We had a great time in San Francisco, but the wanderlust (and road trip plan) kept calling out to us, and so we had to continue. What better place to venture out next then the luring Yosemite National Park, located in the Sierra mountain range. Taking the Route 120 East kept us on our way to Mammoth Lakes, the ultimate destination on this day. Of course this was the road that would also take us to Las Vegas, but more on that later.
Visiting Yosemite National ParkIn order to get to the park from San Francisco, you really just have to follow the road sights which will lead you the right way, but having a GPS (like we did) is not bad, when it comes to exiting the city. There is some gorgeous nature in these mountains, and we did have the luck of traveling in autumn. Visitors usually flock here in the summer, and I guess it's best visited then. The autumn season is more relaxed and you get to enjoy the park more. At the park entrance you have to pay a fee (30$) to enter and it's valid for 7 days (keep the confirmation on your dashboard). Most visitors also go to the Yosemite Valley, and we were no exception, but we also got to see more once we departed the Valley.
Inside the Yosemite ValleyOnce you start driving down into the valley, you will immediately notice the famous rock formations and impressive woods surrounding you. There are a couple of spots worth a visit here: Happy Isles (which is a great camping ground), Yosemite Falls (right next to the Visitors Center), Mirror Lake (a point in the valley where you can really see the surrounding mountains well). When you enter the Park you will be given a map, which you can use to get around.
Getting around the Yosemite ValleyYou have two options to get around. One is to park your car at the designated parking place near the Yosemite Visitors Center and hop on one of the many free shuttle busses that take you around the park (not the best option if you are here for only one afternoon, like we were), or you can take your car and drive around. We opted for the second thing, and started exploring by car. Beware that you can't drive everywhere with a car, so it's a bit limiting, but you can still see a lot. You can find a park map on the official website by clicking here.
Food and dining in the Yosemite ValleyThis is where it gets tricky. Yes food can be found in the valley, but it's not the best. We ate some soup in the Curry Village, and even though it was delicious, the other menu choices where fast food items (pizza, hot dog) and way overpriced. There are two stores, one at the Curry Village (you can find parking here as well) and at the Visitor's Center (parking here is limited to 30 minutes, although I'm not sure how anyone checks this, since you just park your car, there i no ramp). The best option is to get food and drinks before you arrive. This will save you some time on finding lunch in the Yosemite Valley.
Into the Sierra Mountain RangeIf your ultimate goal of driving through the Yosemite National Park is to get to the east side of the Sierra Mountain Range (for all eastbound drives to Las Vegas, Mammoth Lakes, Lone Pine, etc), then you have to drive down Route 120, also known as Tioga Pass Road. This will also get you to the Tioga Pass. This is the highest point in these mountains and gets snow as early as October (luckily this year was warm and we didn't have any on the road), and opens up in April. Check out the weather conditions before you go, since the road will be closed, and you won't be able to pass at all. Here is the official site with the status report.
Eastbound...Ultimately the descent to the east side of the Sierra Mountains was coming up and the road began to wind down. I stopped one final time to get some images of the sweeping vistas, before returning back to the car, since it was freezing cold. We had a wonderful day in the mountains, driving time from San Francisco to Mammoth Lakes was almost 7 hours though, so keep that in mind as well. You don't want to be stuck in the mountains in the night...
We arrived at 8pm in Mammoth Lakes, grabbed dinner in the wonderful Mexican restaurant called "Roberto's Mexican Cafe" (we had the burritos). We slept in the Austria Hof Lodge, and then continued to Las Vegas the next day. I'll save the story from Sin City for next time.
Only a few places left on our road trip, but I think I saved the best ones for the end! :)
End of Part Ten
To be continued...