What makes Yosemite National Park so stunning is its natural setting that feels untouched, or relatively untouched, by people. But with so many visitors flocking to the park every year, how can we as individual travelers help keep Yosemite beautiful? It’s been a big topic of conversation here at National Park Trips. And it has led to us uncovering a number of ways to tread lighter and prioritize sustainable travel during a Yosemite vacation, including dining at restaurants that serve locally produced food, staying in hotels that have made a commitment to being less wasteful and doing activities powered by our own feet. Here is an incredible two-day eco-friendly itinerary on enjoying the best of the Yosemite area while being environmentally friendly.
Day One: Eco-Friendly Lodging and Hiking Mindfully
Sleep Sustainably at Three Lodges near Yosemite
Wake up early at Evergreen Lodge or Rush Creek Lodge, two sister properties that are B corporations and sit very close to Yosemite National Park. Both offer opportunities to stay sustainably. Some of their eco-friendly practices include utilizing low-flow water fixtures, solar heating, gray-water recycling to maintain the properties’ native plant landscaping and high-efficiency lighting.
The historic Evergreen Lodge turned 100 years old in 2021 and is one mile from Yosemite’s western border and the entrance to Hetch Hetchy. Never heard of Hetch Hetchy? It’s the least visited park entrance but not because it isn’t stunning. It’s just lesser known than the park’s other three east entrances that bring you into the heart of Yosemite Valley. Hetch Hetchy once closely resembled Yosemite Valley before the O’Shaughnessy Dam was built in 1923 to supply water and electricity to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Its proximity to the park makes it really easy to limit the amount of fuel you’re burning to get into Yosemite. Plus, Evergreen Lodge is known for its back-to-nature vibe, which includes no TVs in rooms and a commitment to filling its menus with locally sourced, organic, seasonal and sustainably grown food. And in case anyone assumes historic means non-innovative, Evergreen Lodge developed Tuolumne County’s first commercial gray-water system, which enables the property to reuse more than 1 million gallons of shower and laundry water annually for landscape irrigation.
And at Rush Creek, you can leave your car behind to really experience the park. It’s just a half mile from the Big Oak Flat Entrance to Yosemite. From mid-May through September, Rush Creek serves as a YARTS stop, the regional public bus system, with three trips to and from Yosemite Valley daily. And if you arrive too late in the day to explore the park? Stretch your legs on one of Rush Creek’s three brand-new hiking and biking trails to experience the beauty of the area from the lodge’s front door. Like Evergreen Lodge, there are no TVs in the rooms and restaurant menu items change to incorporate local, organic and sustainable ingredients that are in season.
Another lodge committed to reducing its waste and conserving energy and water is Tenaya Lodge located minutes from the park’s South Entrance. The park’s South Entrance puts you close to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Wawona Hotel and Wawona Golf Course. At Tenaya, you can stay in the lodge, a cottage room or suite or cabins. And its sustainability commitment shines in the small details and in the big picture, so you’ll notice your coffee comes in a compostable cup with a compostable lid as part of Tenaya’s long-term goal to divert 90% of its trash from landfills. You’ll also find eight Tesla charging stations and lights powered by LED bulbs. Even your sheets are cleaned with a fancy laundry water recycling system that saves 1.5 million gallons of water per year.
Leave No Trace in Yosemite
Before you head into the park, take a few moments to review Leave No Trace principles, a list of best practices for being outdoors. They include packing all your food scraps leftover after you snacked on the trail rather than throwing leftover food like orange and banana peels on the ground. While fruit peels are biodegradable, they are not native to the area, not healthy for native animals to eat nor do they break down immediately. Leave the trails better than you found them by picking up others’ garbage, too. Other travelers like you want to experience the park in its natural state without finding garbage along the trail.
Hike or Bike in Yosemite
The best way to reduce your carbon footprint in the park? First off, arrive in an electric vehicle. If you do have an electric vehicle, find out where to charge it in the park and what to do while you’re waiting for it to charge at the park’s electric car charging stations. Second, bring your own reusable water bottle that you can refill and get out of your car to start exploring by foot or bike. If everyone who visited Yosemite in 2020 brought a single-use plastic water bottle with them, there would be a staggering 2.3 million plastic bottles in the Yosemite landfill.
If you head into the park via the Hetch Hetchy Entrance, hike to Wapama Falls, a 5-mile, round-trip hike to near year-round falls. For a longer 13-mile round-trip hike, continue on to Rancheria Falls.
In Yosemite Valley, you can rent a cruiser bike in Curry Village and tour the valley via bike path. Or take a free park shuttle to a trailhead. There are five different free shuttles that take you around Yosemite Valley or to Glacier Point (you need a ticket for this one) and Tuolumne Meadows. NOTE: In 2021, none of the park shuttles are operating.
Mist Trail in the Yosemite Valley is Yosemite’s most popular and for good reason. It’s located near Upper Pines campground and Curry Village. But there are so many other hikes where you can get a little more space between you and all of the park’s other visitors. Choose among a number of hikes we’ve curated to find the one that best meets your abilities and what you want to see.
Visit an Organic Orchard
In the afternoon, head outside the park to visit a local orchard that produces its own organic hard ciders, brandy and vodka. At Indigeny Reserve in Sonora, you can sit amidst a 160-acre organic apple orchard, sample organic hard ciders and even have a picnic surrounded by a sustainably grown orchard. When you arrive, pull up to the tasting room and have a seat at the long tasting bar where you can sample organic and sustainably produced brandy, vodka and hard ciders. Among the regular hard ciders on tap to sample are blackberry cider, Extra Crisp and Organic Harvest.
Founded by Jay and Judy Watson who opened their doors to the public in 2012, the reserve’s buildings, including the tasting room and distillery were constructed using harvested and repurposed oak and cedar. Its organically nurtured apple trees have a long history on the land with some planted in the early 1900s. It’s a great place to bring a packed lunch and enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
Enjoy a Seasonal Dinner
Take the incredibly scenic drive from Sonora to Evergreen Lodge for an unforgettable dinner. Start with fried cauliflower with Humboldt Fog goat cheese or a chicken street taco and then move onto an entree like roasted pork with spicy Napa cabbage. Because the menu changes depending on what’s in season locally, you’ll always find new imaginative dishes that you can pair with the lodge’s fantastic wine menu.
Day Two: Local Foods and Educational Programs
Learn About Yosemite on a Guided Walk or Hike
Wake up early for your Yosemite Conservancy adventure. The conservancy is the nonprofit fundraising arm for the park, and when you pay to participate in one of its programs, your dollars go to funding major park initiatives. For instance, the conservancy provided $20 million for the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias renovation, the largest restoration project in park history, that aimed to protect the trees and make for a better visitor experience. The grove reopened in 2018, and you should definitely visit it while you’re in the park.
With the Yosemite Conservancy, choose to go on a one or two-hour naturalist walk or a day hike in the Tuolumne area or even a multi-day backpacking trip. There’s also evening programs like the full moon hike to Taft Point.
Buy Local Food at a Farmers Market
You’re in California and a great, unsung benefit is the fruit and vegetables are super fresh. By buying produce at one of the Yosemite-area farmers markets, you’re getting produce that’s often picked that day or a day earlier. Plus, the area farmers live within 50 miles of the markets (sometimes produce that ends up in our grocery stores is trucked a whopping 1,000 miles), so farmers use less gas to get the goods to the farmers markets. The shorter distance also means farmers do not have to waste energy trying to refrigerate goods.
As you head out of the park, just 24 miles west of Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat Entrance, you’ll find the Groveland Farmers Market. It’s at 186523 Main St. at the Mountain Sage Cafe and Nursery. It’s open Fridays 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. from July 2-Oct. 8, 2021. There’s art, local produce and food for sale here. Thirty minutes from Groveland is the Sonora Farmers Market in Sonora, Calif., at Theall and Stewart Streets. It takes place Saturdays May through October from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
In Mariposa, which you can access via the South Entrance, you can find organic produce, bread, crafts and local food at the Mariposa Certified Farmers’ Market. It is open May through November from 4;30-6:30 p.m. and is in the parking lot at 6th street and Stroming Road.
Buy Carbon Credits to Offset Your Vacation
You can help offset the carbon footprint you created by going on vacation to Yosemite by purchasing carbon credits. Your carbon credit purchase will help sequester or offset carbon via various projects. Use the Protect Our Winters carbon calculator and offset purchase tool (protectourwinters.org/cost-of-carbon/) to calculate the footprint of your trip. Then choose which programs from emissions reduction to forest management you want to support with your offset purchase.