Last year, a record number of tourists – 4,047,880 to be exact – visited Yosemite National Park in California. But as they come and go, there’s a lucky community who call this 747,956-acre outdoor paradise home. In the high season, approximately 3,000 employees of the National Park Service and Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts (or DNC), which is the contracted concessionaire for the park, live on park grounds in various housing complexes. Among them is Lisa Cesaro, public relations manager for DNC Parks and Resorts at Yosemite. Cesaro, a transplant from Southern California who has lived in Yosemite Valley for a little more than a year, shares what it’s like to be a resident of a place so cherished by outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, as well as some top travel tips for an optimized visit.
What’s your apartment like?
It’s like a little cottage in Yosemite Valley. I have great views – from my backyard I can see Yosemite Falls, and I’m surrounded by the wonderful pine trees. I walk out my front door and within steps I can see Half Dome (pictured above).
What’s one thing you love about living and working in such a beautiful place?
Seeing all the seasons. The park has a soul to it, and it has a personality for each season, and it’s really awesome to be able to see and experience that. I remember one time I was out in my backyard at night, and it was a full moon, and you could see the granite by Yosemite Falls all lit up. That was an "aha" moment.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I’ll get up in the morning, walk my dog, and then go to work. My commute is brilliant – I’m just a few steps from my office. I rarely use my vehicle, which is a nice change from bumper-to-bumper [traffic] on [California Interstate] 405. For lunch, I’ll go home and make lunch, and maybe walk my dog. At the end of the day, I’ll do another walk, or go to my neighbor’s and have a glass of wine.
And what about weekends – what do you like to do?
I spend as much time exploring the different trails as I can. In the winter, I really like snowshoeing. And this year I want to try cross-country skiing. Last year, I had a lesson, and this year I want to pick it back up and hone my skills. One day I’ll make it out to Glacier Point, which is round-trip 20 miles.
If you only have one day in Yosemite, what would you recommend?
After you wake up, take a little hike to Mirror Lake or lower Yosemite Falls, and then rent bikes and cruise around the valley (we agree: In fact, biking in Yosemite Valley was on our list of the Top 10 Fall Foliage Travel Adventures). Then, go over to The Ahwahnee (see our Top 10 National Park Lodges) and have lunch in the dining room. Then do a two-hour valley floor tour, which is great for first-time visitors because the guides give you great information about the rock formations, geology, and places of interest. If you have time, take a sunset stroll through Cook’s Meadow, or perhaps a hike up to Vernal Fall.
What travel tips do you have for first-time visitors to Yosemite?
If you can, stay at least three nights, because there’s so much to explore. If you’re here in the late spring and summer when Tioga Road is open, it’s great to see the high country, which is a really different side of Yosemite. Late fall or winter is a great time to visit, because there are great hotel rates. Winter is actually my favorite season.
For someone’s first visit to Yosemite, its sheer size and scope can be overwhelming. Any tips on getting around the park?
Utilize the free shuttle. It’s a nice opportunity to leave your vehicle and let someone else do the driving. But if you do drive, definitely pay attention. We have a lot of wildlife and some people get caught up looking above at the views. The signs that say ‘Speeding Kills Bears,’ and not all visitors realize this, but that’s a spot where a bear was killed by a vehicle. And don’t forget to bring a flashlight. It gets pretty dark in Yosemite Valley, so it’s nice to have a flashlight. And don’t be scared to walk and hike at night – it’s a beautiful time to enjoy the park.