Yosemite National Park
In recent years I’ve discovered the magic of February birthdays and I’ve made a bit of a tradition out of mine. We spent my 26th birthday in Yosemite National Park, but first, let me take a second to tell you how we got here. Birthdays, and holidays in general, have always felt a bit anticlimactic to me. I think it’s because there’s such a heavy narrative that tells us they’re supposed to be our best days filled with all the good things, but I often feel like these high expectations go unmet or I feel the pressure to feel happier than I actually do if that makes sense. Or I just have weird memories of days being harder and messier than I wish they were. I don’t really enjoy being sung ‘Happy Birthday’ and having that many eyes on me. While I think gift-giving can be a fun, creative, and generous act, I’m finding that the older I get, the less I want and need things. And lastly, I typically dislike the surprises that sometimes come with birthdays, which to be clear, is not the same thing as spontaneity. I’m talking about surprising me with something that I would have enjoyed more had I just known to expect it or could have planned to bring the right energy to.
With that mindset, in 2016 I resolved to spend all future birthdays doing some of the things I love most: 1) being outside in nature, 2) spending quality time with my closest friends, 3) exploring a new place together, and 4) discussing learning moments from the past year and goals for the year ahead. The first year was spent in Joshua Tree National Park, then next was Yosemite, and just this past month was Big Sur. The magic of February birthdays is that there are several 3-day holiday weekends to choose from which makes it easier for everyone to grab time-off and, most importantly, places are often less crowded during this time of year so you don’t have to deal with summer crowds and higher prices. I’m so grateful to my friends who’ve come along for these trips, lovingly named the tradition #CampMar, and helped me celebrate life and the privilege of sweet time on this beautiful planet.
Since our visit to Yosemite was in winter we faced several road closures and spent our time solely in and around Yosemite Valley. With a short 4-day trip this didn’t pose a problem at all though since there’s plenty to see in this central area.
We chose an Airbnb in the Yosemite West neighborhood that’s located within the actual park. We had the good fortune of being upgraded to this insanely gorgeous craftsman home (Airbnb listing) after there were plumbing problems in our original booking. The neighborhood is filled with beautiful cabins that are listed under the same management on Airbnb and I’d highly recommend this spot for group getaways. We saved so much driving time by staying within the park and close to the areas we wanted to explore.
Following Wawona Road past Yosemite West, we headed towards Yosemite Valley on our way to the iconic Tunnel View vista. Once you pass through the tunnel it’s immediately to your left and it’s beyond breathtaking. I remember our whole car gasping and pointing and smiling so big at it. Nothing can really prepare you for a sight like this. Looking at photos is nothing compared to being dwarfed by the true scale of the Yosemite landscape. That feeling of awestruck smallness is one of my favorites to experience while traveling. Nature always invites us to a change in perspective.
BRIDALVEIL FALL + EL CAPITAN + YOSEMITE FALLS
From here, we made a loop through Yosemite Valley to take in stops at Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan (notice the indented heart shape below!), Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.
THE MIST TRAIL
This is Yosemite's signature hike and for good reason. If this is your first time to Yosemite, add this to your must-see list. The views throughout the hike are stunning as it leads you to Vernal Fall (3 miles roundtrip) and Nevada Fall (7 miles roundtrip). This is a moderate hike since the trail can be fairly step in certain places. We were unable to hike all the way due to unsafe winter conditions but we still got to experience a good chunk of the beauty.
+ February Tip
We happened to be in the park at the perfect time to witness the natural Firefall spectacle that occurs around the second week of February. The angle of the setting sun hits the upper portion of Horse Tail Fall and colors the water a fiery orange and red, creating an effect that looks like fire pouring out of the Fall. We drove by it and caught glimpses of it through the car windows but this was the one instance during the trip where a parking spot was impossible. We passed by dozens of photographers camped out with tripods to get the perfect shot. Like all sights in Yosemite, it’s something best seen with your own eyes.