May 6, 2019
Yosemite Valley—Driving and Walking Tour
Travel with me on our trip around the valley to see the dogwoods.
One of my husband’s and my favorite times of the year in Yosemite National Park is spring when the dogwoods are in bloom. Here’s a nifty way to see the blooms around the valley while enjoying some of the classic views.
Enter the park through the Arch Rock entrance early in the morning. It’s best to avoid the weekend crowd. This entrance is so named for the two boulders that form an arch over the valley-bound lane. Once you pass under the arch, but before traveling over the Pohono Bridge, you’ll be wowed by the sight of dogwood trees in full bloom.
Stop at one of the pullouts to get an up close view.
Proceed over the Pohono Bridge onto Southside Drive which becomes a one-way road. Park at the pullout on the right near Fern Spring. Fern Spring bubbles out of the ground and cascades into the Merced River. People stop here to fill jug after jug of water.
Dogwoods grow in this area under maple, fir and pine trees.
Cross the road on foot to the trail that parallels the Merced River and walk west along its path. It will take you to the Pohono Bridge and gauging station that measures the flow of the Merced River.
Return to the car and continue driving east passing iconic rock formations and waterfalls that Yosemite is well known for. Feel free to stop at one of the many vista points along the way to Half Dome Village. Park at Half Dome Village and walk the Happy Isles Loop Road east to Happy Isles (2.5 miles roundtrip). Happy Isles is named for the three islands there, and is the jumping off point for the famed Mist Trail and the start of the John Muir Trail.
Once you reach Happy Isles you’ll be pleased, not only with the quantity of blooming dogwoods, but how quiet the area is on a spring morning—other than the roaring river.
Enjoy the solitude and beauty. Wander the paths. Explore the islands. If you are so inclined, visit the Nature Center.
Cross bridges leading to paths that dead end at the water. Sit and reflect. Gaze up at the granite cliffs.
When you are ready to leave, head back to Half Dome Village via the boardwalk through the Happy Isles fen and read the interpretive panels. A fen is “a peat-forming wetland that is fed by moving groundwater”—Yosemite National Park. This particular fen is fed by snow melt drizzling down the granite wall from Glacier Point three thousand feet above.
Continue your walk through the shady forest dotted with dogwoods.
As luck would have it last year, we came upon two burly bears. This year the only burly things we saw were trees with burls, including hundreds of fallen trees scattered throughout the forest floor—dogwoods included—due to numerous winter storms.
As you near Half Dome Village you’ll pass the canvas tent cabins and more of the mountain dogwood trees.
Reconnect with Happy Isles Loop Road and you’ll have a spectacular view of upper Yosemite Falls.
Find your way to the village for pizza and beer, a burger at the grill, or grab something from the market. For a more luxurious lunch, head back to your car and drive to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.
Sometime during your visit to the Majestic, wander through the hotel with its towering ceilings, massive fire places, hand-stenciled beams and stained glass windows.
Don’t forget to head out to the garden behind the hotel. There you will find the Wedding Lawn where many a happy couple are married. Who needs decorations when the gorgeous backdrop of dogwoods and mountains are so stunning.
Return to your car and drive to the Yosemite Village grocery store parking lot. Run in and buy an ice cream to eat on your walk to the Executive Row houses facing Half Dome and the Ahwahnee Meadow.
There you will find the lone pink dogwood.
This pink dogwood grows in the backyard of one of the houses and is not indigenous, but was planted there.
As the story was told to me: The president of DNC (former park concessionaire) had the choice of any home to live in. There were bigger and better homes, but his wife chose this house because of the pink dogwood. (Maybe the view out her front picture window was another enticement.)
Return to your car and follow Northside Drive to exit the park. Like this morning’s entrance into Yosemite, there are many things to see on the way out. Stop at the Bridalveil View vista point to see the fall and the buttery-colored dogwood trees.
I hope you enjoyed our tour around the valley, a day that Chris and I take pleasure in each year. We have dubbed this annual event, Dogwood Day.
Dogwood trees bloom in Yosemite Valley sometime between late April and the end of May. Another area filled with dogwoods that was not covered in this tour is Mirror Lake.