‘The mountains are calling, and I must go’. Gaze across Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, and you’ll see why US National Park-founder John Muir uttered these memorable words over a century ago. Half Dome and El Capitan rise from the granite-scattered landscape like giant, misshapen molars, irresistibly wild and emitting a plea that only the intrepid can hear and none can resist. Your first visit to such an overwhelmingly beautiful wonder can be daunting and, like me when I spent two full days in Yosemite last month, you may not know where to begin.
Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
Hearing the gasps escape the mouth of a Backroads guest as they lay eyes on the iconic summit of Half Dome or the impossibly beautiful Yosemite Falls for the first time never gets old. Although I’ve been visiting and leading trips in Yosemite for many years now, I recently had a “first time” experience that allowed me to see this majestic place with fresh eyes. Just by chance, I had the opportunity to bike the Tioga Pass road to the high country with no traffic. Surrounded by conifers and glowing granite mountains, I realized how fortunate I am to be a part of the Yosemite experience with so many Backroads guests.
Toulumne Meadows is the highlight for many Backroads guests who come to Yosemite. John Muir chose this remarkable place to host the first Sierra Club meeting back in 1892. The steady rivers flowing through this sub-alpine meadow, surrounded by both jagged mountains and round granite domes, inspired the National Park movement and continue to inspire all who visit here.
The only road to Toulumne is Tioga Pass. Each year, for one day only, the park opens Tioga Pass to cyclists before allowing vehicles on the road. I had just returned from leading a trip in Yosemite when I got word that it would open to bikes the next morning. By 5:30 a.m. a co-leader and I were on the road to seize this unique opportunity.
My biking buddy had never experienced Yosemite’s high country before and, even though I had driven Tioga Pass dozens of times in a van full of Backroads guests, I felt like I was able to see it for the first time too. Instead of keeping my eyes glued to the windy road, I was able to slow down and soak in the curvature and sharp details of the massive granite mountains surrounding us. In a way, I felt like one of our guests, soaking in a new place without a single worry.
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be able to share this astounding park with Backroads guests. Nothing is better than breathing in the fresh mountain air sweetened by the scent of conifers and wildflowers, feeling the California sun on your skin and hearing the gasps of those around you as they truly take in this place for the first time.
Our Backroads Yosemite Hiking Trip starts at the southeastern border of the park at the home of the world’s largest living organisms – Giant Sequoia trees. I always feel like an ant staring up at these seemingly immortal giants.
Next, we venture to the Yosemite Valley, stopping at iconic Glacier Point, a cliff-top mirador that offers a panoramic view of the most legendary sights of Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome and several tumbling waterfalls. From this vantage point it’s impossible to take a bad picture. Then you have the opportunity to take an epic hike into the Valley on the Panoramic Trail or visit Taft Point for closer views of Yosemite Falls and El Capitan.
Reaching the valley floor, we get to call the Majestic Hotel (formally known as the Ahwahnee) home. The walls, rich with history and ornate detail, have hosted distinguished guests from presidents to movie stars to wounded soldiers during World War II. And, of course, many happy Backroads guests.
The trip reaches its pinnacle, literally and–in my opinion–figuratively, in Tuolumne Meadows. Hiking a section of the John Muir Trail along rambling rivers, snacking at the river fork and climbing to a height of nearly 10,000 feet for views from Lembert Dome make this is a day to remember.
Experiencing the grandeur of Yosemite is an opportunity not to be missed. No matter how many times I’ve been able to visit this National Park, it never gets old. Each moment brings a new sensation of exuberance, a freshness to life that comes with time spent in nature.