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How Accessible Is Accessible: Yosemite National Park

Updated: 1 day ago

Disabled Photographer Project & How Accessible Is Accessible Series

Founder Denise Vasquez

It’s been exactly five years since I last visited Yosemite National Park. The last time I visited the park, I was in a wheelchair. I am a disabled photographer, still living with permanent invisible disabilities, but for now I can stand and walk, for limited periods of time. My experience this time was extremely different for many reasons, especially because the last time I visited I wasn’t walking, it was the height of peek season in the park, and the parks were not yet doing reservations.

Many people might not like timed entry reservation system, but during this trip, I realized the importance of the system, and how much it works! I made my RSVP online through the website and picked my time slot. My birthday was completely booked, which was no surprise as it fell on a Saturday this year. I checked to see if they had any open time slots for the day after my 55th birthday, June 30th, 2024. I felt like I won the lottery! When I checked, they offered one slot during peak hours, so I jumped on it and reserved my time slot from 5AM-4PM.

We had an early breakfast at our hotel, arrived at the park before 9AM, and it was so nice to not have to wait in traffic for hours, bumper to bumper, like we did 5 years ago!

Make sure to fill your car up with gas before entering the park, and stock up on water, lunch/snacks, bug spray, sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses!

If you’re not sure what to wear, you can watch my TikTok video on what to wear on a hike during the summer by clicking here

Before I go into more details about our trip, I want to make sure to mention the FREE Lifetime ACCESS PASS every chance I get, because too many people that I've mentioned it to over the years, did not know about it! The ACCESS PASS is available to permanently disabled people at no charge when obtained in person. Online they charge a $10 processing fee. The ACCESS pass is available at Yosemite at all park their entrance stations and visitor centers. You can learn more about the ACCESS pass in my blog here

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

A temporary placard (That's what I'm holding in the first photo), is also available at the park entrance and visitor centers. Be sure to display the Temporary parking permit on your vehicle dashboard. This placard allows parking in designated Accessible parking spaces, and allows you ACCESS to drive on roads that are closed to other private vehicle traffic such as Mirror Lake Road, Happy Isles Loop Road, and the access road to Grizzly Giant in the Mariposa Grove. We explored the road to Mirror Lake, but I’ll get back to that experience later on in this blog. While driving along these Accessible roads, be mindful that there will be hikers, bicyclists, and shuttle busses on some of the roads, so you’ll be required to drive below 15 miles per hour, with your hazard lights on, and placard or temporary Accessible pass must be visible on your vehicle’s dashboard.

We entered Yosemite National Park through the Tioga Road entrance near Lee Vining, CA.

I highly recommend this entrance during the summer months, as the drive is so beautiful, offering scenic views that will take your breath away at every turn. There are so many accessible places to pull over to take photos along the way. I could easily spend all day stopping to take photos, but as we only had a day to explore, I did some research ahead of time to make note of the places I really wanted to see, that I wasn’t able to get to on our last trip. As a disabled photographer, I always have to do a lot of research, but I’ve learned from past experiences, that entering any park with a plan will save you a lot of time, and frustration, especially if you have a limited amount of time.

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

Make note that Tioga Road is a 45-mile scenic drive through Yosemite's high country. The drive to Yosemite Village took us a little over 2 hours. Our first stop on the drive was Tenaya lake. The last time we visited the park, we weren’t able to stop, because they were directing traffic straight through to Yosemite Valley Village. Being able to stop, breathe, and take in the natural environment surrounding lake was so peaceful and beautiful to say the least. The only sounds we heard were birds chirping as they flew by, and a man getting on his paddle board & paddling away. Watch my TikTok video at Tenaya Lake

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

There were A LOT of mosquitos, so my man & I quickly took some selfies, I photographed some moments, shot a few videos, and we got back in the car. As we made our way to Yosemite Village, we drove around winding cliffs, lakes, streams and meadows.

When we arrived down in Yosemite Valley floor, our first stop was Bridaveil Fall. There is an Accessible parking spot across from the falls trail, offering you a beautiful view of Horsetail Falls (which wasn’t flowing too much) and El Capitan. Bridaveil Fall is a wheelchair accessible 0.5 mi round-trip paved trail with a slight incline that leads to a wheelchair accessible viewing area. Hiking up a steeper path will lead to the base of the fall.

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

Our next stop was Swinging Bridge. Swinging bridge doesn’t swing anymore, due to years of flooding that took a toll on the bridge, it was replaced with a fixed bridge. This location has very limited Accessible parking spots, Accessible Vault restrooms, and there are some Accessible picnic tables with extended tops. I followed the path to the wooden bridge, which offers scenic views of Yosemite Falls and the Merced River. I stood on the bridge in awe of Mother Nature's magnificence around me. I people watched for a bit, and noticed a tour group rafting in the river heading in my direction, so I set up my cameras and photographed the epitome of summer vibes in the park. This area is a popular place for a picnic, keep in mind that picnic tables and grills are first come first serve basis, and they do get claimed rather quickly. Remember, never feed wild animals, dispose of your trash in bear proof trash cans, and leave no trace. Watch my TikTok Video at Swinging Bridge

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

After hanging out at Swinging Bridge for a while, we decided to head to the Visitor Center as I had inquiries about Accessibility in the park, and also wanted to find out exactly how to get to Mirror Lake. The Welcome Center was a little busy, but we waited patiently for our turn in line to speak with a staff member. Not only did the Ranger answer all of my questions, she highlighted areas on my map, explained how to get to Mirror Lake, inquired about my project, asked for my card, AND she gave me a wonderful guide on everything I needed to know about Accessibility in the park!

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

After leaving the Visitor Center, we drove through Curry Village, past the campground office and followed the ACCESSIBLE signs to Mirror Lake. As I mentioned earlier, make sure to display the Temporary parking permit on your vehicle dashboard. This placard allows you ACCESS to drive along Happy Isles Loop road that is closed to other private vehicle traffic. While driving along the Accessible road, be mindful that there will be hikers, bicyclists, and possibly wildlife so you’ll be required to drive below 15 miles per hour with your hazard lights on and placard or temporary Accessible pass must be visible on your vehicle’s dashboard.

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

While driving along this road, we came across a mama bear with 2 cubs on the side of the road. Luckily someone called the Ranger because some people & their children were approaching too closely! When I decided many years ago I wanted to photograph wildlife, I invested in a Telephoto Zoom lens! Never approach wildlife, always keep a safe distance of at least 150 feet, and give the animals space, especially when they have cubs! I zoomed in with my Telephoto zoom lens & managed to photograph some moments!

Click link to Watch 3 Tips to Photograph Wildlife on TikTok:

When were arrived at Mirror Lake, I noticed there was 2 designated Accessible parking spots. The Area has a Restroom, a beautiful view of Half Dome and is surrounded by oak trees, pine trees, and fir trees. I’m glad we had our fold up camping chairs with us! We decided to sit and have a picnic for lunch. Keep your food at arms length (the birds and squirrels may be cute, but they are pretty cunning).

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

Make sure to carry out all trash, and leave no trace. The water level wasn’t as high as I hoped, and as this is a popular spot, there was a lot of people in the water, so I couldn’t see the reflection of Half Dome in the lake. I took in my surroundings, photographed some moments, and enjoyed connecting with nature, and relaxing while listening to the sounds of birds singing all around us.

After we made our way back to Yosemite Village, we headed to The Ansel Adams Gallery! Ansel Adams is one of my favorite photographers so I was in heaven as I looked at his photography up close, and through his books. The Gallery is open year-round from 9-5PM daily with extended hours in the summer. The main floor of the Gallery is Accessible by a ramp at the front, and by an outside path with a short slope of 8%, to get to the upper level of the gallery, there are stairs inside the gallery.

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

Next we headed to Lower Yosemite Falls. There is no parking available at the base of the falls. A visitor in a wheelchair can be dropped off by car at the trailhead, or as we were informed by the Ranger at The Visitor Center, you can find Accessible parking spot at The Yosemite Valley Lodge. A paved trail just over a mile in length opens up to a magnificent viewing area. Along the loop trail, there are seating areas, maps and exhibits that have tactile features. The eastern part of the trail is Accessible to wheelchairs, the western trail (0.5 mi) is mostly accessible. I say mostly because I faced some challenges walking the trail with my gear, with the steep grade leading to the viewing area sloping 13.8%. Disabled people, wheelchair users, people with mobility issues may need assistance.

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

Next we made our way to one of my favorite places to do photography in the park…Valley View! Did you know that Valley View inspired Ansel Adams to become a photographer? I can see why! This spectacular view is, in my opinion, the best in the park! The view features El Capitan, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks, Bridalveil Fall, the Merced River, and if you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of a rainbow in the waterfall! Check out my Tiktok video at Bridaveil fall to find out when is the best time to see a rainbow

There are a couple of designated Accessible Parking Spots. The lot fills up quite often, so be patient. The view is worth the wait!

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

We decided to end the day at Glacier Point, so we drove up to the park’s southeastern high peaks. From the parking lot, there is a short paved wheelchair accessible trail that takes you to a point 3,214 feet above Yosemite Valley’s Curry Village.

For sunset, we decided to head back to the most iconic view in the park, Tunnel View! We stood in awe as the Valley, El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks, and Bridalveil Fall became blanketed in the colors of sun setting on the day! There are designated Accessible parking spaces at this location, but no restrooms!

Denise Vasquez Photography ©2024

I hope sharing my personal experience has been helpful! To learn more about Accessibility in Yosemite National Park, visit their website or contact the Accessibility Coordinator

Watch Yosemite Tik Tok video here:

I started my project over six years ago while I was in a wheelchair, using rolling walker and from time to time I’m still using my walking sticks, because personally I’ve discovered while visiting the parks, that many places that are rated accessible or “Easy”, are usually not for me!

Big shout out and thank you to my man Randy Martinez, I couldn't do my project without your love, support and assistance on every level! It takes teamwork to make a dream work, and together we are making a difference!

I’ve discovered over the years that sharing updated information not only helps me, other disabled or elderly people with limited mobility like me, it helps bring awareness to people working at the parks and on the trails.

How do I know, because many people at the parks have reached out to me over the years, have continued to consult me over the years, and have thanked me for what I’ve been doing over the years!

It takes a lot of time, money and energy for me to keep this project going, I have put my heART, soul and everything I have into it, and knowing that what I’ve been doing has been making a difference inspires me to keep it going.

✅ If you would like to support my project, by making a contribution, Pay what you can! Donations are accepted in any amount because any contribution is never too small! Donations help support my time, research, planning, travels, gas, accommodations, scouting, photography, equipment, memory cards, hard drives, content created & info shared in Captioned YouTube videos, blogs, instagram posts, tiktoks & so much more.

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