Yosemite has been the top item on our California bucket list ever since we moved to the Golden State. It’s taken us two years, but we finally scraped some plans together and made the trek!
Everyone we talked to said to make reservations months in advance and don’t go in the summer—we did neither. We booked an Airbnb the week of and went in July.
A few days before our trip, Jackson decided to throw our names in the Half Dome lottery and to our surprise, we were picked! Not only were we finally going to visit Yosemite, but we were going to hike one of the most iconic trails there!
We hit the road at 4:30 am on a Saturday to drive from Santa Barbara to Yosemite. Jackson drove the entire way while I either slept or read—spoiled, I know!
When we got near the park we hit major traffic. It took an hour and a half to go three miles to the park entrance. Once we got into the park, it took another hour or so to get to Yosemite Valley where all the main hikes and views we wanted to see were located.
We stopped at Tunnel View to take in the iconic view of El Capitan and Half Dome. It was well worth the crowds to snag a pic at this spot.
We hopped back in the car and very slowly made our way around Yosemite Valley along with every other person in California it seemed. It wasn’t until 3 pm when we finally found a spot to park, despite circling multiple parking lots, along the side of the road. Who knew sitting for hours could be so painful!
I ordered hiking boots three days before our trip—not the smartest idea, but it was a much better alternative to my beat up Nikes from college. I laced up my boots for the first time that day and we began hiking to Lower Yosemite Falls along the Valley Loop Trail.
The falls were breathtaking. It made all those hours in the car well worth it. By the time we made it through all the traffic and to the falls we figured we should get to our Airbnb in Fresno (2.5 hours from Yosemite Valley) at a decent time so we could prep for hiking Half Dome the following day.
With a 5.5 mile hiking under our belts, and an attempt to break in my hiking boots, we got back in the car, grabbed some Chipotle and called it a night.
To be real, I was very nervous about hiking Half Dome. It would be the longest and hardest hike I’d ever attempted. Half Dome is a famous rock formation in Yosemite National Park known for it’s unmistakable shape. It sits at 8,839 ft of elevation and involves a 14-16 mile round-trip hike. The most infamous part of the hike is the 400 ft ascent up the cables that allow hikers to get to the top without rock climbing gear—and they are just as steep as they look! We studied up on all the best Half Dome hiking tips to prepare as much as possible.
Someone pocket dialed Jackson at 11 pm the night before and I woke up in a panic! I mean body shaking, hands sweaty sort of panic, thinking it was time to hike. It took awhile to get back to sleep as my mind raced through hiking in the dark morning hours (Hello bears and mountain lions, eat me now!) and plummeting to my death at 8,000 ft of elevation while trying to finish the last stretch of the hike on the cables.
We woke up at 1:45 am and were on the road by 2 am. They were doing some construction on the roads near the park entrance and we had to politely wake the construction man holding the stop/slow sign to let us through. We found a parking spot around 4:30 am, ate our blueberry coconut overnight oats, and turned our headlamps on to start the trek.
Once we got going, it was exhilarating! I almost wished we would have started even earlier. It helped seeing other hikers a few feet ahead, knowing we weren’t alone if a bear were to approach.
There are a lot of steps the first few miles of the hike and we felt pretty accomplished passing fellow hikers on them—all those Saturday stadium stairs workouts were paying off!
The sun started to peak out as we got closer to the Nevada Falls on the Mist Trail.
It took us about four hours to get to the cables, and we were pretty impressed with ourselves for getting there so quickly. Right before the cables is the sub dome which might have been the hardest part of the hike altogether! It’s a steep climb of switchback after switchback. Then toward the top, the trail becomes hard to identify and you just have to climb your way up hoping you’re on the right path. Thankfully when we go to the top we spotted more people and the base of the cables.
This is where we got our first look at the cables. Whether or not we were ready, it was going to happen. There were about six other people starting their ascent and a couple who had just gotten down recommended we wait until they get further up to begin so we wouldn’t be waiting for them. Great advice!
We decided I would go first so Jackson could talk to me from behind. We’re so glad we waited because the people in front of us were in no hurry to make it to the top which would have meant more time to panic on the cables. I didn’t allow myself to look anywhere but straight ahead and at the person above me so I’d know when to climb to the next wooden plank.
Jackson looked down a few times and said it made his heart jump out of his chest. We considered passing the people in front of us but didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, including ourselves, on such an intense part of the hike. After 25 minutes we arrived at the top!
We celebrated with some much deserved PB+J while taking in the incredible view of the park.
It was more strenuous hiking down the cables, but we felt so accomplished at that point that it didn’t scare us one bit. We were staring straight down the side of the rock and it was my favorite view of the entire hike! Jackson asked if I’d be comfortable with him pulling his phone out to take a picture, to which I said no way, but he did it anyway and it was well worth it!
We made it down in 30 minutes. It probably would have taken less time, but there was a woman near the bottom that was having a panic attack and we were in no rush.
It’s crazy how hiking back down the trail presented a whole new set of obstacles. Our exhausted knees had to climb down all the steps they climbed up a few hours earlier and we could feel it alright. My feet were doing pretty good in the new boots until the last few miles. I could feel the blisters forming with each step.
When we neared the Mist Trail toward the beginning of the hike it was packed with people. This made the hike take way longer because we were moving down slippery steps near a gorgeous waterfall with loads of people. The sights were breathtaking, but our breath had already been taken away from the day’s events and we were ready to get back to the car.
At some point near the end our desire to get back outweighed the pain it took to get there. We zigzagged between people as the path allowed and booked our way back.
We spotted a bear cub along the path and were so grateful to have seen it in the afternoon instead of the dark morning hours. But where a bear cub is, there’s a mama bear near by and we were more than okay with not waiting for her to make her debut.
As soon as we got to the car, our boots came off and walking shoes came on. It was only 1 pm so we thought we should stay in the park a bit longer but didn’t want to do any more hiking.
Luckily, we parked right next to a park shuttle. We grabbed a seat and rode over to the visitor center to take in a bit of the park’s history. It felt so good to sit again!
We left the park and set out for a burger joint. We popped into a BurgerIM—it’s like the Chipotle and Pieology of gourmet burgers. Jackson got the dry-aged beef burger and I got the grilled chicken sandwich, of course. Jackson spotted a Half Dome beer on tap and it felt all too appropriate for the day. We devoured our well-earned burgers and fries.
After dinner we picked up a pint of Enlightened S’mores Ice Cream and crushed it like we crushed all 16 miles of the Half Dome trail in 8.5 hours.
Despite our exhausting day before, we woke up at 4 am the next morning to savor the last leg of our trip. We started with a drive to Glacier Point where we spent some time sipping coffee in the early morning light before heading to the Taft Point trailhead.
Our bodies definitely felt the activity from the day before, hence the six blisters that took up a nice chunk of real estate on my feet, but with a few band aids and fresh pair of socks, we laced up our shoes once again for another day of hiking.
The morning air was crisp. We felt so accomplished from the day before that the day’s hikes were even more rewarding. The path was well shaded and the more we got moving the better our bodies felt.
It was an easy hike and we were the only one’s on it. We made it to Taft Point and snagged a pic of the iconic view. Jackson insisted on climbing to the point while I took a picture from across the way. I wasn’t too keen on the idea since a couple had died falling off that same cliff in 2018, but he promised he’d be extremely safe so I just prayed as he made his way over.
When he got back to where I was standing, he said it was way safer than he expected so we switched places and I wandered over to the point too.
Parts of Taft Point might have been even scarier than Half Dome! The cliffs dropped straight down and my heart was beating faster than it would during a HIIT workout.
We intended on only hiking a couple miles but since our bodies felt much better than expected we decided to take a longer, more strenuous loop to Sentinel Dome from Taft Point.
The views along the way were stunning. We felt so connected to each other throughout the entire trail and eased our way along the path.
We got to the top of Sentinel Dome and admired the view of Half Dome from afar. It was crazy thinking we were on top of that steep rock just hours earlier.
We enjoyed a nice snack break before making our way back down and onto our last Yosemite adventure.
The final thing we fit into our trip was the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. We weaved through the forest feeling like tiny ants among the large trees. The two-mile loop was the perfect way to end our trip, especially since it was right by the park entrance.
We ended up hiking 8.4 miles that day but didn’t mind one bit since we had the long car ride ahead. We left the park at 1 pm and arrived home around 7 pm. It was one of the best vacations we’ve done yet!