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A Smoky Day in Yosemite Valley

In October, my husband and I took a six-day trip to Yosemite. I’ll cover the hikes we did in this series of blogs.

I was so looking forward to hiking the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail. It’s supposed to be eleven-plus miles of beautiful valley scenery without many people. I anticipated up-close views of plants and animals and no heights to fear! Unfortunately, it was not to be.

The hike started out well enough. We parked at Yosemite Village then walked along the trail toward lower Yosemite Falls. From there we hiked past Camp 4, crossing Northside Drive and out toward El Capitan.

Valley View before the smoke.

However, by Camp 4 the hike quickly descended into a smoky abyss!  A controlled burn near El Capitan really choked up the air. I was hoping we could hike through and past it, but we both got bad headaches and I felt kind of sick. We turned back three miles in.

Controlled burn smoke

Controlled Burns in Yosemite

Yosemite personnel do controlled burns whenever weather conditions are right. It is part of their strategy for preventing large forest-fires. The burns can take place any time of the year at short notice. Because of this, visitors cannot rely on the Yosemite website to find out if a controlled burn is planned. The best thing you can do is to have back-up plans for the days where the smoke is really bad.

Controlled burn smoke.

Luckily, we were staying out of the valley at the Wawona. The people I really felt sorry for were the campers in Camp 4, the climbers attempting El Capitan that day, and the people staying at Yosemite Lodge. By the time we got back to our car, it was smoky everywhere. So we drove back to the Wawona. I bet a lot of people drove out of the valley that day.

Looking down at the valley–no wonder the smoke affected us!

We ate a picnic lunch on our nice deck chairs at the Wawona, then took a nap to recover from our headaches.

The Victorian-era Wawona Hotel is located 27 miles out of the valley on HWY 41.
Our room-deck at The Annex Building, Wawona Hotel. Notice the cardboard and plywood in the upper window? I asked them to do that to block the bright lights from shining in at night. Only some of the rooms are subjected to that.

After 30 minutes, I woke my husband. I had to insist that he get up. I was not going to end our day with that lousy six-mile hike through the smoke! So we drove four miles up the road to the Mariposa Grove and hiked another six.

The Mariposa Grove

The Mariposa Grove is home to some of the biggest trees on earth–the giant sequoias. They can grow up to 290 feet tall with a diameter of 36 feet. They can also live more than 3000 years!

Looking up at some of the “younger” Giant Sequoias.

Usually, you can leave your car at the Mariposa Grove parking lot and a shuttle will take you to the trailhead. This time, however, they were repairing the road, so the only way to get to the grove was to hike the two-mile Washburn Trail.

The Washburn is a nice trail, but if you are starting late in the day, it can really cut into your time. Also, it’s a moderate trail, but not for people who are overweight or out of shape. The altitude gets you too. We passed plenty of people that I’m sure had to turn around before they got to the grove.

The Washburn Trail. My husband forgave me for waking him from his nap.
There were many beautiful manzanita shrubs along the Washburn Trail.

Because we started so late and wanted to make sure we got back before dark, we only hiked a mile into the grove. We got a good taste of its wonders though, and plan to go back again next year! Here are some photos to entice you as well. And for more information about the Mariposa Grove, go to the Yosemite national park website.

The Fallen Monarch

Bachelor and Three Graces
Fungi that grows on conifer trees.
Is this Sulfur Shelf fungi?
Giant Sequoias along the Big Trees Loop Trail.
A baby sequoia. Aww . . .

Stay tuned for another blog about hiking in Yosemite, and please subscribe if you haven’t already! Thanks!





  1. Anonymous Anonymous

    Beautiful photos! Another trip I need to take following in the footsteps of the Footloose Scribbler! I’ve been in spring and summer, but not yet in the fall.

    • KarenGough KarenGough

      Thank you so much! Fall is beautiful in Yosemite, but they do use that time for controlled burns.

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