Yosemite 101: The Valley Floor Tour


Yosemite is a big place. Getting a lay of the land through this orientation tour establishes priorities for longer stays in the park while highlighting Yosemite’s best for a quick trip. Two hours well spent, the Valley Floor tours are without a doubt one of Yosemite’s best first visit primers.

Occurring year round, knowledgeable park rangers spill Yosemite’s secrets of geology, flora, and fauna, dovetailing them with anthropogenic history. Summer finds guests winding through the valley on open air trams, pointing out standard fare about the epic rocks at Half Dome and El Capitan, gushing on about Yosemite, Bridalveil, and the other gorgeous waterfalls. The tour takes in the astounding east portal Tunnel View at Wawona. Bring the best camera available for Ansel Adams-like results, although it is almost impossible to take bad photos of such incredible landscapes.

Winter guests get a similar spiel on board heated motor coaches with oversize windows. Snowy tours, however, are dependent on weather. The valley floor is usually navigable through the winter months, but monster storms do occur. It can take some time to clear the accumulation of flakes.

Winter bonuses come from the delight of seeing the February firefall at sunset illuminating Horsetail Falls. Capturing the powerful, lava-like march of Frazil ice on Yosemite Creek in late February and early April illustrates what 100 cfs slurry flows look like as they grumble down from the steeps.. Frazil ice is created by crystals forming in the mist around the falls in a glaciohydraulic supercooling process. The slurry-like result is a powerful event worth viewing. Winter visitors also earn the privilege of peace and quiet not possible in warmer months. Fewer than 10 percent of Yosemite’s annual visitors choose the winter months for their stay. If you are among them, your photos¬† will evoke a natural serenity unrecognizable to summer visitors.

The night tour is simply exquisite. For the four nights leading up to the cycles of the full moon, as well as on the perfect lunar circle night itself, the full moon tour offers an entirely different take on the landscape under a perfect dark sky. That happens five or six times each summer. Since you are brilliant, you will have made reservations ahead of arrival, ensuring preferred times and days.