We didn’t really know what to expect when we rocked up at 8.30pm in San Francisco to catch the Green Tortoise “hippy bus” to Yosemite National Park for 3 days. But a 3 Day Yosemite Tour is thankfully what we got!We had received emails after we booked warning about primitive conditions, and really didn’t do any research into what we’d be doing on the tour itself having booked pretty much entirely based on a glowing recommendation by our friend Vikki who had joined a trip a couple of years previously. We’d got horribly lost trying to drop the car off at the airport and navigate our way to the bus stop so were pretty frazzled and stressed by the time we arrived, only to be greeted by a huge crowd of people from all over the world who were all expected to squeeze onto what looked like a regular coach.
But we soon learnt that the Green Tortoise is anything but a “regular” bus tour, and made our way on to the large sofa type platform that made up the back half of the coach to meet our new campmates for the week. Our group was made up of people of all ages, from all backgrounds from so many countries – we met new friends from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, Belgium and of course America. In fact, there was only one other Brit on the bus with us! Everyone was super friendly, so after a quick grocery stop off, we got in our sleeping bag – transformed the bus into a 3 tier sleeping area, and dozed off for the night, ready to arrive bright and early in Yosemite Valley.
3 Day Yosemite Tour Itinerary
The first day of our 3 Day Yosemite Tour we arrived in the valley and woke up around 6.30am for breakfast and to get our day packs ready for hiking. With so many trails to choose, most of our group opted for the Mist Trail, where you have the opportunity to see a couple of stunning waterfalls and some seriously impressive mountain scenery. It’s not a hike for the faint hearted though – it took us around 4/5 hours to do the full loop including a break for lunch, and we felt we were doing a pretty reasonable pace given the heat!
Arriving at our campsite for the night we all pitched in to cook an amazing Mexican feast of burritos stacked with veggies – so good after an intense day of hiking! After dinner, everyone pulled out their sleeping bags onto a large tarp christened the “Cuddle Puddle” and settled in for a night in the forest under the most spectacular starry skies I’ve ever seen.
The half way point of our 3 Day Tour of Yosemite National Park is designed to be a bit more chilled and to allow some recovery time – after pancakes for breakfast, we drove to the Mono Basin where we spent time at Mono Lake. This was a pretty memorable experience – as an enormous saltwater lake that has an unusually productive ecosystem and is noted for its “tufa” which are calcium carbonate structures made when freshwater springs interact with the salt water. The lake is about 3 times more salty than the sea and means you can float in the somewhat slimy water. If I’m honest, it probably wasn’t the best outdoor swimming experience I’ve had, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying it… our group definitely preferred the next lake we stopped at!
After Mono Lake, we headed to June Lake – a freshwater lake where we played frisbee and swam, before sunbathing on the shore. There were also showers which, by this point in the trip were a sight for sore eyes! Dinner was pasta – I have never enjoyed carbs so much in my life after all the fresh air and hiking, before spending a night round the campfire toasting marshmallows, creating “s’mores” and enjoying a few beers. Sleeping under the stars sounds pretty romantic but if I’m honest about what happened the second night we tried it, I awoke at 2.30am to what I was convinced was the snuffling sound of a bear (there are warning signs everywhere in camp!) – only to find out after a panicked search for my torch that Rob was doing some really weird snoring. Once I eventually dropped off again, Rob shook me awake at about 5am as it had started to rain and at this point I escaped back to sleep on the bus… this trip was amazing, but definitely anything but glamorous!
On our final day of our Yosemite 3 Day Tour, we woke up and drove to Tuolumne Meadows where we hiked up to the top of Lembert Dome for some amazing views of the meadows and the rest of the valley. At almost 3000 metres high, the altitude made this hike harder than it would have otherwise been, but eating lunch at the top with such stunning views of the park made it so worthwhile! Finally, we headed to our last stop in the park to see the Giant Sequoias at Tuolumne Grove – these trees are incredible, and so much larger than I had imagined. There’s one that has been felled that you can actually crawl all the way through which is a pretty unique experience.
Our last night at camp and of our 3 day Yosemite tour was in a small town called Groveland which is home to California’s oldest Saloon Bar “Iron Door Saloon” – opened in 1852, and retaining so much history and character. From elk heads on the walls to stuffed bears and dollar bills on the ceiling, this place is amazing! The only disappointment was the lack of swinging doors, but the karaoke made up for that 🙂 We then spent another night on the bus before being dropped off at 7.30am in San Francisco.
So to round up, I would recommend the Green Tortoise to anyone looking for a completely unique travelling experience through the National Parks in America (especially the 3 day Yosemite tour) – they run tons of different tours all over the country, and I’d definitely go back and join other trips in the future.
As per the warning emails we received, it is pretty primitive with no running water at a lot of the camps, and sleeping either on the bus or in a sleeping bag under the stars, but the people and the experiences you have more than make up for any lack of Mod Cons.
Our guide and driver were excellent as well – Amber organised everything from the most incredible meal plans (the best food we’ve had so far in the US!) to our itineraries for the day to make sure everyone knew what was happening and could take full advantage of the locations we stopped at, and Paige was a seriously impressive bus driver when it came to navigating those mountain roads! If you’re backpacking in the US – you have to try the Green Tortoise and we’d highly recommend the 3 day Yosemite tour based on our experiences!