. If you don’t have a bike you can rent one at Curry Village. You check in at the General Store and you can rent for a few hours, half a day, or a full day. I was told that they had an adult tricycle if you are not able to ride a bike but you had to go to the Yosemite Lodge to rent and the lodge is at the other side of Yosemite valley. I would make sure to call ahead to make sure they still have it.  

Bug spray – I recommend this at pretty much every National Park but it seems to be one that is most forgotten. We are extra glad we brought it because we hiked a trail next to Mirror Lake and the bugs were really bad. It was springtime but the trail was right next to the water so the bugs were especially bad.  

Where to visit 

This is a breakdown of my favorite things to do and places to see at Yosemite National Park. There are trails ranging from easy to hard with some being accessible to wheelchairs and some not. Remember that only you know your abilities. I recommend using a trail app and checking the reviews and conditions of these trails before you go to help navigate which ones you would like to explore. 

Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

This trail is for everyone! It is a great family trail to get you excited about this amazing park.  This trail is just over a mile with only 59ft in elevation gain. The pay off to this trail is totally worth the visit. Depending on what time of year you go, the waterfall may be stronger with more water. We went in Spring so it was very different from when people said they went in July. If you do go in Spring you will probably be sprayed a bit if you get right next to the railing but it was incredible.

Please remember to be careful and watch your step as you get closer because as you get closer to the waterfall the walkway and bridge may be wet. There is no parking at the trailhead but there is parking near the Yosemite Village and Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and theater that is on both sides of the paved trail that goes to lower Yosemite falls. We tried out the shuttle and it was a bit confusing but it was easier than finding parking. The shuttle stop to Yosemite Falls is #6. We only used the bus for a couple of stops.

Mirror Lake 

Mirror Lake is beautiful! My favorite time to visit was during the day to see the beautiful shadow and reflection of the half dome. The road to Mirror Lake, at the east end of Yosemite Valley, is closed to vehicle traffic unless you have a disabled placard. If you have that then you can drive up closer to the Mirror Lake trail. Please be cautious as you drive up since only vehicles with disabled placards or disabled license plates can drive up to the trailhead; there will be dozens and dozens of people walking along the road from the general parking lot to the trailhead. If you do not have a disabled placard you can park at shuttle stop #17 and the total hike distance will be around 2.3 miles with 147 elevation gain. Remember if you are coming in the winter months to bring spikes because it does get very icy. 

Cathedral Beach

This was probably one of my favorite stops of the trip because of how peaceful it was. Our daughter had fallen asleep in the car so my husband stayed in the car to read while she slept and I was able to go out to see the beach and view. It was a nice break from the crowds and from the toddler. It was quiet with not too many other adventurers around. I brought my Chaco sandals to dip my toes in the water and look at the gorgeous view of El Capitan. El Capitan looks gorgeous from many different sides and views but this one was my favorite. If you are looking for a great spot to relax or have a picnic spot I would recommend this. This spot I would say is partially wheelchair accessible. The picnic spot is more accessible but the beach is a little more rough to get to. The sand is more rocky and gravelly so it’s easier to get to but may still be difficult. Make sure to plan ahead and see what is possible for your abilities.  

Visitor Center

I love visiting the visitor centers in all the National Parks to get a stamp in my National Park Passport Book. I also like checking out the information they have about the park and it’s the perfect time to talk to a ranger about trail conditions, where to go if you are on a time constraint, or any cool info you want to learn about the park. Yosemite Valley Visitor Center is open year-round and the Tuolumne Meadows and Wawona visitor centers, as well as the Nature Center at Happy Isles, are open seasonally.  

Sentinel/Cook’s meadow loop 

We had a hard time finding this loop. We had read that it was wheelchair accessible and beautiful. We weren’t sure where to find it until we had asked a ranger and he pointed us in the right direction. This meadow is in the middle of the Yosemite Valley Loop. It’s in between both sides of the valley loop you drive to get to a lot of these spots. We parked by the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and walked to the loop. You go west and then cross over the road. You are able to see so many of the beautiful waterfalls in this part of Yosemite. It is paved and then as you enter the meadow there is a wooden boardwalk so be aware of the bumpiness if you are a wheelchair user.  

Yosemite Valley Loop

Yosemite Valley loop is fun to drive to see the views and you will probably drive it a few times since it is mostly a one way road and leads to most of the popular trails. Here are a few stops that aren’t trails but still beautiful to see. Cathedral Beach (see above) is a must see. Swinging Bridge and the Cathedral are both quick stops but still fun to explore. One stop that you will want to take some time at is Curry Village. Curry Village has a few places to eat at but make sure to check online before going because it does frequently change depending on the season. We went at the end of May and many places were still not “open for the season”. We ate at The Deck at Curry Village. It may be very busy because there are really not many places to eat at the park but it was worth the wait. I would get the yummy cheese bread and sit on the rocking chairs across from the deck.  

Wheelchair Accessible Viewpoints 

Valley View 

Valley View is a quick spot to visit when you are in Yosemite valley but definitely worth it.  It is wheelchair accessible.  I went to check out it at sunrise and while it was beautiful I would have to say that tunnel view at sunrise was my favorite.  On your way to valley view since this is in the one way loop of Yosemite valley there is a quick wheelchair accessible spot to the left with a little pull off to see a great view of Bridalveil falls. It has only one wheelchair spot and no other spots so its definitely a gem.  

Tunnel View

This is one of the most popular spots in the park. There are a few tunnels you pass through before you get to this viewpoint, but it is the only one with a parking lot and trailheads. It’s a popular spot to get a picture with the whole valley in the background. In my opinion many people don’t take the time to enjoy the view, they just stop for a quick picture. My advice would be to take your time and don’t get flustered by all the people crowding around for the best picture. I went to this spot for sunrise and it was beautiful. I would love to go back someday. One word of caution however: the stone wall is only about waist high so if you use a wheelchair then you can see over, but it’s a sheer drop on the other side so keep a close eye on your kids.

Popular trails

These are a few trails that I was not able to do myself because we ran out of time and some I just physically couldn’t do.  Below is just a brief description of them but remember to check out several resources to see if they are within your ability level. AllTrails, reviews on google, and rangers at the visitor centers are all great resources.  

Bridalveil Falls

This trail is 0.5 miles with 82ft elevation gain. We would have liked to visit this trail but it was closed when we went. Not just closed for the season, but we were told it would be closed for the year and possibly longer. Again, make sure to check in with nps.gov for more info or the park rangers on your visit.  

Upper Yosemite Fall 

This trail is 7.2 miles with 2,700ft Elevation gain. This trail is very strenuous as it leads to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall. It is very important to always stay on trail but in the case of this trail straying from the path could lead to death because of steep drop offs.  

Glacier Point

This trail is 0.6 miles long with 167 ft elevation gain and is wheelchair friendly. We were so bummed that we were not able to see Glacier Point because it was closed for the season when we went. We hope to go back someday. This is a very popular trail and we highly recommend it for your visit to Yosemite. Remember to check online for closures or with a park ranger the conditions with your stay.   

Fun activities to do besides hiking 

Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad (Fish Camp, CA) – Open April-October

I had a friend recommend a train in the National Forest just outside of Yosemite National Park and we are so glad we checked into it. It was 100% worth it. If I had a choice I would do it without kids, but our toddler still loved it. Getting to see a part of the National Forest that most people don’t get to see was amazing. This train is wheelchair accessible and the staff are very accommodating. Their parking lot goes right up to the trains and there are paved paths leading down to some fun activities just off the disabled parking spots. They offer train rides, gold panning, a small museum, gift shop, and a toy train store. Our daughter loved it. 

I would highly recommend this place to any visitors going to Yosemite National Park. Full disclosure – I collaborated with Sugar Pine Railroad to learn more about their accessibility features and how people with different abilities would be able to enjoy the train. They provided the entrance tickets and a small meal for us. The conductor on our train, Mike, took the time to ask questions about how they could improve on their accessibility and said that it was one of their biggest priorities since their management has changed so kudos to them.  

Where to stay

Are you a camper? Glamper? Lodger? We usually try to camp for most of our National Parks trips but occasionally we’ll treat ourselves to a hotel, usually the last day of the trip back home. On this trip we stayed at Hodgdon Meadows Campground. The campgrounds in Yosemite National Park fill up very very fast and it’s very competitive to get a site. My recommendation is to plan early, check the recreation.gov website to check when the reservations go line, and be ready to reserve as soon as they open up.   

Where to Eat 

Two Guys Pizza Pies 

(18955 Ferretti Rd, Groveland, CA: 30 min from our campsite at Hodgdon Meadows) I LOOOOVED this pizza place. The service was awesome and the people were really kind, even though there was only one other couple in the restaurant with us. We loved all the food we ordered but especially the bread twists. They were delicious. I would also give them a 10/10 for wheelchair accessibility in the restaurant. The parking lot, dining inside, and the restrooms were all accessible.  

Curry Village Pizza Deck

There are very few places to eat at the Park so I would highly recommend planning accordingly. We didn’t plan on eating much out on this trip but wanted to try a few places. The pizza was super good here but it was incredibly busy when we went. It was probably 45 minutes or so from the time we ordered until we got our pizza. A very nice couple let us use their table after they were done but if you don’t act fast then you might not have a place to sit.

I hope this guide helps you plan your trip to Yosemite National Park. This has been our favorite California National Park.  I’d love to hear about your trips in the comments below or on my Instagram page! Feel free to DM me on Instagram for any questions you have as well @nationalparkcapable.  I would love to help you plan your fun National Park adventure.

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