We finally made it back to the West Coast and we went to the sunny state of California! It was one of the very best weeks of van life, because I got to see four of my favorite people and some stunning landscapes. We visited both Joshua Tree & Yosemite, which blew us away!
We have been traveling in the van for 8 months now and this was probably the highlights of our time in the van! Dylan and I were able to stay in a cute airbnb, hike the incredible heights of Half Dome, and eat lots of delicious food. Read all about this week below!
You Might Also Like These Posts:
- Joshua Tree Itinerary
- Weekend Death Valley Itinerary
- Everything You Need to Know About Hiking Half Dome
- Ultimate Yosemite Itinerary: How to Spend 3 Days in Yosemite National Park
Table of Contents
Our Time in Joshua Tree & Yosemite
Dylan and I decided to head back to LA a few days early to spend some quality time with my brother. He lives in North Hollywood and we were able to sleep on his street without any problems. I don’t love LA, but I do love seeing my brother and eating some of the delicious food in the city.
We spent our time working in his apartment and trying various cuisines at night 😋. That week we feasted on Korean BBQ at Quarters, we dined at the famous Mexican spot The Coyote, we brunched at the Great White, we devoured food at Gjilena, and we got Thai Food at the wonderful Night + Market. Our bellies were full and our wallets were empty. It was time to head off once again into the wilderness.
After spending a few relaxing days in Los Angeles, we drove a couple hours away to Yucca Valley outside of Joshua Tree to celebrate my cousin’s 30th birthday. We got to take a break from the van and we stayed in one of the cutest Airbnb I have ever seen 🏠. This adorable home was surrounded by cacti and had great views over the valley beyond.
On our first full day, we headed directly to Joshua Tree National Park (NP #33). However, we got a bit of a late start after packing up our things and stopping for coffee at Joshua Tree Coffee Company. When we got there, park rangers were recommending that you only go on short walks, because of the intense heat 🔥 on that late spring day. Luckily, we had packed plenty of water and were prepared for the long stretches of driving in this large park.
We decided to drive through the entirety of the park, stopping along the way at some of the major sights. As soon as we drove through the entrance we were greeted with the sights of large boulder piles and hundreds of Joshua Trees all around. They say there are more than 2 million of these trees in the park 🌴! This was my second time here, but it still blew me away. The landscapes here remind me of old time California movies where actors wander off into the desert.
Our first stop in the park was at Hidden Valley Overlook where we learned more about the flora and fauna on a one mile stroll. We continued walking through the desert at Barker Dam, which was another one mile walk. From there, we continued up to Keys View to get to the highest lookout in the park, where we could see for miles to Coachella Valley and Palm Springs. Then, we wandered through the cacti at 🌵 Cholla Cactus Garden 🌵 and luckily no one got jabbed by any! Finally, we stopped at an oasis by the Cottonwood Visitor Center before heading out of the park.
Over the next couple of days in the Joshua Tree area, we spent time relaxing and playing games. I watched my cousin go golfing, we hit up two different pools to relax and cool off, and we played numerous games of Heads Up! It was an amazing way to celebrate one of my favorite people in the world! 🎉
Yosemite National Park
After spending time in an Airbnb, it was time to rough it again. Dylan and I had been planning a camping trip with my two best friends from high school, Ari and Marisa, for months. We even booked campgrounds in February for our stay in May! Luckily, Dylan and I had plenty of the gear we would need to be living out of a tent for a few days with others.
On our way to meet my friends, we found out that we won permits to hike Half Dome. This is one of the hardest lotteries to win, because thousands of people apply for only 300 slots a day! We had applied during the last minute lottery after losing the lottery that takes place four months in advance. All of us were completely shocked and ill-prepared for this hike! We immediately went to REI to stock up on extra water reservoirs, snacks, and backpacks for the long hike.
We drove into Yosemite (NP #34) the night before the Half Dome hike and were met with stunning landscapes of Yosemite Valley. It made us so excited to be in the park and hyped for our hike. That night, we quickly set up camp ⛺️ at Hogdon Meadows and then grilled kebabs over the fire before packing all of our stuff for the hike. Each of us brought three sandwiches, four liters of water, mechanics gloves, and plenty of layers.
Half Dome Hike
The four of us climbed into the tent around 9 pm, knowing that we would not get a lot of sleep before our alarms went off at 2:40 am ⏰. A few hours later, we were awoken by the sounds of our phone’s alarms and surprisingly, we all got up right away. Then, we worked together to pack up camp and drove an hour into the park to get to the Half Dome hike trailhead.
This hike can be anywhere from 15-18 miles long, climbs over 5,000 feet, and can last anywhere from 10-14 hours 🥾🥾. Knowing this, we tried to mentally prepare ourselves for a long journey ahead. We got to the trailhead at 4:15 am and started climbing up the Mist Trail. It was still dark as we walked past the gushing Vernal Falls, getting covered in the mist, and continued making our way to the Nevada Falls. As we got to the top of Vernal Falls, the sun started peeking out and we were delighted by the views around us 🌄.
Honestly, the next few miles of the hike were a blur. We walked up and up past the Merced River and through the forest before we got views of Half Dome. Looking up at the mountain we knew we were going to climb was exhilarating and intimidating. Behind us, we saw gorgeous vistas of the mountains and the valley as we continued up above.
Finally, we got to the ranger checking permits for sub-dome and Half Dome. She warned us about the perils of the hike and made sure that we were prepared before climbing up. Sub-dome is a series of steep steps on the edge of a mountain. Many people get scared at this portion, but I didn’t find it bad. Once you get to the top of sub-dome, Half Dome appears in front of you with the path to the top.
In order to reach the top of Half Dome, you have to climb up the side of the mountain while holding onto chains 😬. At some points, your body is 45 degrees to the mountainside and it can be incredibly intimidating. Hikers who are afraid of heights often turn around and do not complete this portion of the hike. The four of us sat down right below Half Dome to put all of our loose belongings away, mentally prepare, and put on gloves for the chains.
As we set out to the top, Dylan and Ari decided they could not continue and they turned around to wait for us at sub-dome. Marisa and I, however, were determined to make it to the top of the dome. Although it was a bit tiring pulling up on the chains, I didn’t find it as scary as people say. We were able to rest every few feet on the wooden slats they put on the mountain and we gave each other a lot of words of encouragement.
After a very long and ardous journey, Marisa and I made it to the top of Half Dome! 🎉🎉 We spent a lot time just soaking it all in and marveling over this incredible feat. We knew Ari and Dylan were waiting for us below, but we just wanted to celebrate. Eventually, we did make our way back down the chains. We climbed down them ladder style and it actually was super easy!
All four of us were happy about how far we had come and the beauty we had seen. We made our way back down the mountain to get back to our cars. This time, we took the John Muir Trail down and we saw more amazing views of the valley and of the waterfalls. By the end of the hike, my feet were throbbing and I just wanted it to be over. It felt like it took forever to make it back to our car, but after exactly 12 hours and 18 miles we finally made it back victorious! 💪🏻💪🏻
That next day, we needed to rest after our long hike. I woke up feeling more sore than I have ever been in my life. Our original plan was to have a swimming day at Tenaya Lake, but we didn’t think about the elevation of the lake. It was so cold that we wished we were wearing winter jackets, so we hopped right back in the car and changed our plans.
We drove out to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which is out past the Western entrance of the park. This reservoir gives water to more than two million people and there are two waterfalls around the edge of it. We decided to just take a casual stroll around its perimeter before grabbing ice cream on our way back to camp.
Once we got back to camp, we decided to wander through the meadows behind. We had the whole area to ourselves and it was ✨ incredibly magical ✨. It was such a memorable experience. We ate tacos by the far that night and went to sleep early.
The next morning, we got up at a leisurely pace and then drove the van into Yosemite Valley. Unfortunately, we wanted to take bikes around, but they were already sold out by the time we got to the bike vendors. So, instead we decided to hike to see the climbers go up El Capitan. We walked for three miles from Yosemite Village until we came upon a beach with great views of El Capitan. The four of us set up a picnic area and we sat there for hours as we watched the climbers make their ascent towards the top.
After a few hours, we had our fill of watching the climbers, so we took the shuttle back to Curry Village. I had been dying to ride bikes all day, so we went directly to the bike stand. The man there told us we only had an hour and a half to ride around the valley, but I convinced everyone that it was worth it. We got on the bikes and I was gleeful. Riding through the stunning meadows and under the mountains was a euphoric experience! 🤗 Riding bikes through Yosemite was my favorite part of the entire trip!
When we returned to the village, we picked up ice cream bars and returned to the van. We drove the van to Tunnel View to watch the sunset, cooked ramen in the parking lot, and stargazed over the valley beyond 💫. It was seriously the perfect last day in Yosemite and I cannot wait to return.
The next morning, the four of us drove out of the park over Tioga Pass. We had one more day together, but we were traveling towards Convict Lake. Along the way we stopped to marvel at Hot Creek Geologic Site and to take a dip in Wild Willys Hot Springs. It felt so good to relax in the hot water after a long weekend of hiking and exploring 😌.
We continued on to our campsite at Convict Lake. Once we got there, we were amazed at the stunning blue waters and the gorgeous mountains behind. From some angles, it even reminded me of Switzerland. The four of us rented a pontoon boat to take around the lake. Although, it wasn’t very warm (the high was 60 degrees) we had a great time and we even jumped in the water twice! That night we spent time playing games, making a campfire, and star gazing from the tent.
We had the perfect four days together and I wish that I could go back and relive it all a hundred times. I am so grateful for the time I get to spend with my loved ones and the memories I’m making on this van journey. Visiting both Joshua Tree and Yosemite with our favorite people was so special!
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