California's Yosemite National Park, one of the first national parks, is magical with its enormous cliffs & domes, waterfalls & giant sequoia trees. As I marvel the beauty of this place, I can't help but wonder what it must've been like for the first people to arrive in the valley.
I regret that I haven't been able to spend more time in Yosemite than I have. I've been twice, but both times only for one day, when I was actually in San Francisco but had a spare day. It's somewhat doable, as long as you don't mind driving for about 4 hours, then 4 more to get back - that means getting up really early! But the scenery along the way - once the sun gets up - is not too shabby, and just keeps getting better as you get closer to Yosemite.
So I've only been there twice, with not too much time on my hands, and spent both of those days in Yosemite Valley, which makes up for only 1% of the total Yosemite National Park area. There's just so much more ground I want to cover, some day. But the valley is amazing! The reason I came back here a second time instead of exploring other parts of the park, is that I so badly wanted my girlfriend, who wasn't there on my first visit, to see it.
A picture's worth a thousand words, so just look at that Tunnel View picture up top, with El Capitan (that giant granite rock on the left) and Half Dome (center). Too bad you can barely spot Bridalveil Fall on the right: both of my visits were in late summer and the waterfalls had mostly dried out by then. I guess I'll be coming back in spring next time, to see them at their best.
You'll also get to meet a high diversity of animals. Squirrels are everywhere, trying to grab whatever food you drop, and you can get pretty close to deer wandering around, almost able to pet them (but don't, they're still wild animals!) There's also supposed to be a good population of black bears. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to spot one, though I've been looking so hard. Anxious to see one, I soon began to mistake just about every tree trunk for a bear!
Speaking about trees: Yosemite's also home to some massive sequoias, the largest known trees on the earth. A short drive (about an hour) from Yosemite Valley will get you to Mariposa Grove, one of the 3 groves where you'll find these sequoias - like the California Tunnel tree who was big enough to have been cut open to allow cars to pass (but has now been destroyed by a storm.) I guess I lied and did visit a little more than just the valley - but it was in a bit of a rush.
If I ever get the chance to go back, I'm definitely staying longer so I get a chance to hike around more. I'm very keen to do the Half Dome trail & hike to the top of Half Dome. Plan your travels, as it may be hard to reach in winter (or even early fall), when roads get snowed under and access to the park may be hard.