Finishing up the Labor Day weekend trip in the Airstream, we decided to head back from Mammoth through Yosemite on the day after Labor Day. It a quick trip back north up the 395 out of Mammoth until we hit the town of Lee Vining and the left hand turn onto highway 120 that starts the climb up to Tioga Pass in Yosemite.
One smart travel tip if you are planning to head to Yosemite is that there are not many gas stations in Yosemite National Park. Part of the reason for the lack of Yosemite gas stations is the increasing environmental standards while caused older gas stations to close because their underground gas tanks did not meet the newer environmental standards. Luckily, I stopped in Lee Vining at the Tioga Gas Mart (Mobil) and filled up the Land Rover’s gas tank and grabbed a late breakfast of quite tasty fish tacos from the Whoa Nellie Deli inside the Tioga Gas Mart.
Beautiful weather followed us as the trusty Land Rover LR3 chugged and pulled Airstream McDreamy up Tioga Pass from the east. The LR3 did the job and kept a steady pace with barely any traffic building up behind us as we wound our way higher and higher on Highway 120 up past 8000, then 9000 and finally topping out at 9,945 feet at the Tioga Pass entrance into Yosemite. Pleased that the Land Rover and Airstream handled the steepness and elevation, I gladly paid for an annual National Park pass.
The Airstream made it to Tioga Pass!
As I pulled past the Tioga Pass entrance gate pulling the Airstream, another grey Land Rover LR3 was ending out of Yosemite in the opposite direction, also pulling an Airstream!
I think not! Too busy to take a photo of my LR3/Airstream doppelgänger, we did exchange a flash of headlights and a quick beep of the horn as we both continued on our respective Airstream travel adventures.
This was my first time up Tioga Pass in Yosemite and I have to say that seeing pictures of Yosemite all my life did not do justice to the spectacular beauty of the alpine wilderness. The combination of rugged mountain peaks and evergreen forests with alpine lakes interspersed along the road was quite the distraction while trying to navigate further west along Highway 120. I had to stop and pull over at one point just so I could take in the breath-taking scenery.
We passed by Ellery, Tioga and Tenaya Lakes and the reflecting sun off the rippling blue mountain water was too much to ignore! We had to pull over for a quick lunch break and a refreshing dip into the not-so-chilly high altitude water (followed by one of my 10-minute “being outdoors is tiring” naps)…
Tenaya Lake lunch break
Side Trip to Yosemite Valley
We decided to head into Yosemite Valley for the afternoon, believing that since it was the day after Labor Day, that part of Yosemite would not be completely overrun by tourists. The drive down Big Oak Flats Road was a little challenging with tight turns, a few sheer cliff drop-offs on the edge of the road and more than a few cars behind us that wanted to go quite a bit faster that I was willing to drive. A few quick pull-outs and only one “white knuckle” tight turn with the Land Rover and Airstream, we finally rolled into Yosemite Valley and were welcome with a relatively small number of tourists and nowhere near the traffic nightmares I’ve often been told.
How empty was Yosemite Valley the day after Labor Day?
Empty enough where I was able to park in the shadow of El Capitan for this Airstream photo op…
El Capitan is a great landmark for remembering where you parked your Airstream
While I wish we had spent more time in Yosemite Valley, we also knew we had at least another four hour drive to get home and were pushing it to be home before dark, so after a quick side trip to Bridal Veil Falls, I turned the Land Rover and Airstream around Yosemite Valley Loop and began the long uphill haul back up Big Oaks Flat Road.
Will definitely be back to Yosemite for a much longer trip with the Airstream and spend a good amount of time exploring the Yosemite backcountry this fall and next spring!
Might even take a weekend trip to AutoCamp Yosemite this winter to enjoy some Airstream glamping as well!
Read more about things to do and places to camp in Yosemite National Park.