…Is that I want to do all the stuff I shouldn’t. Hiking to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls in spring, taking multi-day treks to the famed back country camps in the summer, cross-country skiing at Badger Pass in the winter…all fabulous, high-energy activities better suited to healthy people in great shape.
So, do I bother going to Yosemite National Park at all, given that all those iconic activities are a bit beyond me? Oh heavens yes. Here’s why and how:
Yosemite Valley Floor is the friendliest place for travelers with pain, once you get past the horrible, awful, grinding morass of traffic. If you possibly can, try to enter Yosemite Valley Sunday-Thursday, and leave it on a day that’s not Sunday. And if you can manage to visit during the off-season (after Labor Day and before Memorial Day), do it. Best case scenario, you drive in to the Valley, park your car, get out, and enjoy a nice day of gentle walking and stunning views. Worst case scenario, you spend several hours in stop-and-go (more stop than go) traffic on the road into the Valley, and have a great deal of trouble finding anyplace to stack your vehicle once you’ve arrived. The scenery out of the car window remains stunning.
Grab a map of the hiking trails in advance, and highlight those that are within your reach, physically. You’ve got to be in great shape to make it to the top of Half Dome, but the trail to Bridal Veil Falls is only a half mile’s worth of reasonably level ground, and the mile-long Cooke’s Meadow Loop shows off some of Yosemite’s most famous chunks of rock in a flat, wheelchair accessible kind of way. Both of these trails allow leashed pets, including service animals.
Once you leave the Valley, short and easy hikes become fewer and further between. While you can find “easy” hikes up on Tioga Pass and in White Wolf and Wawona, they tend to run 4-6 miles long. I think that by easy the NPS means “flat,” which isn’t quite the same thing for folks who can’t walk longer distances. Of course you can always start walking out on a trail, then walk back when you feel like you’re halfway done.
Other things to do in Yosemite can be less strenuous than the endless hiking. If your particular pain lets you sit a horse easier than hoofing it yourself, check out the horseback and mule riding options. All three stables offer easy two-hour trail rides suited for beginner and low-endurance riders. Be aware that the multi-day pack trips are meant for strong, healthy folks who can handle a saddle all day long and then sleep on the ground.
Wannabe-Ansels can take photography classes and photography walks. The walks last 90 minutes and are free–when you sign up at the Ansel Adams Gallery, ask where you’ll be strolling and what the difficulty level will look like. (It will probably be flat and easy.) Birdwatchers flock to Yosemite, seeking out undeveloped forest and meadow areas to sit quiet and watch the birdies. Anglers are also welcome at Yosemite’s streams and lakes–the trick is that you’ve got to get yourself out to the fishable areas. Check trail maps before planning the perfect fishing trip to a remote mountain stream that turns out to be ten miles from the nearest parking lot. Swimmers get to use the same bodies of water that the fisherfolks do–beware, that meltwater’s icy cold even in August!
A few activities that travelers with pain should skip, in my not so humble opinion, include backpacking, rock climbing, rafting and kayaking, skiing (both XC and downhill), and snowshoeing. Your mileage may vary.
Coming up…Yosemite Part 2: where to stay and where to dine in and around Yosemite.