If you’ve ever been to Yosemite National Park in California, you’ll understand why it is one of the most infamous National Parks in the world. It’s Valley and all the glory within its walls are one of the most iconic places in the United States. The park’s world-class Yosemite rock climbing, wild Yosemite park camping, its impactful history, and abundance of wildlife make it one of the most renowned parks in the world.
It was a hot summer weekend in late July of 2015. I was living in my car at the time for the past month; taking river showers in the early mornings and hiking all day in whichever part of the Western United States I was. I had just come from a solo traveler’s euphoria for one special evening at Tahoe Lake.
I headed down the scenic two-lane road leading towards Yosemite Valley around sunset. The hills of spruce trees felt endless and it seemed like every song that came on the radio hit a small little part of my emotions. I felt free and I was living like it. Little did I know I was about to experience many of the secrets of Yosemite within a seventy-two-hour window before I had to be in San Francisco for a concert.
Places to Stay in Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Park Camping with Employees
In the early summer, I had met with a friend who was taking an opportunity for a second summer in the park. She had offered to accommodate me for a weekend if I made it to Yosemite like I told her I had planned.
I never intended to take her up on the offer. We were friends, but not close friends. I didn’t want to put that kind of burden on her. However, after arriving and seeing the Yosemite park camping options, I was forced to.
It wouldn’t be possible to stay in the Valley for consecutive days without making the hour-plus drive out of the Valley each night because of the limited Yosemite Park camping.
It was forbidden to sleep in your car in the Valley because sleeping in your car usually meant you also had food in your car which attracted bears into Yosemite Valley.
Although the drive in and out of Yosemite Valley is absolutely jaw-dropping, it would eat away my time inside the nation’s most prestigious national park and the extra gas it would require to travel up and down would be an unplanned expense on my budget.
I had to take Maddie, my friend, up on the offer. I met her at the raft stand, where she worked as a river raft guide on Merced River. There was some worry that it may be a little awkward since she was really more of a friend of a friend and I had only truly hung out with her a handful of times. I couldn’t have been more wrong, however.
She was laying stomach-down on a pile of river rafts when I found her. I was almost confident it was her, but given the situation as her co-workers stared at me awkwardly staring at her, I didn’t know what to say.
“Maddie. . . Is that you?”
She bolted upright. “Oh, hey!” with a friendly smile. She rushed over to give me a hug and quickly introduced me to three others. This was sort of the theme as I met more people that weekend than I can recall.
I stayed in the employee’s Yosemite Park camping ground for three nights; each night feeling more and more involved and included. I swear, if I would have stayed any longer it would have felt like I had started one of the Yosemite National Park summer jobs. I was beyond envious of every friend I met who was fortunate enough to spend the summer season there.
There may not be much Yosemite Park camping in the Valley, but I lucked out and got one of the best Yosemite Park camping experiences you can receive. Shaded underneath towering redwood trees, the employees have a semi-permanent tent camping accommodation. Elevated onto a wooden floor, the 8-foot by 8-foot tents usually held two to three employees. I found some space on Maddie’s floor and slept on a Yosemite rock climbing mat the entire weekend.
Becoming Inspired by New Friends and a Yosemite Climbing Documentary Netflix
From the very beginning, each and every person I met in Yosemite did the best possible job of making me feel comfortable and a part of the group. I was hanging out with employees and seeing what life in Yosemite was like. And all of them were obsessed with and kept referring to a documentary that I watched not even three hours after leaving the park. It’s a Yosemite climbing documentary Netflix offers called “Valley Uprising”. I highly recommend it before you go to build some inspiration for Yosemite Park camping.
The employee’s lives were, obviously, one hundred percent revolved around outdoor adventures during their summers in Yosemite. Most of them were amidst their second or third summer in the Valley. Every joke told, every adrenaline-seeking activity done, almost every conversation had, and every minute of the employees days was filled with the Great Outdoors in mind.
Everyone I met was so like-minded. The friends Maddie introduced me to inspired me to keep going with my wilder mind. They made me feel comfortable with my unorthodox career plan. And most importantly; they showed me one hell of a time inside the walls of the Valley.
Among others, I met people who showed me Yosemite rock climbing techniques, introduced me to the art of vinyl collections, expanded my vocabulary, and proved to me that alternative lifestyles after college are possible.
Unrepeatable Experiences: Yosemite Rock Climbing to Yosemite Peaks
Throughout the short weekend, everything that people told me we would do – we did. I’m used to making big, radical plans with people and end up having them fall through. However, this wasn’t the case inside the walls of Yosemite.
Among other things I did in this short timeframe:
Bouldering in Yosemite Park camping ground
I was introduced to bouldering at two in the morning on my first night in the Yosemite Park camping ground. Bouldering is a beginner step for Yosemite rock climbing as it gives you a chance to get used to the rocks of Yosemite peaks.
A group of us hiked until we found the perfect, untouched boulder. We placed beers at the base and played music so loud that it probably ruined all peace throughout the Valley. I wasn’t very good when compared to the others who spent hours upon hours in Yosemite rock climbing and scaling the most difficult rocks they could find – always racing to be the first one to find a good route to the top. Most of the time, I just enjoyed the sea of stars overhead. I had never seen so many.
Climbing Yosemite Peaks to reach the Secret “Pools”
I followed a group of strangers to secret “pools” on Yosemite peaks and mountainsides under the moonlight where we took part in illegal activity. It was one of the most genuine times I had ever had with strangers. We sat in and swam around the pools all night. No one would have found us during daylight hours, much less in the middle of the night. As I rested my head on rather comfortable rocks, I watched dozens of shooting stars scream across the night sky like rocks skip-gliding on a smooth lake.
The way down was one of the most difficult, intoxicated hikes I had ever been on. I’m no expert on Yosemite climbing deaths, but I’m sure we were lucky we didn’t add to the Yosemite climbing deaths number that night.
Elephant Rock – A Yosemite Rock Climbing Gem
There I stood – hidden from the Yosemite Valley road and any bystanders that could save my life if something went awry. I inched closer to the cliff’s edge forty-five feet in the air (from which I had to use a rope to climb) to get to. Below, a plunge into the Merced River meant leaving it all up to chance.
It took a lot of nerve to build up the gumption to finally take the leap. My new friends promised that they had done it plenty of times and that the water below is deep enough. However, no one wanted to jump first. I knew I had to ‘earn my keep’ in this group of adventure-seeking adrenaline-junkies. I had to show them that I could step-in and hang with them for the weekend before they cast me out as a Lame.
This rock, also known as Elephant Rock, can be seen in the Yosemite climbing documentary Netflix shows. I’m sure this is another instance where the Yosemite climbing deaths number could have increased.
As I trodden water after jumping (waiting for the girls who never did jump) I stared down the river, through spruce trees, only barely able to see the pink-orange glow that the sunset was producing. It seemed like the cloud line a warm fire dancing to the thrills of our screams. It was the first time I thought I may be dreaming while inside Yosemite.
High Sierra Glen Aulin Hike: May Lake to Glen Aulin on the Glen Aulin Trail
I spent a day hiking to a secluded, lesser-known mountain village of Yosemite where employees spent the summer without any contact with the outside world – where mules had to deliver food each week, and where there was only one spout with running water. The Glen Aulin trail was stunning; especially from May Lake to Glen Aulin.
The Glen Aulin trail we walked was actually closed to the public. An old trail that shortened the walk for mules – was no longer used for tourists. However, being with employees, they shared the secret with me and we arrived at Glen Aulin in about half the time.
I highly recommend a Glen Aulin hike to escape the summer crowds. Even the trail open to the public is vastly underexplored.
Unimaginable Sunsets in Yosemite Park Camping Grounds
I witnessed one of the most majestic sunsets imaginable. And from one of the greatest vantage points in Yosemite unbeknownst to millions of tourists. No one said anything; everyone just sat and stared in disbelief. The skyline looked like an explosion of warm canvas colors with no rhyme or reason. I don’t imagine even Bob Ross could have painted a better sky for us.
Employee Only Access in the Yosemite Park Camping Grounds
On the last night of my stay, I attended an employee-only party. The party was held in the employee tent district of the Valley which served as their makeshift neighborhood over the course of the summer. I met so many people and had so many stimulating conversations with galvanizing individuals.
Yosemite Park Camping and Exploring like an Employee
Exploring the secrets of Yosemite was an excellent way to visit the park for the first time. Looking back, I didn’t do any of the typical tourist trails or routes while I was there. However, I like it better that way. I may have missed out on some of the park’s most iconic sights, but I didn’t miss out on a fulfilling experience.
My time in Yosemite serves as a constant reminder that the beauty in traveling doesn’t lay in the things you see but the experiences you receive.
Although there was a bit of uncertainty heading into the weekend, it ended up forcing me out of my comfort zone. The people in Yosemite inspired me to continue to grow as a person and a traveler and never become complacent. It made me crave the adventurous risks and seeking out adrenaline rushes that came with them.
I am grateful for the opportunity that Maddie and all the friends she introduced to me gave to me. It is those kinds of unique opportunities that travel presents which makes it so great.
Yosemite Park Camping Secrets: The Best Yosemite Peaks of Yosemite Rock Climbing
I’d love to share the secrets of Yosemite National Park with you; however, it was sort of an unspoken code to keep the secrets of Yosemite secret. With that being said, I won’t share where you can find the most exclusive places in Yosemite on this post. Shoot me an email! I’d gladly give you some insider advice and potentially even put you in touch with an employee inside the park. You can also learn a lot about the park secrets in the Yosemite climbing documentary Netflix offers called “Valley Uprising”.
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