Arrive in Fresno, the largest city in California’s 450-mile-long Central Valley. The commercial hub of vast agricultural region, Fresno is surrounded by fruit and nut orchards and vegetable farms. The Sierra Nevada mountain range rises to the east, and Yosemite National Park is less than 70 miles away. This evening, meet your Expedition Leaders at a welcome dinner.
Day 2: Mariposa Grove / Wawona / Fish Camp
Depart early this morning to drive north across the San Joaquin Valley and into the Sierra foothills to reach Yosemite National Park. Leaving flat farmland behind, watch the vegetation zones change as we ascend from scrub and chapparal to the lower montane forest characterized by ponderosa pine, California black oak, white fir and incense-cedar. But the true arboreal patriarchs are the giant sequoias found in Mariposa Grove, with more than 500 mature trees. In 1864, President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant Act, protecting Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley for "public use, resort, and recreation," seeding the concept for America’s national parks. This landmark legislation, enacted during the Civil War, marked the first time the U.S. government set aside scenic natural areas to be preserved for future generations. Yosemite National Park was created in 1890, and Mariposa Grove was later added to it in 1906. On a walk through the grove, we’ll view the most famous trees including the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant and drive-through Tunnel Tree.
We are immersed in Yosemite’s early history at Wawona, a wide-open basin that was home to Native Americans and a primary thoroughfare for early travelers to the park. On a visit to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, learn how Yosemite became an inspiration for national parks throughout the nation and world. This afternoon, escape the crowds on a walk in Wawona Meadow where abundant wildflowers grace the trails. Spend the night at Tenaya Lodge, a renowned mountain resort in Fish Camp on the edge of the park.
Days 3-5: Exploring the Yosemite Valley
Heading deeper into the park, pause at Tunnel View to survey the grand entrance to Yosemite Valley. Famed photographer Ansel Adams, who lived several summers in Yosemite in the 1920s, called the valley "always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space." We have three unhurried days to explore all the highlights of the valley, including waterfalls that pour from on high, plus hidden surprises our Expedition Leaders are privy to. And since we are privileged to stay inside the park at the famous Ahwanee Hotel, we have access to the valley floor in the early morning and late evening hours when daytripper crowds are gone.
All the legendary sights are on display, from the 3,000-foot vertical face of El Capitan to the sheer granite wall of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Vernal Falls in season, and the silver ribbon of the Merced River—those who wish may choose an optional float trip (included). And since we travel with two Expedition Leaders, we’re able to divide up for easier and more challenging hikes according to personal preference. Wildlife abounds in the park, though larger mammals, such as black bears, bighorn sheep, mule deer, coyotes and red fox often remain hidden. Look, too, for some of Yosemite’s 262 bird species—165 are year-round park residents.
Please note: On 2022 departures, we will travel Glacier Point Road on Day 3 when it is re-opened following an extended period of construction and restoration. Glacier Point Road will be closed in 2021.
Day 6: Yosemite’s High Country / Tioga Road / Tuolumne Meadows / Lee Vining
Spend the day following the Tioga Road, a 47-mile scenic drive that connects Crane Flats with 9,943-foot Tioga Pass. The highest automobile road in California, it offers endless panoramas of forested mountainsides, meadows, lakes and granite domes. We stop to view many highlights along the way, which may include North Dome, Olmsted Point, Soda Springs, Tioga Lake and Dana Meadows. The alpine scenery in the park’s higher eastern elevations is splendid, and summer wildflowers dot the expansive high-country meadows with color. Enjoy easy hikes away from the road and crowds. Crossing Tioga Pass, descend to the eastern flank of the Sierras where we spend the night at a lodge in Lee Vining near Mono Lake.
Day 7: Mono Lake—Canoeing / Tuolumne Meadows / El Portal
Rise early to watch the sunrise over Mono Lake, when the tufa towers—limestone pinnacles that rise out of the lake's surface—are illumined in dawn’s golden glow. Formed at least 760,000 years ago, this saline soda lake has no outlet, causing high levels of salts to accumulate and making its water alkaline. Mono Lake forms an important oasis in the arid Great Basin, filled with brine shrimp that create vital habitat for 2 million migratory and nesting birds. Learn about the fascinating geology of the area over breakfast in the field, followed by a private canoe paddle on the lake.
We then head back over Tioga Pass for more exploration, with entirely different views unfolding as we travel westward, cresting the high mountain saddle and dropping back down into Yosemite Valley. The park roadway, which crosses the southern edge of subalpine Tuolumne Meadows at 8,600 feet, is the only roads across the High Sierra until you are south of Mt. Whitney—marking the northern end of the largest contiguous roadless wilderness in the continental U.S. We stop to hike in the meadows, filled with wildflowers in season. The Tuolumne River meanders quietly through the meadow channel, cascading over the granite river bottom against a backdrop of rugged peaks and glacially carved domes. Declared a Wild and Scenic River by Congress in 1984, the Tuolumne originates in the high country near the east side of the park. By early evening, we exit the park at El Portal, winding up our Sierra sojourn with a farewell dinner tonight.
Day 8: Fresno / Depart
After breakfast, a transfer is provided to the Fresno airport to connect with departing flights.
Please note: This is a new trip. The itinerary above is preliminary and subject to change.
Physical Rating: Moderate