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Exploring and Camping Yosemite National Park on the Cusp of Spring

“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” - Ansel Adams

The moment I see winter storms begin breaking their habitual presence and vacating the forecasts, my mind begins to build excitement for the opportunities that may present themself for wonderful escapes to nature. As the forecasts promise drier weather, void of snow and rain, the time for future outdoor adventure planning begins.

Rolling hills covered in grass a train track cuts through the middle. Blog photo from

Despite finding a love for so many of the places we’ve already made our way to, our urge to venture to see more national parks drove us to look into something new for the first major camping trip of the year. As we researched various park options, the availabilities for camping at Yosemite National Park instantly grabbed our attention. Being the longest drive for a short camping trip yet, we decided that after an eight hour drive, two nights would be needed to enjoy a decent amount of hiking and sightseeing as well as enough time to rest for the road trip. Within a matter of minutes we had a campsite booked for a single night at Upper Pines Campground followed by a night at the Yosemite Valley Lodge.

The drive from Las Vegas through Bakersfield and Fresno to eventually get us into the park at Yosemite West was easier of a drive than anticipated. The views were eerily beautiful driving through a foggy mist amongst rolling green hills and a wind farm of giant turbines (a sight I always enjoy seeing on any trip). Beyond the natural green landscape, the abundance of orchards we drove past offered more welcome sights beyond the expected California freeway views, and together the combination of views and landscape proved to help pass time relatively quickly.

Nikki Villoria camping and outdoor adventure blog.

Once we arrived in Yosemite the first location that caught our eye for a stop to take a few photos along the South Fork Merced River was the Wawona Picnic Area. Dense forest surroundings, a large flowing river, peaceful isolation; the views here alone, were enough to check all the boxes for a beautiful scenic escape. Because of the joy I found at this roadside stop, I was suddenly even more excited for what was still to come in the remainder of the park.

The next stop, and the start of what would be three days of breathtaking sights, was found just beyond the exciting drive through the Wawona Tunnel at Tunnel View Overlook. A sweeping landscape above tree tops of the forest below, this view was a stunning overlook of the famous El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls. With a flowing fall and distant granite domes still draped in snow, it was difficult to pull away from the view to make our decent into the valley of the park. All I could think was, could the views at the base beat what we were seeing here?!

Spoiler alert: they did.

Views from Tunnel overlook at Yosemite National Park. Blog photo from

Once arriving at the campground and getting our tent accommodations set up for the night, we had a remaining four hours until sunset. Which meant plenty of time to explore the nearby trails. And with our hiking bags already packed, we walked Happy Isles Loop Road to the trailhead for Mirror Lake.

Along the Tenaya Creek and to Mirror Lake, the views were something straight out of a fairytale. The full loop of the trail is 5 miles in length, however with limited daylight left from our campground we hiked a total of 4 miles round-trip. With little elevation climb, much of the trail was well maintained and paved in cobblestone in many parts. In combination with the towering cliffs above us, the moss covered granite boulders and forest surrounding us and the continuous bellows of frogs throughout the meadow, this hike was the perfect start to our time at Yosemite. While this is typically one of the more crowded swimming areas in Yosemite, during this winter visit, we had most all of the area to our self. It was just us and the frogs, which sounded incredible.

Camping at Yosemite National Park. An iKamper rooftop tent on a Toyota Tacoma in the forest. A fire can box can be seen in the foreground. Blog photo from

The drive to the park, in combination with the hike and altitude change was enough to exhaust us. We got back to our campground with an hour of daylight to spare. Just enough time to enjoy some simple camp meals and head to bed. While we anticipated a particularly cold night of 20-degrees, our camp setup and new cold-weather sleeping bags made for an incredibly comfortable night and allowed for 10 hours of much needed sleep. It never fails that when it comes to a good night’s rest sometime all you need is time in the woods camping in the cold to ensure the soundest sleep you’ve had in weeks.

We began our second day at Yosemite National Park well rested and ready to explore, but first it was time for the traditional visitor’s center stop and a chance for breakfast at a local dinning hall. We packed up, took the last photos of the incredible cliffs surrounding our campsite and headed to Yosemite Valley Welcome Center. If you’ve traveled to the National Parks and are an adventure enthusiast you may relate to the draw that a park’s visitor center has on you…and your wallet. Patches, shirts, stickers, magnets, hiking tacks and our park passport stamp acquired we walked to grab breakfast at Degnan’s Deli before grabbing our hiking bags and started our hiking for day along Northside Drive through Sentinel/Cook’s Meadow and to Lower Yosemite Falls. Which would ultimately be the start of an incredibly rewarding and taxing experience and the focal point of our visit.


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