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Today was the day. This was the day around which the entire trip had been planned: hiking to the best vantage point for the classic Yosemite National Park tunnel view.

Temperatures outside were just above freezing at daybreak and we quickly at breakfast in our Half Dome Village cabin. We had not yet discovered the ease and importance of using the valley shuttle bus system, but it didn’t matter on this morning as buses don’t drive out to this location. So we drove the seven miles along the Merced to the Wawona Tunnel View parking lot, finding only three other vehicles had arrived before us.

There are several options for viewing this stunning, classic view of Yosemite Valley from which the granite cliff of El Capitan, rushing waters of Bridalveil Fall, and distant Half Dome are all in view. The view from the parking lot (just outside the Wawona Tunnel) is, of course, the easiest to access but we wanted to hike to a higher vantage point. Official maps show the Pohono Trail with a trailhead at the parking lot and leading to Inspiration Point just over a mile away. We, however, were headed to Artist Point which provides a similar view but is lower and unmarked, and therefore is less visited.

Tunnel View from the parking area

To reach Artist Point, we started on the Pohono Trail (which leads all the way to Glacier Point), hiking up switchbacks for a half mile. This is the type of trail we love the most – stepping up rocks, constantly switching course, dodging mud (or, in the boys’ case, stepping right in it) and plenty other minor obstacles to keep the boys distracted so they don’t realize how much elevation they’re gaining and how tired they should be! Jasper even said, “This is the best trail we’ve ever hiked,” which thrilled me because I had been looking forward to this very hike for an entire year and thoroughly agreed!

After a half mile, the trail crosses the old stagecoach road and there are distance markers not for that road, but marking the distance from the Wawona parking area and up to Inspiration Point. Those were our cues to take a left and head down the unmarked stagecoach road, easing down the gentle slope and climbing over fallen trees for another half mile.

We thought we found our destination, climbed onto a rock and ate a snack, but were a disappointed by a few bare trees obstructing the view. I walked a little further to see if there was a better view and, sure enough, the trail opened up to a huge open expanse! It was at this moment that I remembered reading that very same warningthat a partially-obstructed viewpoint will be reached but the full view is just around the corner!

We stayed at Artist Point for over a half hour. Jeff and the boys played a camping game he had bought the day prior at Sequoia while I took pictures, set up the tripod for a family shot, and simply sat, listening to the distant falling water, and enjoyed the view that I had wanted to see in person for so many years.

Not-Artist Point

Just around the corner, now we found it! Artist Point!

We stayed at Artist Point for over a half hour. Jeff and the boys played a camping game he had bought the day prior at Sequoia while I took pictures, set up the tripod for a family shot, and simply sat, listening to the distant falling water, and enjoyed the view that I had wanted to see in person for so many years.

We still had not seen another soul since we parked the car and were completely at peace in our secluded location with the most famous view in one of the busiest National Parks in the country! We knew this was a special moment so we savored it, didn’t rush to leave, and enjoyed every minute.

Eventually, we reluctantly packed up and turned back up the stagecoach road to the Pohono Trail where we finally passed the first people we’d seen in two hours. When we reached the parking area around 10:30, the lot was packed and we were quickly jolted back to reality and the busyness of this park.

The intersection of the Pohono Trail and the stagecoach road where markers indicate distance back to the parking area and up to the next viewpoint.

I lagged behind the boys on the entire hike back down because views like these were around every corner!

By now the Visitor Center was open, so we drove to Yosemite Village to get Junior Ranger booklets for the boys. This is when we realized that, like the Grand Canyon, the shuttle bus system should definitely be used when in operation! The heart of Yosemite Valley is Yosemite Village which is exactly that – a village with shops, restaurants, the visitor center, post office, and even a school for the children of park employees. There is basically one huge parking lot for visitors to service all of these areas which was packed by this late hour in the morning so it was quite a walk from our parking space to the Visitor Center. We decided to leave the car there until the end of the day, use the shuttle bus to access our remaining destinations, and move it back to our cabin at the end of the day.

While at the village, we enjoyed sandwiches for lunch at the Degnan’s Deli outdoor patio, walked through the Indian Village and took a shuttle bus to Lower Yosemite Fall.

This tree fell in Mariposa Grove in 1919. This particular section has a diameter of 9 feet although the base was 14 feet wide and the tree was determined to be over 1,000 years old! Markers along the rings indicate historical events that occurred during its lifetime from the signing of the Magna Carta to the U.S. Civil War.

Cook’s Meadow and Half Dome views from Sentinel Bridge

Jasper was so excited to see this appaloosa horse. “It looks just like Renegade!” But, of course, these Californians knew nothing about this football mascot from the other coast!

The falls trail was paved, mostly flat, and quite crowded due to its easy-access location, but it followed a gorgeous babbling brook among evergreen scenery. Despite its length of a mere half mile round trip, it was more difficult and produced more complaints than the Artist Point hike because it was boring for the boys! They also didn’t appreciate the destination view at the bottom of the falls due to the intense mist. There were dozens of people packed into the viewing area at the base, all jockeying for selfies so the scene was not at all calm although the view was magnificent.

The boys had reached their three-mile hiking quota for the day so we took a shuttle bus back to our car and drove back to the cabin.

We loved these log benches. And they were so comfortable!

Our home for these three Yosemite nights was Half Dome Village, a large area with various accommodations, the majority of which are 400+ canvas tent cabins. Jeff would’ve preferred those, but I was worried about bears and the chilly nights, especially since there are communal baths which I didn’t care to use in the middle of the night! Instead, we chose a wooden cabin with private bath. It was warm, we could keep food right in our room, and bears weren’t a concern.

Half Dome Village itself has several dining options, shops, and activities. We chose to eat dinner at the Pizza Deck. We ordered a whole pizza which was better than expected and fed us all quite inexpensively. We ate outside under Half Dome as temperatures hovered in the low 50’s.

Yosemite Day 1 was complete and we spent the evening drawing up a rough itinerary for Day 2.

Many Yosemite concessions had been renamed just months earlier. All of the historic Curry Village signs were covered with the new Half Dome Village name.

Yosemite National Park