Wild West Road Trip {Days 15-16}


After two and a half years of planning and saving, we finally took our big Wild West Road Trip in July! We drove 8,775 miles over 35 days, spent 203 hours in the van, stayed in 26 different hotels/cabins/Airbnbs, and visited 12 national parks, 1 national historic site, 4 national monuments, 2 tribal parks, and 16 states! It was a crazy awesome trip - of course there were a few rough patches here and there, but overall it was amazing to spend so much uninterrupted time with my favorite people and having such gorgeous views made it even better!

I'll eventually get through blogging the whole trip, because so many people have asked for details, but it's going to take a while to get through it all! By the way, some of these photos I'm posting were taken by my husband - he has a great eye and he took a TON of photos! 

If you want to see more of the story, start here for Day 1!

Day 15

I think Yosemite National Park tied with the Pacific Coast Highway as the most beautiful place we saw on this trip. The views were just amazing. I know I say this a lot, but none of these photos do this place justice at all. If you ever get the chance, even if it's just for a day or just to drive through, you need to see this place! Seeing El Capitan and Half Dome in person are just awe-inspiring.

We stayed at an Airbnb in Mariposa, about an hour away from the park. I definitely recommend staying inside any national park you visit whenever possible - we did at the Grand Canyon and Grand Teton, and it was great - but there just weren't any options in the park that we could afford that had big enough rooms for all 6 of us, except for one that had several complaints of bed bugs in their TripAdvisor reviews. The house we rented was great though, and it had a hot tub which we really appreciated after this day!

Since we were coming in to the park from the west side, we got beautiful views of the Merced River on our way in. The whole drive was gorgeous, which made the hour not seem so long!

Our first stop was Bridalveil Falls. There's a short, easy trail from the parking area to the base of the waterfall - I think it was less than half a mile. It was a popular trail, but didn't feel overcrowded.

It's super misty at the base of the falls, which makes it hard to get a clear photo. The two below were taken at the base and the mist covered my lens.

If you ever go to Yosemite Valley, get there early! I don't remember what time we got there, but it was before noon and it was way too late. We drove around for well over an hour just trying to find a place to park. It was crazy. When we finally found a spot, there were no picnic areas close by, so we ended up eating our lunch sitting in a parking lot.

Luckily, there was a shuttle stop super close to our parking spot, so we hopped on and rode to the trailhead for the Mist Trail. This trail is one of the most popular trails in the park, and for good reason - it's absolutely gorgeous. You know how some trails are just kind of boring, but the views at the end make up for it? Well, this whole trail is gorgeous. It's the hardest trail we've ever done, but it was 100% worth it! I'm super proud of us for doing this - I know some people wouldn't even think this is a big deal, but it was tough - we love hiking, but we're not hardcore and not in the best shape. We came close to turning around, but I am SO glad we finished! I can't tell you how many times since then that I've said "If we can do the Mist Trail, we can do this!" - and it applies to all areas of life, not just hiking. We can do hard things!

We took the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls. It's pretty much straight up hill for about a mile and a half - there's 1000 feet in elevation gain from the trailhead to the top of the falls. Part of the trail is paved, then there are about 600 stone steps (not an exaggeration!) toward the end. The steps are uneven and wet (everything is wet when you get closer to the waterfall), so it was a little tricky going up, but I feel like going down would have been worse - the trail gets crowded and some of the areas are pretty narrow with no handrails.

Seriously, this trail is gorgeous.

You can see part of the steps in the bottom right corner of the photo above.

We finally made it to the top of Vernal Falls, and it was a great feeling! We took a nice long break there to catch our breath and have a snack. One of the kids didn't put a snack in their bag when I told them to, so I ended up sharing mine. I might have been a little grumpy about that. Just keeping it real.

I was nervous about going down the wet steps, so we took the John Muir trail down, as suggested by several different places online. What I failed to realize was that you have to climb up farther on the Mist Trail before you get to the place to cut over to the JMT, and the JMT is not quite as steep but it's longer. So I think our total distance ended up being close to 5 miles with around 1500 feet elevation gain, and it took us around 5-6 hours. We're slow hikers and we stop a lot - but we're getting faster! We went to Tennessee for Christmas and did the hike to Alum Cave, which was almost 5 miles with 1125 feet of elevation gain, in about 3.5 hours

This is the view of Nevada Falls from the trail.

This part of the trail - between Vernal Falls and the Clark Point cut-off to get on the John Muir Trail, was the hardest part of the day, mostly because we weren't expecting it - we thought it would be all downhill after Vernal Falls. I'm pretty sure everyone hated me at this point since I'm the one that insisted on taking the JMT down. Oh well. We made it!

Another thing that we weren't expecting on the John Muir Trail was how slick it was! The switchbacks were either stone or paved, I don't remember which, but they also had just a little bit of sandy dirt on top, which made them slick in some spots. I managed to not fall, but Jack and Jonah fell several times. I would have liked to have walking sticks on this trail but I forgot them in the van.

Since parking is so hard to find in the valley, we were so thankful for the shuttle bus that goes around to all the trailheads! If we had had to walk to the trailhead from our parking spot we never would have made it back before dark!

Day 16

The next morning, we saw the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. The Sequoias were even more impressive than the Redwoods we saw just a few days before. 

We did the Grizzly Giant loop trail. It was about 2 miles and pretty easy, with so many amazing trees!

After Mariposa Grove, we headed up Glacier Point Road. We really wanted to do the Taft Point trail, but decided we just didn't have enough time. So we just checked out Washburn Point and Glacier Point. The views from both are pretty similar and both amazing.

See those waterfalls in the photo on the right? That's Vernal Falls (middle) and Nevada Falls (top) that we saw on the Mist Trail the day before. It's a good thing we did the trail first, because I think if we saw this view of them first then we would have been scared off from attempting the trail.

I love the photo above, but for a more realistic view, see below! There was a line for photos at that spot! Shooting at just the right angle and zooming in just enough to crop out all the people was very important!


OK, that photo above is not a great photo - but this in Tunnel View. You drive through this tunnel, and then you're greeted with this view. I love that Yosemite is so big, but yet you can see most of the major sites in one view. It's stunning.

We took Tioga Road to exit the park on the east side. This road was full of gorgeous views!

Daniel was excited to see snow and couldn't resist making a snowball!

These were taken at Olmsted Point.

Tenaya Lake was beautiful! I would have loved to have gotten there earlier and spent a little time relaxing and taking in the views, but we needed to get to our hotel for the night before all the restaurants in the little town closed!

Wow. God is amazing. Just look at that!

That's it for day 16! Up next is Mono Lake, Bodie ghost town, Death Valley, Las Vegas, and Zion National Park!

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