So you think a trip to one of our greatest national parks, a natural treasure of breathtaking beauty we all jointly own, is something to consider only during the peak summer vacation period. Well, before you book it for next July or August and finalize your plans for Thanksgiving with grandma, have you considered spending this Thanksgiving at Yosemite?
The mid to late fall time period, and specifically the week of Thanksgiving, is a fantastic time to visit our nations third oldest, third most visited, and in this writer’s opinion, most magnificent national park. The weather is maybe the very best for hiking, accommodations are much cheaper and available on shorter notice, wildlife and fall colors are plentiful, and the summer crowds have gone home.
My wife and I had the fortune of spending a very memorable Thanksgiving at Yosemite a few years back. Our most vivid memory is of an experience that almost never happened. We were beginning our very last full day at the park, and had planned on hiking the “Four Mile Trail” from the valley floor to Glacier Point. We awakened to learn the temperatures were perfect – in the upper 30s with an expected afternoon high in the upper 50s. So what was the problem, right? The factor that nearly caused us to scrap our plans was a think morning fog. We knew visibility would be poor and feared our hike would end at Glacier Point without the ability to see the parks landmark attraction, “Half-Dome”! Luckily, we decided a foggy hike would be better than no hike.
We layered in a pair of long-sleeve shirts, a sweatshirt, and a down vest. As we navigated this great trail, we began to shed layers until as we neared the top, we were each hiking in just the pair of long-sleeve tee-shirts. While the entire hike provided solitude, great conversation between the two of us, the smell of Ponderosa Pine, and the site of only two other hiking duos along the way, the real treat appeared unexpectedly. Right below the crest of Glacier Point, after a 3,200 foot gain, we suddenly and unexpectedly climbed out of the fog. There is was, Half-Dome in brilliant sunshine sitting atop the fog layer. We had absolutely no view of the valley floor 3,200 feet below us, but Half Dome stuck out above the fog just like a jumbo jet once it climbs out of and above the clouds or thunderstorm layer to emerge in brilliant and unobstructed sunshine.
While the park is open 365 days a year, there are sections that are closed seasonally. November and December are when most of the closures take place and the exact dates vary each year due to weather. The road to Glacier Point as well as the Tioga Road to the high country cannot be counted on to be open. However, the highlights of the park: all valley destinations, most valley based trails, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, and the west and south entrances are open year-round. Be aware that you will be required to have show chains with you so that you are prepared to put them on at the direction of park personnel without any advance notice. If you rent a car, be sure to ask the rental company to supply the chains. Many will do so and save you having to purchase chains that you will possibly never need again and probably have no way of transporting home.
On Thanksgiving Day, you will be hard pressed to find a better meal or more memorable scenery than you will find at Yosemite. You will find special menus at both the 4-diamond “Ahwahnee Hotel” dining room, and at “The Mountain Room” restaurant located just behind the “Yosemite Lodge at the Falls”. Both are located in the heart of the valley. There are equally delightful holiday meals at the “Wawona Hotel” and at the “Tenaya Lodge” located just a mile outside the south entrance to Yosemite. All four properties are “Delaware North Companies” operated properties. My wife and I dined at the “Tenaya Lodge” on Thanksgiving Day several years ago and have never experienced a more delightful setting. Their fabulous buffet provides numerous meats, endless salads, sides, breads, and deserts; not to mention the ice sculptures.
As stated previously, late fall is one of the best times of the year to get close to wildlife at Yosemite. With the colder temperatures at higher elevations, and fewer people present, the wildlife search for lower elevations and are frequently seen in all locations of the valley. You will find prices for lodging to be significantly reduced in the late fall. Finally, and while a real summer concern, you will have no trouble finding places to park your vehicle.