If you can summon the energy to witness a Yosemite Mariposa County sunrise, you'll quickly find that getting up early is the insider tip to beat all insider tips. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Everything Looks Better in the Morning
It's not just a mindset. The morning golden hour - when the warm amber light spills across the rolling foothills and forested mountains "“ lends magic to everything that you see. Photographers already know that this is one of the best times to capture spectacular photos.
Because Yosemite Mariposa County is on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada, it may already be quite light out by the time the sun crests the mountain tops. Take advantage of that soft early light to soak in the wonder of historic buildings, ancient trees, or the small flowers at your feet.
Then keep your eyes open for that spectacular moment when the sun crests the mountains. At the right time of year, you can capture the many rays of the sun peeking out from behind Half Dome from locations like Valley View. Outside of Yosemite, the mountains that flank the highways create stunning images of beams or light and shadows towering over the road way.
Another good way to see an earlier sunrise, is to drive up out of Yosemite Valley for a higher vantage point. Some of the classic sunrise landscape locations include Glacier Point or Sentinel Dome. Long hikes will also bring you to high-mountain views with exceptional sunrise scenery like Cloud's Rest or Sunrise High Sierra Camp. Even from these higher locations, the sky itself will be quite bright by the time the sun climbs above the mountains to the east, but the warm glow of that early morning light is stunning, regardless.
2. Enjoy the Cool Temperatures
The air is still crisp and cool in the early mornings in Yosemite. It's the kind of space that you can yawn and stretch into, a moment with endless potential and excitement. Even during the hottest days of summer, morning temperatures are usually cool and comfortable. This makes those morning hours perfect for getting out and exploring.
Once the day warms up, it'll be time to find a shady spot for a picnic or siesta. Or you might try some refreshing water recreation, like rafting or fishing or simply enjoy the water from a sandy beach. (Note that spring flows can be swift, cold, and surprisingly strong. Be sure to stay safe.)
Plan your days to make the most of these comfortable morning temperatures.
3. Get a Jump Start on Your Big Adventure
If you get moving while it's still cool out, you won't need to drink (or carry) as much water, keeping your backpack a little lighter.
Plus, even if you don't expect your big effort to take all day, getting an early start cascades from being the first one in line at the Pony Expresso, or the first table at Sugar Pine CafÃ© for a delicious breakfast, to being on the trail before most other people. Early mornings give you the space to soak in the quiet and solitude of nature.
4. See Birds and Animals
In the early hours, birds fill the air with song. Their warbling and piping notes greet the new day. Birds and other wildlife like bears or coyotes take advantage of the cooler morning and evening temperatures as well. This time of day might be your best chance to view some wildlife.
5. Get Popular Destinations All to Yourself
Have you ever dreamed of experiencing Yosemite with no one else around? Would you meander recklessly across the broad walkway to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls with only a few cheeky squirrels as company? Have you imagined what it would be like to hike the long stairs of the Mist Trail at exactly your own pace, with no one slowing you down or hurrying you from behind? What if you were the only person leaning on the railing at Glacier Point, looking straight out at Half Dome?
Mornings are your moment.
Parking lots are empty. Normally crowded areas are deserted. All those people who just want to sleep in on their days off are still indulging their beauty rest. That means even the most popular locations "“ in the beautiful morning light, in comfortably cool temperatures - could be all yours just for the effort of an early alarm and a big pot of coffee.