Happy Wanderer: Yosemite’s ‘shoulder season’ a great time to visit

Mercurynews.com: November 5, 2020

photo courtesy of Ginny Prior
A favorite Yosemite Valley fall hike is the pleasant, forested trek to Mirror Lake, which gets no water this time of year but features a vast expanse of sand and rocks and a nearby collection of Hoo Doos, above, on a hillside.

November brings good news for those of us ‘pining’ for outdoor adventures. Yosemite National Park is no longer requiring advance reservations. The 5-month policy requiring day passes during peak summer travel ended Nov. 1 as the park ushers in “shoulder season.”

I experienced the solitude of shoulder season, that sweet spot between the busy and slow seasons, when I visited the park recently. Booking a premium Explorer Cabin at the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite gave me a cozy home base just outside the park’s south gate in Fishcamp. The luxury cabins are set on 27 acres of incense cedar, sugar pines and colorful aspen trees, and mine had two bedrooms — a living room a with fireplace and kitchenette and a walk-in shower. At sunrise I took my coffee to the back deck and rocked in the red Adirondack chair overlooking Big Creek and its wooded walking trails. At sunset, after returning from the park, the warm cabin lights and outdoor fire rings danced in the evening glow.

Yosemite in autumn is a season to bond silently with nature, to take in the last breaths of color on the cottonwoods, dogwoods and quaking aspen. It’s a time when a visit to Mariposa Grove, just a short drive away, lets you experience the giant sequoias without crowds — the way John Muir and Ansel Adams would have seen them a century ago. Yosemite in autumn also lets you explore Yosemite Valley’s floor without the summer crowds that make social distancing more difficult on popular trails.

One of my favorite fall hikes is the pleasant, forested trek to Mirror Lake. An easy 3 miles round-trip, you access the trail from the Curry Village parking lot. Into early November, blazing colors of quaking aspen, cottonwoods and weeping willows frame granite outcroppings as you hike along the dry creek bed. Mirror Lake itself sees no water at this time of year but rather a vast expanse of sand and rocks — at least one of which you can climb on for a fine photo with the granite walls as backdrop. A little farther along, you’ll see a collection of Hoo Doos on a hillside. In an eerie aside, I stepped on a wasp nest while taking photos there, resulting in a painful sting and a warning not to get too close.

A meal is always a treat at the Ahwahnee, where the grand dining room’s vaulted ceilings let you feel the grandeur of the granite walls that guard the treasured hotel. A tasty but limited menu allows you to order, pick up and take your meal to your table in the dining room, where the staff has been trained in the latest safety measures and is actively disinfecting surfaces before each new diner arrives.

Afternoon hikes might be on the agenda to Yosemite or Bridal Veil Falls, or you may want to take in the outdoor museum near the Wawona Hotel. The hotel itself is closed until spring for upgrades, but the Pioneer Yosemite History Center is a pleasant stroll back in time past several of the park’s early buildings, moved from different locations in the park and preserved near the popular year-round Wawona General Store. The highlight is the 1857 covered bridge, built to accommodate the bustling stagecoach traffic that stopped for the night at the Wawona Hotel before making the eight-hour trip to Yosemite Valley. You can also walk through the old gray barn on the property, used for stagecoach repairs.

The Pioneer Museum is just 5 minutes from the Tenaya Yosemite Lodge, which means you can arrive back at your cabin in time for a glass of wine on your deck or a drink in the main lodge — perhaps one of the resort’s famous Bloody Mary’s crafted in Jackalope’s Bar and Grill. The 20-ounce drink is chock-full of vodka-soaked veggies — a veritable garden in a goblet — and perhaps the perfect beverage to view a challenging year in your rear-view mirror.


Find rates (including for Thanksgiving weekend), cleaning procedures and more at the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, at tenayalodge.com.

For more information on COVID-19 safety measures in Yosemite National Park, see bayareane.ws/38aEgfI.


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