The locals call the Yosemite Valley section of the Yosemite National Park, the Ditch. This area is the most heavily packed with tourists and devilish rock climbers. Views up from the deep valley floor to the heights of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome as well as access to the Awahanee Lodge now called the Majestic Yosemite Lodge (due to a failed naming rights deal with new owners) draw the crowds even in the October off-season.
The real reason for the mass attraction to this area, is it is where all our human needs are met including access to groceries, shopping, lodging, paved trails, shuttle service and clean restrooms.
The rest of the park is devoid of many of the human comforts we are accustomed to just very basic port-a-potties and no gas or groceries, and rustic and challenging trails, so plan ahead before you venture east. But so worth the drive to view spectacular formations like Olmstead Point, Tenya Lake, Tioga Pass and Mono Basin. We drove the park roads at night watching carefully for deer taking in the views of the night skies and feeling alone with the history of the place, the creatures past and present.
Make sure you get out of the Ditch.
While RM and I explored the popular valley area as well, trying to time it mid-week, what we found in Yosemite East, was truly transformational in its vastness, beauty, and geological interests. We discovered this lesser explored area because we elected to stay at the Villages of Mammoth Lakes, located about 2 hours east of the valley and outside the park grounds. Lodging inside the park is expensive no matter when you visit and we have never enjoyed tent camping.
- Drive the length of the entire park not just the Valley area. It takes about 4 hours from the Tioga Pass entrance to Wawona exit but do it at least once.
- Drive up to Glacier Peak at dusk and stay to see the stars.
- Hike the Tuolumne Grove trail and walk under the great and near extinct giant sequoias. It is a moderately strenuous trail as it drops about 500 feet in one mile.
- Sip an adult beverage at the Majestic Yosemite luxury lodge, sitting in the outdoor patio area below sheer granite walls. We ate in the dining hall but the food was uninspired and overpriced plus the hall was full of obnoxious tour groups.
- Have a picnic on the edge of one of the many lakes.
- If you venture outside the park, check out eastern attractions like Devils Postpile in Mammoth Lakes or even further east to the ghost gold mining town of Bowie.