Favorite Spots: Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

As part of an ongoing series, we feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, a deep canyon in the northern section of Yosemite National Park, is a favorite spot of Jeanne Haegele, who lives in Yosemite and works in the marketing department.

Jeanne and Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

The first thing you notice when you visit Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, is how similar it is to Yosemite Valley—except that you have it all to yourself. It’s almost eerie. At some points, it’s more than 4,000 feet from the valley floor to the rim of the canyon, and there you are at the bottom. Alone in the vastness.

Water and Cliffs

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

You have this amazing canyon pretty much to yourself because it’s hard to get to. The only way there is by backpacking, and it’s a challenging trip. Around 28 miles in total with lots and lots of uphill.

I visited Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne late last summer on a four-day backpacking trip with my boyfriend. We started from White Wolf and descended down some 3,700 feet into the canyon, where we met up with the Tuolumne River, our companion for the rest of the hike. We camped that first night in Pate Valley and the next morning, we started our uphill journey along the river, which would end about 23 miles later at Tioga Road, via Glen Aulin.


Going up all that way up was challenging, but it was also spectacular. Around every turn, we discovered a new, sparkling-clear swimming hole or a massive and mysterious rock formation. A favorite was Muir Gorge, where Cathedral Creek, Register Creek, and another small stream join with Tuolumne River in a maze of cliffs. Like so many places in this canyon, it felt like a sacred spot.

There were also numerous waterfalls. Next to the trail, Waterwheel Falls and Conte Falls spilled down the rock—sometimes gently and sometimes furiously—in cascades that seemed endless. Since we were following them steeply uphill on a hot afternoon, they felt even more unending. But they were beautiful every step of the way.

Photo by Navin Rajagopalan

Once at Glen Aulin, we were met by another huge waterfall. It was a wonderful sight and reminded us that we were close to the end of the journey. Well, sort of close. We still had 5 miles to go, but after we climbed out of Glen Aulin it was mostly flat until we emerged at Tioga Road.

And then we really were done—and feeling good about completing a hike full of so much beauty.

Boots near Glen Aulin Falls


Have you ever attended a social media event? Originally formed as part of the Twitter community and known as as “Tweet-Ups” (a play on meet-up, get it?), social media events have evolved to include users of all social media channels in what are often referred to as “Socials”. This week, Delaware North at Yosemite hosted Yosemite National Park’s first “Yosemite Social”. By invitation, social media influencers and social media representatives of park partners gathered in Yosemite Valley February 1 – 3, 2015 to talk about Yosemite in winter. The original event itinerary centered around winter sports at Badger Pass Ski Area – California’s original ski resort and one of only two located in a national park. Unfortunately, Mother Nature has chosen to withhold snow from the Sierra Nevada this winter and Badger Pass has closed temporarily due to lack of it. So what to do in the Yosemite winter without snow? Yosemite Social learned about activities such as hiking, biking, and ice skating in a snow-free Yosemite winter. Social media users on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can check out the experience by searching for the #YosemiteSocial hashtag on each channel.

In addition to activities, Yosemite Social was hosted at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls with a welcome dinner at The Mountain Room. After dinner entertainment consisted of a Starry Skies Over Yosemite Program, led by Delaware North at Yosemite interpretive guide Cory. Taking Yosemite Social on a cosmic tour of the universe, Cory shared his extensive knowledge of astronomy on a walking tour under the dark night sky of Leidig Meadow. The next day, Yosemite Social took a Bike-to-Hike Tour with Yosemite Mountaineering School Guide Allissa. Using the cruisers from the bike rental operation at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is an easy way to explore Yosemite Valley with occasional stops for short hikes and iconic vistas. Yosemite Social stopped mid-tour for lunch with freshly-made sandwiches at Degnan’s Deli in Yosemite Village and a meet & greet with Yosemite National Park Service staff. With grand views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls as a backdrop, Ranger Paul provided insight into the methods and goals of social media for the National Park Service in Yosemite.

Though Curry Village operates seasonally and is often closed during the winter months, Yosemite Social had a special pizza party dinner in the Curry Village Dining Pavilion featuring Pizza Deck pies – a tradition for summer visitors. Along with local beers and a green salad, dinner provided an opportunity to learn about operations at Curry Village – originally established in 1899 by the Curry family – from General Manager Dan Cornforth and Guest Recreation Manager Sean Costello. A short walk from the pavilion provided a winter evening’s activity: ice skating at Curry Village Ice Rink. Not only are rental skates available to circle the ice under Half Dome and Glacier Point during the day, take a break to gather around the fire pit during evening skate sessions with a S’mores Kit for dessert. Ice rink staff will even loan you long-handled forks for marshmallow toasting.

On the last day of the event Yosemite Social joined The Ahwahnee‘s General Manager, Brett Archer, for breakfast in the Ahwahnee Dining Room. Since Chefs’ Holidays at The Ahwahnee was still in full swing for its last sessions, Yosemite Social also participated in an exclusive Ahwahnee Kitchen Tour for a close up look at baked bread, desserts and the hardworking kitchen staff in this historic hotel. Many architectural elements are original to the hotel opening in 1927, including giant Hobart stand mixers haven’t been available in decades. Each winter in January and February, Chefs’ Holidays hosts famous chefs from around the country for cooking demonstrations, historic kitchen tours and a gala dinner in the Ahwahnee Dining Room.

Sincere thanks goes to the participants of the first ever Yosemite Social: Annie from NatureBridge, Amber and Noel from Yosemite/Mariposa County Tourism Bureau, Trevor from Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, Annie from Outdoorsy Mama, Kim from Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau and travel photographer Zach Glassman. Would you like to attend a Yosemite Social? Look for future event announcements on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

6 Ways to Enjoy Winter in Yosemite

1. Ice Skating

Where: Curry Village Ice Rink in Yosemite Valley
When: November through February 29
How: Skate rentals available – and don’t forget the s’mores kits for the fire pit!

2. Skiing, Snowboarding and Snowtubing

Where: Badger Pass Ski Area
When: Mid-December through March
How: Lessons, rentals, and dining available

3. Chefs’ Holidays

Where: The Ahwahnee
When: January and February
How: Dine with famous chefs and attend cooking demos in an historic national park lodge

4. Ostrander Ski Hut or Glacier Point Ski Hut:

Where: Backcountry lodging along the Glacier Point Road
When: Mid-December through March
How: Not accessible by vehicle in winter, you can snowshoe or cross-country ski to Yosemite’s ski huts

5. Snowshoeing

Where: Badger Pass Ski Area
When: Every day when enough snow covers the ground, evenings during the full moon
How: Rent snowshoes at Badger Pass Ski Area on your own, join park rangers or Delaware North at Yosemite interpretive naturalists on guided walks (snowshoes included)

6. Camera Walks

Where: Yosemite Valley
When: Several days a week in winter, find the schedule in the Yosemite Guide
How: With instructors from the Ansel Adams Gallery

Snow in Yosemite: Badger Pass Ski Area in Pictures

As California’s original ski resort, Badger Pass Ski Area has been a favorite winter activity in Yosemite National Park for generations of families. We invite you to enjoy some of our favorite Badger Pass photos, all taken by long-time Yosemite resident and acclaimed photographer Chris Falkenstein.

Badger Pass

One of the many beautiful clear days at Badger Pass.

At the Top

Skiers get ready to take to the mountain.

Snowy Day

The base of the mountain on a snowy day.


A groomer prepares the runs.

Ringing the Bell

Chuck Carter, head of Yosemite’s Winter Sports School, rings the ski school bell.


Snowboarders participate in a race at Badger Pass

Ranger Station in Snow

The ranger station after a big snow.

Day Lodge

The Day Lodge

Sunset at Badger Pass

Sunset at Badger Pass

Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite

Are you familiar with Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite? If you have an Instagram account, you can find a collection of breathtaking Yosemite photos by searching with hashtag #kennyslunchtimewalk. If you are not an Instagrammer, you can see some of the photos on our Pinterest board, “Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in Yosemite“. But what exactly is Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk and who is Kenny?

Kenny Karst is the Integrated Marketing Manager for DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite. He has lived and worked in Yosemite Valley for thirteen years and he also happens to be a professional sports photographer. In the spring of 2014, Kenny began sharing photos from his daily lunch walk with us to post on the DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite Instagram account and we called them “Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk in #Yosemite”. It’s enough that Kenny’s photos of his daily walks in Yosemite Valley are stunning, but soon enough, followers began asking, “Who is Kenny?” To answer that question, we hosted a giveaway on Facebook: Lunch With Kenny in Yosemite. The randomly selected winner from 140 applicants won a free night’s stay in Yosemite lodging by choosing Curry Village or Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and lunch with Kenny in the Ahwahnee Dining Room.

kenny campaign banner

Today, contest winner Deb and her son Derek participated in Kenny’s Lunchtime Walk prior to having lunch at The Ahwahnee. Viewing Yosemite in all of its fall glory, Kenny guided Deb and Derek down the bike path toward Mirror Lake and Backpackers Campground on the east end of Yosemite Valley. After walking and photographing the sunny fall morning, all three headed for the famous Ahwahnee Dining Room.

Deb & Derek 102714 SQ

Deb had this to say about her experience: “Thank you so much for the wonderful walk and lunch! Derek and I were honored to be your first “Kenny’s Walk” recipients. We saw parts of Yosemite that were completely new to us, and the weather was gorgeous. Lunch at the Ahwahanee ‎was delicious, and “Kenny’s Special” dessert was the crowning touch! Best of all, we learned so much from Kenny about Yosemite. It’s also the first time we’ve stayed at Yosemite Lodge, and it’s been thrilling to experience the Valley Floor in a whole new way.”

Though Kenny uses professional equipment for his sports photography, he uses his iPhone 5s for his lunchtime walk photos. He uses Photoshop to minimally process the photos before they get posted to Instagram and shared on Facebook and Twitter. Kenny is also an accomplished musician who plays the trombone in local bands like The Groove Orphans. Kenny’s adult daughter, Renee, also lives and works in Yosemite Valley and you may have seen her contributions to social media, such as an amazing video of a bobcat at Curry Village. Kenny’s favorite spot in Yosemite is Tuolumne Meadows, and he is an avid kayaker who loves to kayak High Sierra lakes like Tenaya Lake in Yosemite. Kenny is a person who loves Yosemite and is lucky enough to live and work in one of America’s most treasured places.

Yosemite Night Photography with Kristal Leonard

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Yosemite’s beauty extends far beyond the daylight hours. The clear sierra skies, far from city lights, offer a great opportunity to see the park literally in a new light. Moonbows shimmer in waterfall spray lit by the full moon, and the great expanse of the Milky Way arches above high mountain lakes or Yosemite icons like Half Dome. Kristal Leonard is a well-known local Yosemite photographer whose pictures bring those night-time landscapes to life. We were lucky to catch up with Kristal to find out a little more about her, and get some tips on night time photography.


How did you become interested in night photography?

I was always fascinated with the night sky from a young age, so when I got into landscape photography about 7 years ago, it was just a matter of time before I pointed my camera towards the sky at night. It was in 2010 when I took my first shot of a constellation and was immediately hooked.

What makes a good nighttime photograph, in your opinion?

For landscape astrophotography, it’s important to have an interesting foreground, like a lake, a cool looking tree, or people silhouetted. When you can position things on our planet to objects in the sky, it makes the connection between the two more intimate.

What kinds of equipment, camera or otherwise, do you like to have with you for a night-time shoot in Yosemite?

Since I shoot on many dark nights (meaning no moon light) I use a Canon 6d, which has excellent light sensitivity, so it can handle the dark night better. Another must have is a tripod. Most exposures are 5-30 seconds so you need to keep your camera completely still while shooting.

What are some of the techniques you’ve mastered (or are still developing)?

I don’t think I’ve mastered any yet but I’d like to master focusing in the dark. This is probably the single most question I get about night photography: how do you focus in the dark? The answer for me is some planning and a lot of trial and error.

I’m also still developing taking self-portraits at night, which can be much trickier than daytime self-portraits.

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What are your favorite night sky objects to photograph?

By far, my favorite is our galaxy, the Milky Way. In the summer months, facing south, the core of the Milky Way is visible and is so bright and intense. It always takes my breath away to see it!

Another favorite is an atmospheric phenomena called airglow, which is excited atoms in our atmosphere which emit a typically green glow not easily visible to the naked eye, but a long exposure can capture it! Although it looks like aurora, it is chemically different, but just as beautiful.

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Do you need knowledge about constellations and planets to create good night sky photos?

You should have it so you can plan when to shoot certain things, like which constellations are visible in the summer versus the winter, but I don’t think it’s the most important thing.

Do you have any tips for a night photography beginner?

Learn how to focus in the dark! Seriously, it’s the hardest thing to learn.

And learn some basic exposure settings to get started and just get out there and do it. If you want to get more advanced, take a workshop which will show you in-field techniques as well as photo editing processes.

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Is there any literature or websites you would recommend?

One site I use a lot is Star Circle Academy www.starcircleacademy.com The author has a huge variety of tips, from basic to advanced, on a ton of topics, from landscapes to deep sky objects.

What is your favorite spot to photograph in Yosemite at night?

Definitely Glacier Point! It can be crowded at night (lots of flashlights) during the summer but the views are amazing. You can watch the moon rise over the high country, the Milky Way arch over everything, the fuzzy Andromeda Galaxy near Half Dome, meteor showers, satellites including the International Space Station, etc…

See more of Kristal’s amazing photography on her website at: http://www.isntthatbeautiful.com/


The Cathedral Range: Project Yosemite’s Favorite Spots


In an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite Yosemite places of filmmakers Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty, the creators of the stunning Yosemite HD time-lapse video that became a runaway favorite online with over 3 million views on Vimeo.

The Story

Colin: “After capturing sunset from the summit of Cockscomb Peak Sheldon and I prepared for a night under the stars at 11,000 ft. We had hiked all day into the heart of the Cathedral Range to this spot and planned to stay for sunrise. As the last bit of light faded from the sky so did our view of neighboring peaks such as Echo Peaks, Cathedral Peak and Matthes Crest.

Following dinner we emerged from our warm sleeping bags to setup a few timelapses that would last a couple hours. As I setup my shot it was easy to forget where I was. My eyes had adjusted to the extreme brightness of my headlamp narrowing my vision down to a few feet. I couldn’t wait to see what was out there. I pointed my camera in the direction of the Milky Way, set focus and fired. 20 seconds later an image popped up on my camera LCD. In it I could see Matthes Crest standing there under the Milky Way. It was magic! In that moment I felt so much excitement. I still can’t believe that its possible to capture images like that.”


Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty of Project Yosemite

Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty of Project Yosemite

The Cathedral Range is south of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. Though formed by glaciation, the very top of the peaks in this range rose above the highest level of the glaciers, where they didn’t suffer the same erosion processes as the valley below. Lack of glacial erosion contributes to their spire-like appearance and consequent name.

Read more about Colin, Sheldon and Project Yosemite.

We’re collecting more pictures and stories about favorite Yosemite spots. Keep checking back for more.

Favorite Yosemite Spots: Upper Cathedral Lake


Photo by Kristal Leonard

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. Olmsted Point is a favorite spot of Kristal Leonard, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley. Kristal is also one of the Valley’s most prolific photographers, often spending time in the backcountry to capture the perfect Yosemite moment. You can see more of Kristal’s work at Kristal Leonard Photography.

“One of my favorite places in Yosemite National Park is Upper Cathedral Lake. This beautiful alpine lake, along with its companion Lower Cathedral Lake, is situated in the Yosemite high country at the base of Cathedral Peak. It is far enough from the road to seem remote but it’s easily accessible via a seven mile round trip hike. My husband and I planned an overnight trip to the upper lake in August last year. There was a 30% chance of thunderstorms that weekend, which was exciting for me as a photographer considering how beautiful the high country gets during or after a thunderstorm. After a 3.5 mile, moderately strenuous hike, we arrived at the lake and found a campsite away from the water but with an amazing view of the lake and surrounding peaks. The thunderstorm was clearing right before sunset so we were treated to beautiful clouds and reflections on the lake. After dark, another thunderstorm moved through the region, so I set my camera up for timed exposures to see if I could capture the lightning that was hitting the nearby and more distant peaks. The next morning, everything was so fresh from the recent rains. We stayed for breakfast and then packed up camp and hiked back to Tuolumne Meadows.”


Photo by Kristal Leonard

Cathedral Lakes is a favorite backcountry destination in Yosemite’s high country due to the relatively easy hike that takes you into the backcountry. Part of the John Muir Trail – the famous hiking trail that is part of the cross-continental Pacific Crest Trail – the trail to the Cathedral lakes takes you through classic Sierra Nevada alpine environment. Accessible only for a short time each summer when the Tioga Road is open, Upper Cathedral Lake sits at an elevation of 9,585 feet, while Lower Cathedral Lake just lives up to its name at 9,288 feet. Both lakes provide views of the steeple-like formations of Cathedral Peak. In 1869, John Muir climbed Cathedral Peak and wrote in My First Summer in the Sierra, “A mile or so to the westward there is a handsome lake, and the glacier-polished granite about it is shining so brightly it is not easy in some places to trace Front of Cathedral Peak the line between the rock and water, both shining alike.”

El Cap Meadow: Project Yosemite’s Favorite Spots


In an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite Yosemite places of filmmakers Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty, the creators of the stunning Yosemite HD time-lapse video that became a runaway favorite online with over 3 million views on Vimeo.

The Story

Colin: “Through the spring and summer months the grass grows tall and green in Yosemite. These grassy meadows are great places to observe the valley since they are normally right at its center. El Capitan Meadow is my favorite. It sits at the foot of El Capitan, one of the world’s most popular wall faces for rock climbing. As you walk further from the road El Capitan comes into view and if you look close enough you can find climbers thousands of feet above the ground. After relaxing in El Cap Meadow for awhile it’s nice to have the Merced River close enough for a quick dip.”


Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty of Project Yosemite

Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty of Project Yosemite

One of the most prominent granite monoliths in Yosemite Valley, El Capitan soars roughly 3000 above the valley floor. Rock climbers often take three days or more to climb to the top, although speed climbers can cover the distance in only a few hours. On the other side of the meadow, views of Cathedral Rocks provide a perfect counterpoint to the Captain. Bordered by Northside Drive and the Merced River in Yosemite Valley, this popular viewing area has plenty of parking in pull-outs on the left side of the road. During the summer months, the Yosemite Conservancy runs an “Ask a Climber” program to answer climbing questions and give you an opportunity you to look through powerful spotting scopes at the climbers above.

Read more about Colin, Sheldon and Project Yosemite.

We’re collecting more pictures and stories about favorite Yosemite spots. Keep checking back for more.

The Diving Board: Project Yosemite’s Favorite Spots


In an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite Yosemite places of filmmakers Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty, the creators of the stunning Yosemite HD time-lapse video that became a runaway favorite online with over 3 million views on Vimeo.

The Story

Colin: “As I approached the west side of Half Dome a heavy fog rolled in. I followed Sheldon’s faint outline up one last hill to the Diving Board where we’d spend the night capturing time lapse. When I reached the top I dropped everything and tried to gather my breath but when I saw the view I jumped right back up. We were in mid air, or at least it seemed that way. Clouds were all around us. Soon after our arrival Half Dome started to emerge as the clouds retreated down its face. We rushed to set up our camera gear as the clouds churned between the walls of the Valley. When I first saw Ansel Adam’s photo of Half Dome from the Diving Board I knew it was something I had to see. Honestly no photo could have prepared me for what we saw in the weather that day.”


Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty of Project Yosemite

Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty of Project Yosemite

The Diving Board is a rock outcropping just west of the smooth vertical face of Half Dome, and the location of one of Ansel Adam’s most famous Yosemite photographs, “The Monolith”, taken in 1927. Cantilevered at a 30 degree angle, from this vantage point you can view Yosemite Valley 3500 feet below. Glacial erratics are found near this distinctive formation, attesting to the glaciation process that sculpted the Diving Board into this particular configuration that inspires such a whimsical name.


Read more about Colin, Sheldon and Project Yosemite.

We’re collecting more pictures and stories about favorite Yosemite spots. Keep checking back for more.