Camping with the Bears in Yosemite

So you've been blinded by the bright lights of Vegas, roasted alive driving through Death Valley and now it's time to get back to nature before hitting city life in San Francisco. So time in our agenda to see the other side of the spectrum. 

I mentioned Lee Vining in my earlier post here and honestly could not recommend enough Lake View Lodge as a place to take your foot off the gas and refuel (both literally and metaphorically). A series of tiny self-contained wooden cabins each with a kitchenette, private bathroom and veranda overlooking Lake Mono, this was just the ticket. There was nothing more satisfying (or romantic I might add) than picking up a few supplies from the local shop (did I mention there was only one?) and cosying down in our rustic hut to recover from the miles accumulated. This was really just a pitstop in our plans but a more beautiful one than anticipated and the locals were so friendly, especially with giving us tips for our journey ahead. 

Our rustic wooden cabin for the night at Lake View Lodge, Lee Vining
Meeting the locals!
The View of Mono Lake from Lee Vining

So there I was saying about getting back to basics (or did I say nature?), even so the two seem to go hand in hand, what better place to bed down with the bears (I mean this almost literally) than Yosemite National Park?! A two hour drive if you stick to the road but I challenge you to pass these amazing view points! So here are some pictures of me just, you know, casually lying on a rock. 
So once we arrived at the Half Dome Village, a hub in the midst of the national park offering cheaper accommodation options aside from the (fully booked) hotels down the road, we checked in to our tent (which surprisingly came with a key!) and got a thorough bear debriefing: No food or fragranced products allowed in the tent or to be left in your vehicle overnight. Did you know that bears have a more heightened sense of smell than the bloodhound? Yup that was a sure fire way of getting me to abandon my beauty trunk and ensure Mr A had no Oreos stuffed in his pockets. 

Before I get into the sleeping arrangements (boy, there's a story!) we donned our backpacks and headed for a hiking path to some beautiful waterfalls. There is a free bus service that facilitates the entire park which was ideal for transporting us closer to the base of the walk as well as giving visitors flexibility to explore further afield. The slight drawback? It only runs in a clockwise direction but luckily we weren't far from base. 
Off to hike...but have we forgotten something?

So rookie error #1, we forgot to buy some water...or even bring a water bottle. Suntan lotion, a paper fan, insect repellent, two lipsticks, that I had. But water? Nope! Luckily there are plenty of water fountains along the way but following a warning from the bus driver as we disembarked as shuttle stop 16 (aka Happy Isles) that we needed at least one litre each to get to Vernal Falls we exchanged looks and decided our stupidity was not going to be the end of our plans. So pit stops at the water fountains aplenty, we took to the Mist Trail, so-called due to the waterfall spray that covers you as you follow the route. It was quite a steep ascent initially so the thigh burn warranted breaks along the way (or frequent picture stops as I liked to think of it) and the views were really incredible. 
Rookie error #2, forgetting to pack our swimsuit! Once you get to the base of the smaller waterfall at Vernal Falls Footbridge, there were several large stones to entice a paddle and by the waterfall itself, even higher ones to jump in from. (Although please note, swimming is discouraged so even if we had had our swimming stuff, I’m not sure I would have risked it!)

We proceeded further up the trail to see the spectacular Vernal Falls in all its glory. At every stage of the hike there are incredible views including a stunning rainbow in the waterfall spray. After the finale of a 600-step ascent - also known as nature's "giant staircase" - we reached the top! As soon as I saw the view I forgot all about the cardio involved in getting there (and, of course, knew it was both good for me and worth it!). The pictures say it all. 
Enjoying the water spray along the Mist Trail with my trusty Absolutely Bear backpack
Vernal Falls
The view from the top of nature's "giant staircase" - all 600 steps of it!

After the 4k round-trip which included ascending and descending 1,000ft, back at base we chose to cool off in the pool, which was FREEZING! Combined with the massive mint choc chip ice cream I bought we became sufficiently cool and hydrated after that! Dining was like a scene out of The Parent Trap when the Parker twins are at an American holiday camp. Our tent was located at the furthest point from the communal areas on the edge of the park and therefore had us feeling a tad exposed with little protection (i.e. surrounding tents with tasty children to offer up). Suffice to say we were a little on the apprehensive side so once our outdoor locker was sufficiently bulging with anything that might have a tasty whiff, we bedded down in our tent that resembled more a WW2 bunker than honeymoon suite!
Our room for the night!
A tent with a view! See what I was saying about exposed?? The bears could walk right up to our front door!
Having joked about having a midnight feast with the bears, the reality was every crunch, rustle or footstep had us jumping and concerned we might end up being the feast! When finally sleep prevailed, we were rudely awoken around 1am by a screaming toddler. This went on for around an hour by which point we were begging for someone to feed it to the bears! Turns out communal sheet-thin tents aren't great for getting some Zzz's and it's not necessarily the vibe for honeymooners however it was one of life's great experiences and I'm so glad we did it! 

This accommodation is a really budget-friendly option (less than £100 a night which is good-going for America's high season!) and offers an authentic experience in what can be a very expensive tourist hotspot. Highly recommend it, even if I did find myself waking up the next morning to an actually grizzly bear in my bed, turns out Mr A's not much of a happy camper so he was glad to be behind the wheel of a car again shortly after sunrise! Not before stopping at this incredible viewing platform at Tunnel View...

FYI the journey is around 4 hours to San Fran with reasonable traffic. Plenty of pit-stop options en route but I suggest getting those tasty goodies that escaped the bear's paws to keep you going. We drove through Oakland on the way and stopped for lunch overlooking Sausalito harbour and across at San Francisco Bay. The drive across the Golden Gate Bridge was just the entrance we were after!

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