When the National Park Service provides a webpage with advice for towing your trailer up a specific hill, you know it’s going to be a fun drive. With its narrow winding roads, more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain, and 8% grade at some points along the way, climbing Tioga Pass was definitely an adventure. At 9,943 feet, it is the highest drivable pass in California—but it was no match for our Toyota Tundra and Kevin’s ninja driving skills. We made it to the top without incident and were greeted by a friendly park ranger at the east entrance to Yosemite National Park.
We arrived at Yosemite on a Sunday afternoon and drove through the park and out the South Entrance that same day. We were headed to Bass Lake, where Kevin’s aunt and uncle had generously offered to let us leave The Bullet in their driveway while we were backpacking (Thank you, Chip and Joine!).
The drive through Yosemite was a lot like our experience at Zion National Park where we had to dodge pedestrians and poorly parked cars, but once again we managed not to run anyone over—even the people standing in the middle of the road trying to capture the perfect selfie. (Seriously, people, a selfie isn’t worth your life.)
With The Bullet parked safely at Bass Lake, our meal planning/shopping complete, and our bags packed, we headed back into Yosemite early the next morning. Once we picked up our permit at the Wawona Ranger Station and showed the ranger that we had an approved bear canister, we were ready to start our adventure.
Kevin created this map in case you want to follow along. If you click on the link above the image it will take you to an interactive version of the map. Yes, he’s fancy like that.
Start: Alder Creek Trailhead (4023 feet)
End: Turner Meadows (7490 feet)
Mileage: 12 miles
Total Climb: 3962 feet
As Robert Frost says, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by…” We chose the Alder Creek Trailhead because it is not one of the popular hikes out of the Yosemite Valley. This trailhead is at the south end of the park and we hoped that would mean seeing fewer people on the trail, even though we were hiking during peak tourist season.
It turns out that we chose wisely. The only person we saw all day was a park ranger and he said we were the only people he had seen all day too. We stopped to chat with him for a bit while he checked our permit and he said this is one of his favorite—and he believes one of the most underrated—parts of the park. We agree. We saw very few people during our three days on the trail, even though the scenery was absolutely beautiful.
Day 1 was all about climbing. We climbed and climbed and then we climbed some more. We climbed nearly 4,000 feet in 12 miles, but it was worth it. While we love living on the Georgia coast, we miss having real mountains nearby. Early on in this hike we could tell it was going to help us get our mountain fix for awhile.
We made it to Turner Meadows by early evening and found a flat spot near a stream that turned out to be a perfect place to set up our tent. Suzanne was in charge of dinner that night and made a dish from our camping repertoire: Clam Pasta (Main ingredients: pasta, canned clams, Babybel cheese). Food tastes so good after a long day of hiking!
We practiced proper bear safety etiquette by cooking dinner more than 100 feet away from our campsite. And after washing our dishes and putting all food, trash, toiletries, etc. into the bear canister (which we also set 100 feet away), we settled in for a quiet and bear-free night under the stars.
Pictures from Day 1
Start: Turner Meadows (7490 feet)
End: Grouse Lake (8450 feet)
Mileage: 13.3 miles
Total Climb: 2516 feet
Suzanne woke up on Day 2 sore, but otherwise well-rested. Sadly, Kevin was reminded during the night that his air mattress had a small hole in it. Oops. We knew that, we had just forgotten to fix it after our last trip. So Kevin ended up spending most of the night without any cushion. Not fun.
Day 2 was another day of climbing, but only 2500 feet compared to the previous day’s 4000. So basically it was a walk in the park (just kidding!). We reached our highest point in the hike on Day 2—9,350 feet at Buena Vista Pass—before starting a gentle descent.
Day 2 highlights were: lunch at Buena Vista Lake, views from the trail near Buena Vista Pass, and meeting a fat (and overly-friendly) marmot at Royal Arch Lake. Suzanne wanted to bring the fat marmot home, but Kevin pointed out that he was obviously not geriatric and far too young for our family. Good point. Call me in a few years, Fat Marmot.
The lowlight of Day 2 was trying to find somewhere to sleep. On the map, it looked like we had plenty of options because there were a few different lakes along the trail. But Royal Arch Lake was too early in the day and would have made Day 3 too long. (And as cute as the fat marmot was, if we had camped there we know he would have stolen our food. He didn’t get that fat by eating berries.)
Johnson Lake was also too early in the day. Crescent Lake had too many bugs. Then we found an overlook that looked promising, but there were already people camping there. We found a back-up option near the overlook but it had too many ants and rocks. So as the sun was setting we decided to put our packs back on and hike no more than 15 minutes further. Luckily, like Goldilocks and the three bears’ porridge, we finally found a spot that was just right.
We set up camp on a ledge above Grouse Lake and Kevin made chicken and dumplings for dinner. (Main ingredients: Bisquick, canned chicken, soup mix). Once again, we set the bear canister 100 feet away and then crawled into our sleeping bags for a peaceful night of sleep after a long day.
Pictures from Day 2
Start: Grouse Lake (8450 feet)
End: Alder Creek Trailhead (4023 feet)
Mileage: 10 miles
Total Descent: 4417 feet
On Day 3 we were up and out early, chasing the carrot of a shower and real food. We had 10 miles to hike and figured it would go by quickly since it was almost all downhill. Finally, no more climbing! We soon learned, however, that too much downhill is a bad thing. Our toes yelled at us more than once to slow down.
Day 3 was a day of waterfalls. We stopped a few times to enjoy the rushing water and to give our toes a break. We were exiting the backcountry via the Chilnualna Falls Trailhead and were treated to some beautiful scenery on the way down. Once we reached the trailhead we had to walk another mile or two on the main road to get back to the Alder Creek Trailhead where we started. A hiker we met at the falls stopped and offered us a ride in his car, but we wanted to finish what we started. And we did.
Pictures from Day 3
We both decided that we needed some post-hike Mexican food. Not wanted, needed. So we stopped at The Bullet to shower and change out of our dirty clothes first and then we headed straight to Casa Velasco for a giant beer and delicious food. The staff had probably never seen anyone clean their plates so quickly (or ask for a fifth bowl of chips and salsa).
With full bellies and lots of great memories from three days in Yosemite, we headed back to The Bullet and slept like we hadn’t slept in a very long time. The next morning we said goodbye to Bass Lake and headed west. We’ll pick up there next time. See you on down the road!
Thanks again to Chip and Joine for letting us park the The Bullet in their driveway
while we were hiking. This was the perfect home base for us!