As famed as this park is, we did not know it has a valley section open most of the year, and a higher section that’s closed most of the year. Our visit took place April 13 and 14 and they hadn’t even run snowplows through the mountain passes. So we missed Tuolumne Meadows at 8,600’ elevation as well as the scenic Tioga Road. The Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias is closed for restoration (presumably roads and structures, not ancient trees) until June 15, and there’s another miss. But we had just seen larger ones in uncrowded Sequoia NP, so I don’t think we missed much.
What we did see was perfect weather which came right after a rain/snow event, and that means the waterfalls were at their most spectacular, and the granite formations were well lighted. Yosemite is primarily a granite and water park, parts of which have really large trees. I suppose it’s fair to see we saw a bit more than half the park with our highlights including an up close look at Lower Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, the rock climbers’ Everest, and Half Dome, another huge granite formation. Bridal Veils Falls is another, but those who get really close get really wet. We would survive that, but Kat’s Nikon might not, so the pictures taken were mostly out of mist range.
Now for a word about crowds: our first day in Yosemite was a Friday. We chose not to use YARTS bus service but drove the Red Sled without the Airstream. Our arrival time was a little after 9:00 and we almost had the park to ourselves. As the day wore on visitors continued to arrive, and very few left. By about 2:00 p.m. we had seen most of the sights and took our leave. You should have seen the line of vehicles inbound! Saturday we chose the same plan – arrive and leave early. We drove the few mountain roads that were open, and got a good look at Tunnel View where you will see Bridal Veil and Half Dome framed by a tunnel as your ride emerges from a quarter mile passage through sheer granite. Kat wanted a souvenir magnet and that (around noon) is when we learned every parking space in the park was taken. I drove a slow block while she purchased her prize, whereupon we bid Yosemite adieu.
The crowding is far worse in the summer, but it likely have been tolerable in April had we chosen to visit only on week days. We missed the worst crowding but in the process missed Tuolumne Meadows. A wiser approach might be to visit in late September or early October but then bring your tire chains: sudden snow is possible and California has tough laws requiring chain use.