Yosemite National Park, USA

We left San Francisco pretty early to pick up our rental car. We were doing this part of the trip with our friends so were able to split the cost of the car between us. After packing the car, and adjusting to driving on the right side of the road, we were off to Yosemite National Park! This is one of the places we had been looking forward to the most. The drive usually takes about 4 hours but we wanted to make some stops along the way.

Our first stop was Stanford University. We were really interested to see a top American university in the flesh. It was insane. We were blown away by the size and beauty of it. The facilities it offered were incredible. We took an elevator up a tower/library in the middle of the campus for panoramic views of the university. Wow. It was massive and we thought it looked like a modern version of Hogwarts. Before we left we checked out the quad, which has a gorgeous church, and had a walk through the engineering buildings. Stanford is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

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View of Stanford University

After Stanford we wanted to head down the coast to Santa Cruz before cutting back inland to Yosemite. Unfortunately the coastal route would have taken too long so we just took the direct route to Santa Cruz. It wasn’t really worth the trip, it would have been much nicer to see the coast on the way down, and in our short visit we felt that Santa Cruz itself is nothing special. It was basically just a theme park on a pretty average beach. We had a walk around anyway and then got back on the road. I had been wanting to stop at an In and Out Burger restaurant for a while and we did this for lunch. It did not disappoint! Delicious and very cheap.

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Yummy In and Out Burger

With our bellies full we drove the last few hours to Yosemite with a quick stop at Walmart to pick up supplies. We were going to be staying at a basic campsite so needed cooking equipment and food. I thought I would love Walmart, considering I always enjoy a trip to Kmart, but it was pretty depressing. We were happy to get back on the road.

As we entered Yosemite National Park we were immediately blown away. Hands down it is one of the most impressive places we have ever been to. The whole park is sheer cliffs, pine forests, waterfalls and snowy mountain tops. We drove in just as the sun was going down and we couldn’t resist stopping at every view of a waterfall cascading down the cliffs. We were on the look out for bears but only saw a deer that nearly jumped in front of our car.

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Spectacular Yosemite

We arrived at our accommodation in the Yosemite Valley called Housekeeping Camp. I could not recommend this place highly enough. We were staying in a concrete and canvas cabin with beds and our own fire pit right on the edge of the river. It was by far one of the coolest places we have ever stayed at. It was pretty dark once we had got set up so we made a fire in the pit and cooked dinner followed by smores. Your classic American camping trip.

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Our fantastic camp site

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We woke up in the morning after a freezing night of -2 degrees celsius (I had to sleep in my puffer jacket) and had breakfast and a look around the camp. Near our site was a bridge over the river, which provided the most incredible view of one of the waterfalls down the cliffs. We were once again so stoked that we had decided to stay at Housekeeping Camp.

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View from our camp site

We then packed our backpacks and headed off to explore the park. We decided to do one of the harder hikes, which was straight up to the top of the biggest waterfall in the valley. It was supposed to take about 6 – 8 hours but I think we managed it in about 5 and a half. The hike was fantastic, the continuous uphill got a bit taxing on the legs but the views offered at every angle were mind blowing.

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View of Half Dome

The moment we turned a corner and got a close up view of the waterfall from the base will always be memorable. We were stunned. Even though we were about a few hundred metres from the waterfall we got quite wet from the waterfall spray.

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After making our way to the top we took some time to appreciate the views and eat some lunch. We could see so far across the park, which really made us realise how lucky we were to be in such a beautiful part of the world.

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View from the top

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Americans are so incredibly friendly and we loved chatting to them on the track. We met some entertaining people from Texas who had carved their own walking sticks out of Texas cedar, although one kid was quick to point out “mine’s beech!” (this is a bit of a personal joke from our trip but we basically just loved the accents!!). As we made our way down we saw quite a bit of wildlife, we were on the lookout for bears and mountain lions but unfortunately did not see either. We did see some birds, squirrels and even a snake! It was a Regal Ringneck snake, which luckily is not poisonous.

We made it back to camp with tired legs and a great sense of accomplishment. It was time to relax, drink some wine and start a fire. We got quite a few visitors to our camp from some raiding birds and inquisitive squirrels who were quick to steal any unattended food!

We had a delicious dinner, more smores, and a few too many wines before heading to bed. In the morning Andrew and I got up early to go for a drive around the park. It was great not having many people around and we saw so many deer! They still had the velvet on their horns from the winter months. We stopped to have a look at the El Capitan cliff face where people spend three days rock climbing the sheer cliff face to the top. Apparently they have to sleep in hammocks on the way up, crazy people!

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Deer in Yosemite
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El Capitan

We then went on another walk in the park (this time significantly shorter!), to the Mirror Lakes. This track was in mountain lion country, but no mountain lions were seen. However, the Mirror Lakes were fantastic. The lake really was a mirror clearly reflecting the mountains above.

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Mirror Lakes

After the walk it was unfortunately time to leave Yosemite. We were gutted to leave and could easily have spent another week in the park! There is no question that we will be back though, as it is one of the best and most beautiful places we have ever visited.

Here is a breakdown of our costs for 2 days:

Budget = US$322 (NZ$466)

Accommodation – US$141

Activities – US$8

Food/Drink – US$104

Miscellaneous (Petrol etc) – US$39

Total spent – US$292 (NZ$423)

So we ended up being US$30 (NZ$44) under budget, which we were pretty happy about.

We budgeted separately for car rental, this cost us US$106 (NZ$156) for 3 days.

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