Yosemite crowds expected to be thick this weekend

With its waterfalls at their most beautiful, and wildflowers everywhere, Yosemite National Park will host hordes of people over Memorial Day weekend.

Scott Gediman, a park ranger in Yosemite Valley, said the Memorial Day holiday weekend is traditionally the busiest weekend of the year in the park.

"We are expecting about 25,000 visitors per day, beginning on Friday," Gediman said.

A plus for this year's holiday weekend visitors, and for overworked park rangers, is that Tioga Road opened for travel on Wednesday.

"Having Glacier Point and Tioga roads open will allow people to go to different areas of the park and not get jammed in the Valley," Gediman said.

The recent hot weather has hastened this year's snowmelt, and the waterfalls within the park boundaries are at their peak now.

"The waterfalls are magnificent," Gediman said. "They are the best I've seen them in years."

But that icy cold snowmelt water can be deadly, he added.

On Monday, 31-year-old Katrin Lehman, of Germany, was last seen on the Vernal Falls footbridge before disappearing. She had not been found as of Wednesday afternoon, Gediman said.

"It looked like she was enjoying the falls, taking a photo, and slipped and fell into the river," Gediman said. "The Merced River is very dangerous, with swift, cold water and huge boulders. We tell people to stay away from the river."

People traveling to Yosemite this weekend will more than likely see huge crowds, and Gediman said that visitors should be patient.

"If you are coming as a day user, try to come early, before 10 a.m.," Gediman said. "We ask people to drive slowly and enjoy the scenery. There are a lot of deer, bear and other wildlife out, so drivers need to be careful."

For those who don't want to worry about the driving, and the parking, in Yosemite, the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System offers an inexpensive way to get to the park.

Dick Whittington, transit manager for YARTS, said the roads in Yosemite Valley will be crowded this weekend, and taking a bus is a good alternative.

From Merced, the cost of a round-trip ticket to Yosemite is $25. Visitors to the park who arrive on the bus don't have to pay the $20 entrance fee that's charged for each car entering the park.

"Once you're in the park, there's a free shuttle that runs every 15 minutes," Whittington said.

Taking the shuttle, or walking or biking, is a great way to see Yosemite without the hassle of driving and parking.

"You can see so much more on the bus," Whittington said. "It's a comfortable ride, and it's economical and convenient."

There are four buses a day that run from Merced to Yosemite, Whittington said, and two buses run from Mariposa to the valley floor. You can check schedules and pickup locations at www.yarts.com. Or contact YARTS at (209) 388-9589 or toll free at (877) 989-2787 from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. After 6 p.m., you'll reach a message/response phone.

Gediman said wildflowers are blooming everywhere, the meadows are lush and green and the dogwoods are in bloom.

"This is my favorite time of the year here," he said. "It's an incredible time in Yosemite."

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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