What a terrific idea, for the First Family to use a visit to Yosemite National Park last month to focus attention on the wealth of beautiful landscapes protected by the National Park Service during its centennial year. After all, Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia was first protected by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 “upon the express conditions that the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation.” Later, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the area in 1903 for a three-day wilderness trip with naturalist John Muir. The rest is our history.
However, President Obama’s trip could have been so much more, if the White House followed these tips offered by the tourism organization shepherding more than half of the park, the most popular entrance, and the busiest visitor center, in Tuolumne County.
For the rest of us who may be planning a visit to Yosemite National Park:
Ask the experts. Karen Foreman, Manager of Tuolumne County’s Visitor Centers, speaks to thousands of visitors each season. What they ask, she says, is how she continues to hone her expert advice. “Visitor questions vary because of age, interest, and home. People from China ask for different advice than people from Colorado.” Her advice? “If it is your first time to Yosemite, you’ll want to see the iconic views from the Valley Floor, but arrive early to avoid crowds and traffic. And for a quiet hike in the wilderness, head to Tuolumne Meadows.”
Let your ‘advance team’ do the planning. OK, this sounds like the White House’s approach, but we mean a local guide who can plan an outing or hike to explore areas of the park which are not overcrowded. (More than four million people will visit Yosemite this year, and 95% will experience two square miles.) It might be just a one-mile hike to the giant sequoia trees, or a 14-mile overnight hike to feel the mist of the Wapama Falls, where you may see fewer people than in your carpool. Check out Yosemite Family Adventures (yfa.com) or YExplore (www.yexplore.com), two local guide companies with lots of options. For big water fun, check out O.A.R.S. rafting adventures (www.OARS.com).
Stay overnight. We get it—this creates a granite mountain of issues for important people, but the rest of us like to stay a few days while on vacation. Choose to stay outside the park where lodging is plentiful and more affordable in Groveland, near the Highway 120 entrance to the park, or in the county’s main city, Sonora – still the darling of the Mother Lode, its twin, Jamestown, or at cooler elevations along Highway 108 in Twain Harte (yes, those guys), at Pinecrest Lake and surroundings. Lodging options are at www.yosemitegoldcountry.com.
Local cuisine and libations can create lasting memories. We don’t know what the Obamas ate during their brief stay, but we didn’t get any requests for our grass fed beef purveyor, the nation’s best-selling organic turkey, mile-high apple pie orchard and restaurant, organic hard apple cider or our duck wrapped jalapenos poppers laced with bourbon. The food scene is burgeoning in Tuolumne County, with big city chefs enjoying affordable lease options and appreciative patrons. yosemitegoldcuontry.com
Don’t drive yourself.
OK, the similarities stop at “taxpayer dollars”, but you, too, can be chauffeured in and out of Yosemite National Park without steering or stressing over parking. YARTS, the Yosemite Area Regional Transit System, offers busy season daily transportation to the Yosemite National Park’s valley floor, which connects to a free shuttle. The motor coach is equipped with air conditioning and restrooms, and the cost includes children under 12 free with paying adult, and park admission. yarts.com
Bring the family.
Bring your children to see Yosemite National park. President Roosevelt said, “There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias…our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred,” said Theodore Roosevelt.
If you stop by the Visitors Center in Sonora at 542 Stockton Road, Karen Foreman has some advice. Call in advance of a visit at 800-446-1333 or 209-533-4420.
Tuolumne, pronounced “To-All-O-Me” encompasses the Stanislaus National Forest, the gold rush site of Columbia State Historic Park, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park (the Hollywood backlot where the American west has been depicted on screen) and jewel-box towns dotting the windy ribbon road of Highway 49, named after the miners whose fortunes helped build San Francisco. The county’s entrance to Yosemite National Park is the most direct route from the San Francisco Bay Area, just 3 ½ hours. www.yosemitegoldcountry.com.
Three Visitor Centers along the entrance to Yosemite National Park via Highway 120 assist visitors from around the world. The Chinese Camp Visitor Center is on Highway 120, ten miles from Sonora (across from the General Store.) The main Visitor Center is at 542 West Stockton Road, downtown Sonora. The newest Visitor Center is in Groveland on Highway 120 in the Mountain Leisure Center. Here, a National Park Ranger is on hand for assistance daily until Columbus Day. Downloadable maps and visitor guides are available at www.yosemitegoldcountry.com.