Travel

Yosemite National Park offers nature that’s big and beautiful

Yosemite National Park is a magical place to recharge, rewire and replenish yourself. The natural vistas are soothing and invigorating; beauty and diverse landscape greet you at every turn. But plan ahead: Make your reservations now. Most of the park is “no occupancy” during the peak summertime.

Getting around

If you lease an automobile out of San Francisco, be sure to secure tire chains at the car rental agency: The window for no snowfall in Yosemite National Park is short – realistically, June through August. There are public transit options that run between Bay Area airports and the small Yosemite town of Merced, Calif. ( www.yosemitepark.com/public-transportation.aspx). Amtrak train service is also available to the scenic Yosemite Valley.

Once you arrive at the park, hop on the free Half Loop Valley Shuttle that runs throughout the year. The Valley Floor Loop starts at the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead, shuttle stop No. 6. Hiking the 6.5-mile loop takes approximately three hours.

Staying there

President Teddy Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir, crusaders for the national parks, would cringe at the cost of booking a four-night Yosemite vacation nowadays. Lodging inside the valley can run to an astronomical rate of $955 per night.

For a more affordable hotel alternative, stay just outside the national park. Just five minutes from Yosemite entrance is the well-appointed Yosemite Cedar Lodge hotel ( www.stayyosemitecedarlodge.com). This lodge appears to have seen better day, but no worries: With fresh linens and clean rooms you can still find time to immerse yourself in the local landscape. A short walk across the road yields a romantic gazebo nestled alongside the swift-moving Merced River.

The lodge features an indoor as well as outdoor swimming pool. But bring along some groceries: There is one on-site restaurant, but no really exciting dining opportunities for miles. They even have a YARTS (Yosemite Regional Transportation System) bus stop outside this rustic lodge.

Watch your step

With descriptions of Yosemite like “the glorious place” or “breathtaking,” you knew there was going to be a catch. This place can be as dangerous as it is beautiful. Watch out for mice, which can be infected with hantavirus. Hikers can be hit by lightning atop the famed Half Dome. The Merced River can be wild. A large tree or boulder can fall. You could get swept off a 317-foot waterfall.

Even on a short hike to the mighty sequoias you can hear the warning growl of a mountain lion. They even have a website dedicated to the people who have died at this legendary park: www.yosemiteparkdeaths.com.

On the water

Shredding tight channels and whisking past incredible scenery is more than just speed and fun. Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions ( www.zrafting.com/rivers/merced/merced-half-day-trips) sets the standard on the Merced River. Whitewater paddling adventures through twisting torrents with friends and family will never be forgotten. If you’re looking for a whitewater raft expedition, this is the group to trust.

The length of the Yosemite rafting season changes from year to year and depending on river depths, water temperature and weather conditions.

Hiking and and more

Don’t follow the masses along the Yosemite Valley loop when you can strike out on your own – with a personalized guide, of course. Backpacking and day hikes can be an extremely humbling and rewarding experience. Yosemite Guide Service ( www.yosemiteguideservice.com) builds affordable trips around your or your family’s interests. By pacing the difficulty level to abilities of your group, this is your opportunity to trek the daunting Sierra Nevada Mountains. Commune with nature and don’t miss this one-of-a-kind private hiking tour. Yosemite Guide Service offers an optimal guide-to-client ratio and specializes in backpacking.

When it comes to angling on the river, Jimmie Morales offers the exploit of a lifetime. Few experiences rival the adventure and thrill of fly fishing. After spending an afternoon with Sierra Fly Fisher tours ( www.sierraflyfisher.com), you’ll be able to spin a few yarns about aerial acrobatics and how you reeled in the big feisty one. No need to feel left out: fly-fishing classes and trips are customized for anglers of all skill levels.

Photography

Get the most out of your camera at the Phil Hawkins Workshop ( www.yosemitephotoworkshops.com). Participants will take their wildlife and nature photography to the next level. The two-day course will set you back $450 – a bargain when you consider a signed poster reprint by a professional costs easily that much.

Have a good time capturing quality imagery and getting the most zing from your digital camera. Better still: no more than six participants per instructor. Landscape and night photography classes, workshops and photo tours in an inspirational setting – you can’t ask for more.

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