We were able to book two adjacent sites in Yosemite National Park’s Lower Pines campgrounds with the goal of visiting there when the waterfalls were at their peak.
Camping at the Briceburg BLM Day Use Area along the Merced River
We left Santa Cruz on Tuesday even though our Yosemite reservations started on Wednesday. Our plans were to meet Sergio and Janina at the BLM area in Briceburg and to spend the night there which will give Gianna some time in the morning to go fishing. This spot is next to the Merced River and about 4 miles from where we camped at Railroad Flat back in April of 2015. We arrived an hour after dark and stayed outside admiring the black sky and the starry night.
Morning Time – Fishing in the Merced River
Sergio and Janina arrived at the rendezvous spot around midnight, so they slept in for a bit.
Gianna woke up before sunrise so she could get in a couple hours of fishing. The river was flowing much harder than last year because of all of the snow that fell in the Sierra this winter.
Unbeknownst to Gianna, trout season in the Sierra National Park does was not open for several weeks, so she was lucky that the BLM Ranger did not catch her fishing.
I walked across the Briceburg Bridge and up above the RVs to Merced River Trail, which runs along the route of the old Yosemite Valley Railroad.
We arrived at Yosemite and drove to Tunnel View. The weather was perfect with the forecast showing clear for the next few days.
Upper Pines Campground
We checked into Upper Pines Campground and headed to our sites in the back of the campground overlooking the woods.
Gianna and I try to boondock as much as possible so Upper Pines Campground felt a bit crowded. There are 238 sites in this campground but it’s in the perfect location towards the very back of the valley.
Getting Around Yosemite Valley
On this trip we brought our bikes to get us around the valley. The bike paths are a wonderful way to view the park without the hassle of parking and traffic.
The Ahwahnee Hotel (aka The Majestic Yosemite Hotel)
It’s tradition stop by the grand Ahwahnee Hotel to be pampered with great service, beautiful views, and great cocktails. In March, the Ahwahnee Hotel was renamed The Majestic Yosemite Hotel because of a dispute with the previous concessionaire. The hotel was under repair after years of neglect, but this didn’t stop us from ordering Margaritas and Manhattans.
To our surprise, the drinks were HORRIBLE so we talked to the waiter, gave him a nice tip and refused the drinks. We decided that we can make better drinks at our campsite.
The main reason we wanted to visit Yosemite in April was to see the waterfalls in all of their glory. We weren’t disappointed.
Curry Village (renamed Half Dome Village)
We rode our bikes to Curry Village, renamed Half Dome Village. After disappointment at the Ahwahnee, Sergio and I ordered two tall beers at the outside bar. They had a nice selection of draft beers and we sat on the porch of the Lounge Building for a relaxing drink.
El Capitan Meadow
Another tradition is to eat a picnic lunch in the big El Capitan Meadow and watch the climbers up on El Cap. Janina and Gianna packed some nick Italian meats, cheeses, wine, and fruit and we spent the afternoon relaxing and watching two guys summit El Capitan.
The entire time we were there, rain was in the forecast, but it didn’t come until Friday night. That evening we stayed under the pop-up tent playing board games, listening to the rain on the tent. It rained all night so on Friday morning Gianna and I decided to head home. Sergio and Janina hiked up to Vernal Falls on Saturday in the light rain.
Leaving the Park
The storm provided some great clouds and mist that created a surrealistic landscape. So beautiful.
Tips for making reservations at Yosemite
Reservations at Yosemite are in high demand, so it takes a bit of planning to reserve a camping spot. Yosemite reservations open each month on the 15th at 7am Pacific Time for reservations that are 4 months out.
To increase our chances of getting a site, we log into the Recreation.gov website before 7am on the 15th. We usually have a prioritized list of 5-10 sites; Gianna loads five sites, each into separate browser windows on her computer and I do the same on mine. At 6:59am we start clicking on the reservation link for each site. By 7am our hearts are racing as the reservation windows open. Within 10-20 seconds, we received messages that many of our chosen sites are no longer available, but for this trip our planning paid off. We were able to reserve two adjacent sites at the very back loops of the Lower Pines campground! Perfect!
What we learned
- Bikes are the quick and easy way to get around the valley. We did have to drive one the road for 2 miles to get to the El Capitan Meadow but the traffic was light and wasn’t a problem.
- Don’t have drinks at the Ahwahnee Hotel until the new concessionaire has time to fix all of the issues left behind by the previous concessionaire.
- In hindsight, we should have stayed Saturday for the hike up to Vernal Falls.
- If you’re having difficulty finding a site, go to the Half Dome Village Reservation Desk early in the morning to see if you can grab up an open spot from a last minute camping reservation cancellation.
- Fishing season for the Sierra National Forest opens last Saturday in April. Oops…
- Verizon signal is sporadic everywhere in the valley. We found the best signal outside the Visitors Center.
When we stayed
April 5-9, 2016
Briceburg Day Use Area – 37.604836, -119.966809
Upper Pines Campground – 37.733594, -119.560379