One of my favorite things we ever did with Casper was take him to Yosemite. I described the trip a little bit already in my post about my Top 5 Favorite Road Trips, but I get questions all the time about going to Yosemite and have been wanting to write about it a little more in depth. Also, people often assume that you can't take dogs there. You totally can! It just takes a little more planning.
Side note: this post is about bringing dogs to Yosemite in general, but it's written from the experience of bringing a dog to Yosemite who does not like other dogs. That was a big part of our planning--making sure we structured our visit so we'd have plenty of space to roam and not have Casper run into other pups on the trails. The recommendations I give below are tailored to that. If you are in a similar situation and want more detail about how to avoid other dogs at Yosemite, feel free to Contact me :)
Every now and then I talk to someone who hasn't heard of Yosemite. In case you're in that boat, it's a national park. One of the gems of America. It is located in Eastern California in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, about 5 hours north and slightly east of LA and about 3 hours east and slightly south of San Francisco. Yosemite was one of the first national parks created (only Yellowstone is older) and was really central to the development of the whole concept of having national parks in this country. It is pristine, inspiring, stunningly beautiful, and one of the most amazing and special places I have ever been. I highly recommend it to anyone, as there is something for everyone there. When we went we saw families, solo travelers, people with pets, people using wheelchairs, elderly people, little kids, and everything in between. It is truly amazing! It's one of the things that makes me proud of the United States. When Grace and I went we kept saying "this is like Disneyland but for nature." So incredible.
On the topic of pet-friendly Yosemite trips, I guess I'll start out by explaining what you can't do with a dog. The main thing is that you can't go on any unpaved trails. I'm sure some of those trails are really awesome and worthwhile. But I can tell you from firsthand experience that there was plenty to do staying just on the paved trails, and I don't feel like I missed any iconic Yosemite views or experiences by being limited with a dog. Yes, maybe if you're going to Yosemite for a weeklong trip with your whole extended family, it might be tedious to be restricted to the paved trails. But for a two-day trip like ours, there was more in the park than we could ever do in that time and keeping to the paved portions didn't bother us one bit. The Yosemite website has a great page describing the areas where you can go--when they say "paved," that includes portions of the trails that are wood-planked, as well as bridges.
You also cannot take the shuttles around Yosemite if you have a dog (I'm assuming this would not apply to service animals, but I don't have any personal experience with that). Just to give you a picture, Yosemite is HUGE and you could never walk it all in a day or two. You have to get transported between all of the different sights to see and trails to walk. There are two primary options for getting around Yosemite: driving your own car and stopping at each location/trailhead or parking your car at a central location and then taking the shuttles around the park. I think that most people elect to do the latter because it is less stressful (you don't have to look for parking spots which can be hard to find). But that's not an option with a dog, so that's something to be aware of.
Other than keeping your dog on a leash and using doggy poop bags, the two things I describe above are really the only dog-related rules for Yosemite. That said, I think they are pretty strict and you can get fined for violating them. But besides for keeping those in mind, there is SO much you can do with your pup in the park, and it's such a cool experience for them and you.
If you watched Grace's many Instagram stories of trying to get Casper out of bed or have read my other posts about him, you know that he was not a fan of exercise or long walks. He was an old boy and had a hard life before we adopted him--can you blame him for just wanting to kick back and relax?! But when we went to Yosemite, it was a totally different story, and it was amazing to see. In one morning, he walked 4 miles without a complaint. SO wild for him! I think it was a combination of the cooler temperatures (in the 50s and 60s while we were there), the interesting new sights and smells, and the excitement of the adventure and being included with his moms that kept his energy and mood high. It made me so happy to see him so full of life and energetic. I felt the same way in such a beautiful place!
To get into the nitty-gritty, here is what I recommend if you're traveling with a dog for a couple of days to Yosemite:
First, try to travel in spring or fall. Winter is beautiful, I've heard, but the areas of the park that are open are a lot more limited because of the weather. Summer is SO crowded. We went in March, and it was absolutely perfect. A few roads and trails were still closed from winter, but it was mostly areas that we couldn't take a dog anyway. The crowds were totally manageable. And the weather was sublime. One other benefit to going in spring over fall--the ice from winter is starting to melt, and as a result all of the waterfalls are flowing in full force.
Second, embrace the 5am wakeup call. Seriously. It was my dream to see sunrise over the park, and it was SO worth the early wakeup. A really great thing about Yosemite is that it doesn't close overnight. It is open 24 hours, so take advantage of that! You can get there as early as you want, and I recommend going as soon as it's light outside. We had no line going into the park (there is a ranger station where you have to check in and pay the fee--about $25 for a weeklong pass, I think), but on the way out later that day, we passed about a MILE of cars waiting to get in. The early bird truly gets the worm at Yosemite.
Getting up early and traveling in the spring rather than summer allowed us to have such a peaceful experience--plus, we got some amazing photos of us surrounded by zero crowds in some of the most iconic Yosemite locations!
Third, prioritize what you want to see. During part of our time in Yosemite, we just kind of drove around and pulled over to the side of the road when we saw an area that we wanted to explore, but that was only after we had already checked off all of our must-see items. My favorite areas we saw (these are all dog-friendly) were:
The truth is, there aren't any ugly places in Yosemite! Even just pulling over to the side of the road without any marked "attraction" or trailhead, we would get photos like this:
It's a magical place. For anyone who's curious, we stayed in this dog friendly Airbnb located about 20 minutes outside the park. There are lodging options within the park, too, but they tend to be more expensive and were all booked by the time we planned our trip (we planned this only a few days in advance--spontaneous travel to Yosemite is totally possible, but you'll probably need to stay outside the park gates like we did).
If you have any dog-friendly tips and tricks for Yosemite that I haven't mentioned here, I'd love to hear them! I can't wait until we can go back with Willie.