tunnel view yosemite

Yosemite, A First-Timers Experience

I cannot believe that in my 31 years of living in Northern California that I had never been to Yosemite before (insert monkey-covering-face emoji). Seriously, I live about 3-ish hours away and it’s just somewhere that always seemed to daunting to try and plan a trip to, so I never went. Until now! My husband and I made a weekend getaway out of a trip there recently, and we both came away from it saying how inspired we are to continue checking out the amazing National Parks that America has to offer. While we didn’t do any hardcore camping in Yosemite, we did get to do one of the more popular hikes that the park has.

First off, the main reason we went was because my husband had participated in an auction last year and had won an overnight stay at the brand new Rush Creek Lodge located on the West side of the park. We had been putting off a trip there due to our wedding last September, but finally felt like it was time to adventure out there and see what we had been missing all this time. The drive to Rush Creek Lodge was pretty easy, just East on the 120 through Groveland and up Priest grade and then there you are.

Rush Creek Map Yosemite
Rush Creek Lodge located approx. 45 minutes to Yosemite Valley, but only about a 10-15 minute drive to park entrance!

The hotel has a gorgeous, luxury log cabin feel to it, with a salt-water swimming pool and two hot tubs on the property (yay!). We knew that we were going to wake up super early the next morning to embark on our hike, so we planned to grab some dinner that evening and take it easy. The hotel offered a full restaurant, a tavern that offered the full menu available at the restaurant, and a themed buffet by the pool each night. We opted to do the buffet because it was all-you-can-eat and a pretty good deal ($35/person).

Rush Creek Lobby
Rush Creek Lobby

Rooms and pool area
Rosé and Sunset
Rosé and a sunset, is there anything better?

The absolute best advice we got from someone was to wake up extra early and head over to the park before the crowds come (peak hours are from 9am-12pm). We woke up and 5am and got to the park around 6:00, stopped a couple of times on the way in for photos, managed to find parking in Half Dome Village (about a half mile or so to the trailhead), and started on the trail with barely anyone else around us.

Map our hotel provided with the route we drove to get to the trailhead
Our first stop on the way into the valley
El Capitan
The first waterfall we saw on our drive into the valley
Husb on his way down the trail
Rushing River
One of the rushing rivers

With all of the rainfall and snow we got this past Winter, we had heard that the waterfalls in Yosemite were going to be absolutely gushing right now. Because we definitely wanted to see that, we decided to hike to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail. They say it’s approximately a ~5 mile hike round trip, but with the walk to and from the parking lot and then the John Muir Trail (which we took down from Nevada Falls so we wouldn’t get soaked again), it was a little over 7 miles we assume.

River Yosemite

Matt Yosemite
Handsome husband at the trailhead

We obviously aren’t avid hikers (yet!) so we opted to wear some of our more grip-py Nike’s for the walk, along with some comfy clothes, hats, and backpacks to hold our snacks and waters. If I could do it all over again, I would for sure bring some layers for the cold morning to wear. I would also have packed a bit more water, because they say that your body needs about 2 liters of water for the length of hike we did, where we had each only brought 1 liter a piece. Snacks are an absolute must, and some of our faves ended up being these Epic bison-cranberry-bacon bars and these chicharrones from 4505 Meats, both from Thrive Market (another post on them later!).

Vernal Falls
Top of Vernal Falls

The journey up to Nevada Falls is one of the most incredible views I’ve ever taken in. As you cross through the forest-y area towards the trail where you begin to ascend up, the mist coming off the waterfall itself was so intense that it creates it’s own wind (blowing at about 40mph!). You wind your way up the mountain and suddenly reach the top, where you can sit at a huge lookout point and take in the unbelievable view.

Stairs Nevada Falls
Stairs leading up the mountain to Nevada Falls

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View John Muir Trail
View of Nevada Falls from John Muir Trail

After resting a while, snacking, and of course taking a ton of photos, we decided rather than going back down the way we came we would go down the way of the John Muir Trail. It added another 2 miles onto our journey down, but we were curious to see a different trail. It essentially was a much easier, much windier trail that allowed us to skip the slippery Mist Trail that, at Noon, would be swarming with people.


  • Plan ahead! Whether you decide to camp or stay at the awesome hotel that we did, Yosemite gets extremely busy in the Summertime and can be stressful if trying to do things last minute.
  • GET. THERE. EARLY! Seriously the best decision we made the entire weekend (aside from packing our own rosé for the room, lol)
  • Bring sturdy, comfortable shoes. You’re going to do a ton of walking!
  • Bring more water on your hike than you think you will need; hydration is key!
  • Wear a hat; it makes a huge difference mid-day when the sun is beating down on you (and you will avoid a scalp sunburn!)
  • Bring lots of snacks
  • Plan your hiking trail in advance, especially if you only have one day in the park! You don’t want to get lost and waste any time figuring out which trails to do.
  • Pack bug spray! We got a ton of bites while on our hike.

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