Thursday, January 16, 2014

Enjoy colorful hike across Wawona Meadow

Shooting star, a common
Wawona Meadow

Summer wildlfowers, autumn leaves abound

Day hikers can enjoy a bucolic stroll alit with color during the spring wildflower and autumn leaf seasons on the Wawona Meadow Loop Trail at Yosemite National Park.

The 3.5-mile loop in the Wawona area is smooth and wide. At one time it was paved, but the asphalt path ringing the meadow is breaking up and returning to a natural, dirt path.

Two times of the year in particular mark perfect times to hit this trail. If you enjoy wildflowers, hike during spring and early summer. If you like autumn leaves, try early fall when the trees ringing the meadow turn an array of colors; you’re at an elevation of 4,000 feet, so unlike sections of the park at higher altitudes, more than just evergreens grow here.

To reach the trail, take Wawona Road/Calif. Hwy. 41 to Wawona village. It’s about 4.6 miles from the Yosemite south entrance. At the village, turn north on Chowchilla Mountain Road into the Wawona Hotel and park there.

Wildflowers galore
The trailhead is the paved path on the south side of the Wawona Hotel entry road. You’ll walk briefly across a golf course. Once you read the woodline, turn left/east on the first jeep trail.

For a few hundred yards, the golf course occupies the meadow, but as this section of the trail is in the woods, you won’t really notice.

Through the breaks in the trees, be sure to enjoy the incredible array of wildflowers that grow in the meadow. They range from the yellow mountain violet and orange California poppy that bloom as early as March to the red pinedrops and purple Harlequin lupines of June. Often different colored wildflowers bloom at the same time.

During mid-June in the trail’s wooded sections, you may be lucky to see the white mountain lady’s slipper orchid. Be careful not to disturb this rare flower.

Extending your hike
Upon reaching the trail’s southeast corner, you have the option of adding 1.5 miles to the loop. After crossing the creek, go right/east. In addition, you gain a few hundred feet of elevation. If you have young children with you, the extended loop adds nothing to the hike but mileage and altitude.

As the smaller loop nears its end, the trail first crosses Hwy. 41 and then Leonard Way. Both the smaller and extended loops end at the Wawona Hotel.

Leashed pets are allowed on the trail. If hiking during the evening and especially in spring, wear mosquito repellant. Sometimes puddles cover the trail during spring as well. Mountain lions occasionally have been sighted in this area, but you’re much more likely to spot deer or a bear in the distance.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.