As soon as my flight to San Francisco was booked, my search to find the best Yosemite National Park tour started. I soon realised that, yes, you can take a day of the park. But where’s the fun in that? I knew Yosemite was going to be spectacular, and spending only a few hours inside the park just wasn’t going to cut it for me. Enter Green Tortoise Adventure Travel.
This company ticked all the right boxes for me. Maximum time inside Yosemite National Park. Check. Unique experiences outside my comfort zone. Check. Affordable tours that won’t break the bank. Check. I booked the 3-day Yosemite National Park Tour.
Catching the bus
You meet the Green Tortoise bus, drivers, and your fellow adventurers at the corner of Montgomery and Columbus in downtown San Francisco. Don’t worry, the bus is easy to find, parked right on the street next to the Church of Scientology building. You can’t miss it.
On this particular tour, we were 24 people from more than 10 different countries! How great is that? Our incredible drivers were Steve and Dan. So the first hour on the bus was spent like this: Steve explained how the tour works, where we were going and what we could expect. The buddy-system is also implemented where you are teamed up with a stranger to keep track of each other.
The bus stops at a huge Safeway in Dublin (California not Ireland!) where you can stock up on snacks or stretch your legs. During this stop, the bus is converted into ‘the miracle’ where the interior of the bus transforms into one huge Christmas bed. It reminded me of fun sleepovers from my childhood. You know, that feeling of excitement when you get to stay up way past your normal bedtime with your best friends? Anyway, the bus continues to drive through the night to Yosemite National Park.
Roadside breakfast with a view
Steve woke us up early, at the crack of dawn. The bus stopped just outside the park at a lovely picnic spot. Preparing breakfast is a social event where everybody chips in. From setting up the equipment to cooking the food.
Our first breakfast was an American classic – toasted bagels with cream cheese! YUM! It was so delicious! Breakfast also included fresh fruit and oatmeal. After breakfast, each person prepared their own lunch: sandwiches, fruit, and snacks.
After our roadside breakfast, we pulled into Yosemite Valley just after 09h00. The day is yours to do with as you please. The shuttle system makes it easy to get around the valley. There are various hiking trails to choose from, some easy and some for more experienced hikers. I opted to hike the Mist Trail. The trail is paved, not too difficult but quite steep with beautiful scenery. A lot of people hiked this trail. I had a blast photographing the squirrels. (Btw, read more about California Ground Squirrels here).
I only made it halfway up the trail before turning back because I wanted to see Mirror Lake too. The walk to the lake is super easy and shaded for the most part. In the centre of the lake is a rock where you can take the plunge into the freezing water below if you’re brave enough. I played it safe and only dipped my feet…
After checking out Mirror Lake, I went back to the Valley Lodge. I browsed the gift shop and decided to cool off in the river at the Swinging Bridge. What a great day!
Tips: The shuttle service can get very crowded during summer. You might not be able to get on the first bus at a stop, which means you have to wait about 20 minutes for the next bus. Just keep that in mind if you want to make it back in time. Another tip. You don’t have to use the porter potties at the bus drop off point. Instead, use the clean public bathrooms in the visitor center.
Wawona and dinner
In the late afternoon, we all met up at the Green Tortoise bus and headed to our camping ground for the night, Wawona, which is located inside the park. It was only about an hours’ drive away. Upon arrival, everybody helped to set up camp. Some people brought their own tents and hammocks. The rest of us had a choice of sleeping inside the bus again, or underneath the stars. Guess which option I chose?
Dinner was a tasty Asian dish: rice noodles with crispy veggies in a peanut sauce served with coleslaw. Dessert was a blueberry and peach crumble (cooked in the fire) with whipped cream. We ended the night together, sitting around the campfire. What a fantastic start and this was only the first day! Tune in tomorrow to see what I got up to on the second day of the Green Tortoise Yosemite National Park Tour.