Can you believe that is practically New Year’s?!? It feels like 2018 has just flown by!
If you are looking for a fun a unique way to ring in the new year, ditch the heels and sparkly dress and head out into the wilderness. A couple years ago I spent New Years weekend enjoying nature in two of California’s amazing national parks, Yosemite and Sequoia/Kings Canyon, and it was awesome!
Our national parks adventure was a bit last minute as far as New Year’s Eve plans go, but we managed to book hotels and map out the road trip a mere week before New Years. As with any New Years planning it’s always better (and cheaper) to book further in advanced. But we lucked out and were able to find rooms.
We stayed at the Yosemite View Lodge, just outside of Yosemite in El Portal. The hotel itself is nothing special, but it’s proximity to the park is what makes it. It’s just a twenty minute drive from the hotel into Yosemite Valley.
The drive into the valley on El Portal Road is epic, you follow the Merced river and are surrounded by dramatic granite cliffs on either side.
Once in the valley get bundled up and check out some of the parks most iconic spots. There can be snow this time of year so make sure you’ve got the right gear, waterproof boots with good tread work best in the snow and slush.
It’s important to note, that some parts of the park are closed in winter like Glacier Point, but there is still plenty open. Some of my favorite spots are Tunnel View, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and Cathedral Beach. We also did the first part of the Vernal Falls/Mist Trail hike. Depending on how much snow there is this hike is still open during the winter months, and we were able to make it far enough to get a view of Vernal Falls before turning around. Just remember if you are going to be hiking to wear appropriate clothing, like warm clothes and boots.
Trails this time of year can also get very icy and covered in snow making it hard to traverse, and dangerous if there is a drop off on one side. So when the trail gets icy or the snow gets deep that means it’s time to turn around. There is really no reason for putting yourself in danger just for an instagram shot. We saw several people scrambling over icy boulders to get closer to the waterfall and that’s not safe for you or good for the natural environment. So stick to the trail and stay where it’s safe. That being said, most of the trail was clear when we hiked it, it was only when we got near Vernal Falls that it got a little sketchy.
At the end of the day make your way over to Half Dome village for an awesome view of Half Dome at sunset. The colors on the granite rock are beautiful. And if you are feeling up to ice skating the village has an ice skating rink too!
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is about a three and half hour drive from Yosemite. We stayed at the Wuksachi Lodge in the Giant Forest area of Sequoia. The lodge was built in 1999 but feels like something out of the 50’s with its mountain-y and old timey charm.
We drove in on New Year’s Eve day and got to cruise around the Grant Grove and see the famous Grant Tree, the largest Sequoia tree in that section of the park and the second largest tree in the world. There are are tons of walking trails around the giant Sequoia trees and it’s a beautiful sight to see, especially in the snow.
We’d made a reservation at the Peaks Restaurant (the restaurant in the Wuksachi Lodge) for New Years Eve dinner, so after getting checked into the lodge and getting settled into our room we headed over for a pre dinner drink. I’d highly recommend making a reservation for New Year’s Eve, we did so a day or two beforehand and were still able to get in, it was at the end of the night but that was just fine with us.
I honestly don’t remember if the food was any good, I’m sure it was fine since I’ve got no bad impressions of it. But what I remember most about the evening was being with Rob and a couple of friends, having run around in the park all day and just being happy. Happy not to be fighting my way into a club or wearing heels or stressing out about what everyone wanted to do (or any other typical New Year’s issues). And happy that we have these beautiful wild spaces that are purely for the preservation of nature and our enjoyment of the outdoors.
At midnight servers handed out champagne for a toast and we rang in the new year near a toasty fire with a glass of bubbly and nothing but the natural darkness of the forest outside. It was perfect.
On New Year’s day we went to see the General Sherman Tree in the Giant Forest. The General Sherman Tree is a Giant Sequoia and is the largest tree (by volume) in the world. Like the Grant Grove there is a whole grove of giant Sequoia to meander through and tons of walking paths.
After marveling at the largest tree in the world it was time to have a little fun, so we found a hill and busted out the sleds. We slid down that hill like little kids and had a blast. Side note, we drove down the road aways before we found a good spot, trying to sled between Sequoias in a grove is a bad call. I believe we went to either the Wolverton ski area or the Wolverton picnic area, but there was a parking lot and a good sized hill perfect for sledding.
Everything you need for a winter adventure
These are a few of my favorite cold weather adventuring gear. The coat from L.L. Bean is amazingly warm and cozy. The Northface smart gloves are awesome because you can use your phone with them on, nobody likes cold fingers! And I’ve been obsessed with these Sorel Boots since I got them, they aren’t heavy duty type boots but they are waterproof and comfy, and perfect for just walking around. I also never go anywhere with out my Hydro Flask, in the winter I put hot lemon water or tea in it and it stays warm for hours!
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