Yosemite National Park
May 2007: While May is the best time to see waterfalls (read more) and avoid the huge crowds of summer, be prepared for all types of weather. We arrived at Yosemite with bright sun and temperatures in the 70s. Three days later, we left in snow and all but one road required snow tires or chains to get out!
Photos do not do this place justice. The cliffs tower above the valley. El Capitan, a massive granite monolith, stands 3,593 feet from base to summit (largest single monolith in the world). Yosemite's most distinctive monument is Half Dome (elevation 8,842 ft). Your neck will be sore from looking up.
We stayed at The Lodge at Yosemite Falls. This is the prime location, nestled in the shadows of Yosemite Falls. It's very basic and has a good food court and a nice restaurant open for dinner (Mountain Room). Because of its prime location, this place books up fast. Make your reservations 8-12 months ahead.
While you can see plenty of dramatic scenery a few steps from your car, you need to hike to fully appreciate the splendor. We did two of the most popular trails, the Mist Trail (see more) and the Upper Yosemite Falls trail.
It's about a four hour drive from San Francisco via scenic Highway 120. We had to take Highway 140 out of the valley to avoid the heavy snow on the higher stretches of 120. The scenic Tioga Road and the Glacier Point Road are usually open late May through November.