American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
Over the past few years of writing this blog, I've made no secret of the fact that I'm an ardent fan of America's national parks, and as I've mentioned before, one of my favorites is Yosemite National Park (209/372-0200) in northern California. Established in 1890, Yosemite is not only one of the nation's oldest and most famous parks, it's also one of the most popular options for a family vacation, especially during the summer months. No matter when you choose to visit, though, you'll find no shortage of outdoor activities – including guided tours.
One resource worth considering is YExplore (800/886-8009), an adventure tour company founded in 2003 by John and Catherine DeGrazio – who, despite experiencing an array of outdoor wonders, from Hawaii to the Grand Canyon to the Appalachians, had decided to develop an ecotourism business that enabled fellow adventurers to embrace the innumerable wonders of Yosemite National Park. After all, as with me, it's one of their favorite places, although they do have plans to expand to Yellowstone someday.
In the meantime, YExplore features a wide array of tour options throughout Yosemite, including birding tours, wildflower walks, snowshoeing treks, yoga hikes, overnight backpacking excursions, and photo workshops. Led by certified local wilderness guides, these tours tend to be intimate and personalized, with an emphasis on Leave No Trace principles. Tours can be tailored to all ages and fitness levels, and even better, the company offers such experiences all year-round. And, of course, all tour guides are equipped with communication devices, navigational tools, and first aid equipment – in an effort to keep participants safe while on their grand Yosemite adventure.
Recently, John agreed to chat with me via email about the company's origin and offerings.
American Nomad: From your website, I learned that YExplore was hatched in 2003, but I’m just wondering... given your and Catherine’s varied adventure travel experiences, what made you decide to start an ecotourism business in Yosemite (and not one of the other amazing places you’ve visited)?
John DeGrazio: Thank you for such a great question. As you can tell from our many travels, we had more than one “favorite” place in this great country. We chose Yosemite for a variety of reasons, including the ability to operate all year-round. We love our winter trips just as much as spring and summer adventures. To be honest, the warm California sun had its appeal as well. Even though we woke up to a fresh blanket of snow this morning, the winters are relatively warmer than other choices we could have made. I will also answer this by saying Yosemite became the flagship for YExplore. We have plans to expand to other national parks and are even developing other ideas around the globe.
AN: Which tour would you recommend for families with young children?
JD: There are a few great tours I would offer for families with young children, but I will say my favorite is the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point Adventure Hike. It is a 4.5-mile, round-trip hike with an elevation gain of less than 1000 feet. Many times we have received calls from parents concerned that their children do not like the outdoors, and they'd be surprised if they made it all the way. We always have a good laugh later in the day after the children are the ones charging up the mountain. This hike is also a good chance to explore the principles of Leave No Trace and find ways to weave them into the everyday lives of the children on our tours.
AN: Which tour would you recommend for advanced fitness enthusiasts?
JD: There are so many great hikes to recommend for advanced fitness enthusiasts, but if I had to choose one, it would probably be Clouds Rest. It is about 15 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 2500 feet. Many people flock to the Half Dome hike, but this is one that is quickly becoming the preferred choice because hikers do not need a permit. When you are finished challenging yourself, you end up on a knife ridge that leads to a panoramic view of Yosemite National Park with the added benefit of looking down on Half Dome over 1000 feet below. Now, that's exciting!
AN: Which tour would you recommend for travelers in less-than-perfect shape?
JD: If someone is in less-than-perfect shape, I would recommend one of our nature tours or photography workshops. Neither require a lot of hiking, but both enable a visitor to spend the day with a true Yosemite insider. The photo workshops allow you to take control of your camera while working with one of our professional photographers, finding some of the better spots to photograph from throughout the park during optimal periods of light. The naturalist walks allow you to spend some time on a gentle stroll looking for wildflowers, birds, and every other piece of the landscape that makes Yosemite one of the most unique places on Earth. You will learn about ecological zones, geology, and natural history with a widely known and well-respected naturalist from the Sierra Nevada.
AN: All of your adventure hikes, nature tours, and photo workshops sound amazing, but as a yoga enthusiast, I’m most intrigued by the yoga hikes on offer. So, do you have a favorite tour, and if so, which one?
JD: We have run a really special Yoga Hike to May Lake that is becoming very popular. The group spends a leisurely day hiking in some of Yosemite's most beautiful terrain up to May Lake. We then continue on a trail down to lesser-known Raisin Lake for a lunch and a swim. On our return trip up to May Lake, we make one more stop for a yoga session on some granite rocks with an amazing view of the high country. Many return home fully enriched from such an amazing experience.
Hopefully, my brief interview with John has enticed you to visit Yosemite soon. If so, be sure to consult Ann Marie Brown's Moon Yosemite guidebook for more information about the park and its environs. In addition, you can consult Liz Hamill Scott's Moon California guidebook for other trip ideas in the Golden State.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below, contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com, or connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Yosemite's Half Dome courtesy of Carl & Peggy Backes / Text © 2013 Laura Martone