Yosemite in the Spring - Valley Loop Bike Ride - Hike Yosemite Falls - Curry Village


Yosemite for a Change

Yosemite is a classic destination any season, but this winter's big snowpack has started the spring waterfalls raging and fresh air flowing. Grab your camera and some hiking boots, and get to Yosemite Valley before the summer crowds.  

Bike Yosemite Valley

Sweet Roll

The glacier that carved Yosemite Valley must have had cruiser bikes in mind. Bring your own two-wheeler or rent a cruiser by the hour from Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or Curry Village, then hop on the 10-mile, car-free, paved trail that loops around the valley. From all compass points the views are high (Half Dome), mighty (El Capitan), and spectacular (waterfalls galore). With all this natural grandeur, staying focused on the trail can be tough! A side trip to Mirror Lake is prime in spring: this wide section of Tenaya Creek, literally in the shadow of Half Dome, fills only during the spring run-off and offers a crystal-clear mirror effect—especially in the morning. Back on the valley floor, keep wheeling to Lower Yosemite Falls, where there's an easy walk to the viewpoint.

TIP: Due to road construction, part of the valley's Northside Dr. is closed, so El Capitan Meadow is more quiet and serene than it's been in recent memory. With no cars and few tourists, this meadow makes a perfect picnic spot. Bring a blanket and binoculars—often you can spot rock climbers on El Capitan, the world's largest granite monolith.

For a map to the 10-mile Valley Loop Trail, click here. To get to El Capitan Meadow by bike, pedal a couple of miles on Northside Dr., even though it's closed to cars. Once you reach the "No Bikes" sign, dismount and walk .75 mile west to El Capitan Meadow. By car and shuttle, park at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and catch the special "El Cap Meadow Shuttle" at shuttle stop 7.

Hike Upper Yosemite Falls

Top o' the Falls

Itchin' to climb to the top of the tallest waterfall in North America? Goodonya! The 3.5-mile (one way) hike to Upper Yosemite Falls goes up—and up and up—so embark in the early morning with fresh legs and plenty of water. Take it slowly: en route, the plentiful views inspire plentiful breaks. After climbing steadily with little shade, crossing mini streams, scaling sturdy granite sections—with a series of serious switchbacks near the top—the crest of the falls is (finally) yours. Now shimmy right out to the lip and peer 2,425 feet below. Don't worry, there's a little metal bar to make sure you don't fall…

ALTERNATIVE: Slightly less challenging and more popular is the trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls, a Yosemite classic and a must for first-time visitors to the valley. If you can get a pre-10:00 a.m. start, you'll encounter far fewer people on the initial mile of paved trail to Vernal Falls. Then continue on the Mist Trail, which will live up to its name as it climbs to the top of Nevada Falls.

The trailhead to Upper Yosemite Falls starts behind Camp 4 (shuttle stop 7), off of Northside Dr. It's 7 miles roundtrip; allow 5–7 hours. The trailhead to Vernal and Nevada Falls is at shuttle stop 16 at Happy Isles. An out-and-back to Nevada Falls on the Mist Trail is 6 miles; allow 3–5 hours.

Curry Village Pizza Patio

(Eat and) Drink in the Beauty

Ahhh, the après-Yosemite treat: refuel, reenergize, and reward yourself in the valley's beautiful setting. But don't change out of your sweaty hiking gear—it's part of the dress code at the Pizza Patio in Curry Village. A favorite spot among park staff, the Pizza Patio is just what the doctor ordered after a good hike. It's not about the pizza (which is pretty good), but rather the atmosphere of hanging out on a spacious wooden patio with a close-range view of Half Dome. Or for a taste of rustic sophistication, shower up and change your socks for a drop-in at The Ahwahnee Hotel, which serves up nature's decadence along with a classy bar and outdoor patio. The bar's black-and-white photographs and old-time piano hark back to pre-Gore-Tex days. And if you haven't seen the dining room, take a peek at its elegant, high-ceilinged wonder. Swanky!

Staying in Yosemite Valley without reservations months in advance is challenging, but be persistent. Check with the DNC (central reservations: 801-559-4884) for cancellations. To go a step further, call the front desk of your desired destination (they are more likely to have up-to-date information about cancellations) to see if they have availability. Camping and tent cabins without heaters are a good option if you have a warm sleeping bag. Outside the park, the newly renovated Yosemite View Lodge (209-379-2681) is 2 miles from the Arch Rock entrance on Highway 140. The yurts at Yosemite Lakes (209-962-0121) are a great option (bunkhouse cabins also available) and only 2 miles from the Big Oak Flat entrance on Highway 120. The historic Evergreen Lodge (800-935-6343) is 9 miles from the Big Oak Flat entrance and near little-visited Hetch Hetchy. And the Yosemite Westgate Lodge, a.k.a. America's Best Value Inn, (209-962-5281) is a clean and standard two-story motel 30 minutes from the Highway 120 entrance.

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