24 Hours in Yosemite

Last week Alex and I took a trip to Northern California. We had planned on spending two days/nights in Yosemite and then driving to Lake Tahoe to ski for three days. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans in mind. A delay leaving Madison caused us to miss our connecting flight in Denver so we didn't make it to Yosemite on schedule. In fact, we didn't make it to Yosemite until late the next afternoon, which was a huge disappointment because we missed an entire day exploring the park and weren't able to go on our overnight backpacking trip to Glacier Point. We did our best to make due with the remaining time we had. 

I've yet to visit Yosemite in the summer but I have heard Yosemite in the winter is like an entirely different park. The crowds are gone and the whole park is dusted with snow. Tioga Road and the road to Glacier Point are closed in the winter but Badger Pass and Yosemite Valley remain open. Being on a time crunch we stayed in Yosemite Valley and despite having so little time to explore we made it to every spot I wanted to, except for Glacier Point (next time!).

Yosemite Falls 

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The first thing we did when we arrived to Yosemite was take the short 1 mile hike to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. While the water levels aren't flowing as strongly as they do in the late spring the falls were still a sight to behold. The ice and snow surrounding the falls and covering the rocks below it were incredibly picturesque.

Tunnel View

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After our time at Lower Yosemite Falls we headed off to the iconic Tunnel View to watch the sunset. Tunnel View is a breathtaking place. Despite seeing thousands of pictures of Tunnel View prior to our trip I was still not prepared for the majesty of the spot. Tunnel View seems like a place someone made up: the looming El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls perfectly frame Half Dome in the sprawling Yosemite Valley. And seeing the scene dusted in snow made the moment even more magical. We stayed at the spot well after sunset with a slew of other photographers who also couldn't get enough of the view. After darkness set in we reluctantly got back into the car and headed down to check into our room at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. Once we ate dinner and warmed up I decided that I wanted to head back to Tunnel View and try to take some night photos! Clouds looked like they were going to move in earlier but when I looked outside after dinner the stars were out. It was only about 10 degrees Fahrenheit but I was determined to capture some star trails. The photo below is a 5 minute exposure of the valley. I captured the stars, a few cars driving through the valley, and the orange lights on the trees are light spillage from some street lights near the parking lot of Tunnel View. 

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After losing the feeling in my fingers I decided to call it a night and went back to the hotel where I crashed, hard. But not before setting an alarm for 6:00am for the next morning so we could catch a sunrise at where else? Tunnel View!! Looking back on it I wish we had researched a different place to watch sunrise because we spent so much time at Tunnel View but it's so beautiful it's hard to not want to spend every moment there. 

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The sunrise from Tunnel View ended up being spectacular. All the pink we had hoped to see in the sunset the night before showed up for the sunrise. The entire sky glowed orange and pink.

Swinging Bridge

After the sky's fire dissipated we headed to Swinging Bridge where you can see Upper Yosemite Falls perfectly reflected in the Merced River.  It was really fun to play with reflections in the still water by walking along the shoreline. 

Sentinel Bridge

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Sentinel Bridge is a great spot to view Half Dome and the Merced River. I took the opportunity to try a long exposure shot, something I haven't done in awhile. I put on my 10 stop ND filter and took this 50 second exposure which left the river with a glass-like appearance. 

Mirror Lake 

After our early morning stops we checked out of the hotel and boarded the shuttle which took us to our next destination: Mirror Lake. The hike to Mirror Lake begins at Shuttle Stop #17 and is a short 2-mile round trip hike. The hike took us on paved path through a beautiful wooded area along Tenaya Creek. Mirror Lake isn't as much of a lake as it is a wide bend in the river. In the winter the standing water portions of it are frozen, allowing us the opportunity to venture onto the ice! The hike also put us right in front of Half Dome, giving us an idea of how massive a piece of granite it is.

Valley View

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Our final stop before we left Yosemite was Valley View. Valley View offers a similar view as Tunnel View except it's right on the valley floor along the Merced River. Half Dome isn't in view but you get to play with reflections again. And when the structures and formations of Yosemite are as massive and beautiful as they are it's nice to see them twice in one photo! 

Helpful tips for a winter trip to Yosemite: 

  • Stay close to all the action by picking lodging in the park, we chose Yosemite Lodge at the Falls for it's affordability but the Ahwahnee Hotel is a more luxurious option.

  • Purchase or rent tire chains prior to reaching the park or rent a 4WD vehicle. In the winter tire chains are mandatory for 2WD vehicles. It is incredibly inconvenient to have to turn around at the park entrance because you aren't carrying chains!