One of my Instagram followers had seen my posts from a recent day trip to Yosemite, and asked me for advice on places to photograph the park in a single day. I’m fortunate to live in Sacramento, which is very close to many picturesque locations in Northern California within a day trip, including iconic Yosemite National Park.
I recently took a whirlwind morning trip to the park from my home in Sacramento when the weather forecast was calling for light precipitation. I knew that the wetter conditions would create some of the picturesque foggy mist that settles in the valley that I was hoping to photograph. I set my alarm and left the house at 3:45 am, intending to arrive at the park around sunrise. When I arrived, the day was far more overcast than I expected, so the sunrise really didn’t make a difference, but the morning light and clearing fog made for nice conditions, nonetheless.
Here are my suggestions to photograph some of the iconic locations in the valley. My suggestions are west to east in order, going counter clockwise around the valley loop road:
As you are driving towards the valley on highway 140, there is a beautiful little waterfall long after driving through Mariposa but just before entering the park: Cascade Creek. I haven’t been able to find it on a map, other than look left as you’re driving over those bridges on 140. If anyone knows the geographic coordinates, please feel free to share!
Tunnel View, of course, is a must-shoot location and normally is best at sunset. If you’re going at sunset, try to get there an hour beforehand because photographers and tripods are lined up shoulder to shoulder vying for a spot, especially on a weekend. Sunrise is also a nice time to photograph here and the crowds have always appeared to be far less in number.
By valley marker 12 there’s a turnout that has 2 cedar trees growing out of the tiny parking lot. It’s a short hike down to the Merced River from there, and is one of my favorite spots from which to photograph. From this location, there’s amazing views of El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks looking west, and Three Brothers looking east. Another bonus of this location is that it’s a relatively peaceful portion of the Merced River that provides mirror-like reflections of these iconic peaks.
Across the street from Yosemite Village is a great location to get Half Dome in the background with the Merced in the foreground. On google maps, it’s called Indian Canyon Creek.
Gates of the Valley, or Valley view as it’s otherwise known, is found as you exiting west out of the park, and provides another iconic shot of El Capitan on the left side of the frame and Bridalveil Falls on the right overlooking the Merced. There are approximately a dozen parking spots here, and many visitors, but I have not had a problem finding parking in the winter months.
I loved shooting tiny Wildcat Falls heading west on Big Oak Flat Road upon exiting the park. There’s no sign, but a turnoff on the side of the road where you backtrack on a short trail to the falls. The path is parallel to the road and it’s a very short and easy hike; you should be able to hear the falls shortly after embarking on the path.
After arriving at the park so early in the morning, I was too exhausted to wait for sunset photographic opportunities, and traveled back to Sacramento around noon! Truly a whirlwind trip, but a memorable one!