Yosemite by Bicycle
The bicycle rental stand didn't close for another
hour and 13 minutes. "A bike," I thought, "would be the perfect
way to cover some ground before the sun sets." A quick
pedal-powered ride around Yosemite Valley would, in fact, be the
only way I could see the sites before dark. As usual, I had
packed too much in to a single day of sightseeing, and in the
process learned Yosemite was simply too big for one day, let
alone a single afternoon. So with high hopes, I walked up to the
"Ooh, I'm sorry. It's too late in the day. We're not renting out
any more bikes." The college-aged girl at the rental counter
seemed nice enough. But it was her policy to make sure all the
bikes were back, 15 minutes before closing time. Since no one's
allowed to rent a bike for less than an hour, I was out of luck.
Yosemite valley can be a frustrating place, especially if you're
in a hurry. There's a lot of traffic, no matter when you visit.
There's only one road in, and one road out.
Once you're wedged
in between the towering canyon walls, the one-way streets can
leave you driving in circles.
Road signs are confusing, and the
sign for the bicycle stand? It couldn't even be seen from the
These are all reasons I arrived at the bicycle stand two minutes
So I started to beg. "I've been hiking all day, and
there's still so much left for me to see." I explained the
one-way streets and the traffic. I promised to have the bike
back on time, and wrapped it up with a "Please?".
I must have looked just pathetic enough.
Biking Through Yosemite
Yosemite's bike-ability is probably one of the national park's
best kept secrets. Paved trails take you places roads made for
automobiles can't. In many places, the paths take you alongside
or across the picturesque Merced River, which flows through the
center of the valley. Compared to the roads, the bicycle trails
aren't crowded. Best of all, you can stop, get off and on again,
around, whenever you want. In all, the park offers 12
miles of paved trails, designed especially for bicycles.
My tour began at the park's only bicycle rental stand, at
Yosemite Lodge. The lodge is one of only two hotels in Yosemite
Valley. If you can
get a reservation (months in advance!), prepare to pay a hefty
price for a room that looks out onto nearby Yosemite Falls. In
the morning, you can arise and take a quick walk to the base of
I started pedaling southwest, heading towards the entrance to the
valley. Before long, the path looped back, taking me across the
Merced over a swinging bridge. From there, I followed the path
to the Yosemite Chapel,which provides an ideal wedding spot, or
a great place for travelers to attend Sunday morning services.
After snapping a picture of the chapel's towering steeple, which
is dwarfed by the half-mile-high canyon walls, I continued east,
passing Curry Village (which offers canvas-walled cabins at a
more reasonable price than the luxurious lodge). My destination
was Mirror Lake, but it proved to be too far, especially since
bicycles are prohibited on the path's final, steep segment, and
I didn't have time to walk.
I did have time to take a quick break though. I parked the
bicycle, walked down to the rushing water of Tenaya Creek, and
plunged my baseball cap into the water. Then, I splashed my cold
wet cap back onto my head. It was a perfect moment.
I headed west once again, towards the heart of the valley. Along
the way, I stopped at the picture-perfect Stoneman Bridge, the
subject of countless photos since its construction in 1932. A
little further, the Sentinel Bridge (Yosemite's newest, built in
1993)provides a perfect place to take your own postcard-quality
image of Half Dome, the park's most recognizable feature.
But, it was a moment that couldn't last. I had only
about 20 minutes left to meet my deadline, which I so convincingly
promised to meet. On top of that, I wasn't even sure of my
location, since I left the park map in my car.
After taking in the view from Sentinel Bridge, I continued on
the final stretch back to Yosemite Lodge. With a little extra
time, I could have stopped at the Village Store, which is
stocked to the ceiling with every type of park collectible you
could imagine. It's a good thing, too, because you'd hate to
leave the park without a Half Dome snow globe, or black bear
on-a-string key chain.
With only minutes to spare, I made it back to the rental shop.
In one hour, and without a map, I managed to circle the entire
valley, take dozens of pictures, and best of all, see enough of
the park to leave happy.
Take the California Dream trip from the
Jump In at the Yosemite Bicycle Tour
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