Road Trip

Visiting Yosemite: A guide to grand touring the national park in a family-friendly SUV

Grand touring isn't dead. It's just different than it used to be.

Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Cruising up the coast of California in a Ford Mustang. Taking an RV full of family on a trip to explore the American West. Leaf peeping in New England while hopping from bed and breakfast to bed and breakfast in your family sedan. These are classic examples of U.S. road trips that do not feature a grand touring car.

Is the dream of grand touring dead? The advent of the EV and the popularity of the minivan and SUVs have not killed it. In fact, they've revolutionized it.

No longer do you have to cram six people into a sedan with your brother standing up between mom and dad in the front. You can tour in comfort in a modern SUV and still have as authentic an experience as you did in your childhood, perhaps better.

Autocamp Yosemite pond Airstream Autocamp Yosemite is a unique and luxurious way to "camp" near Yosemite.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Buckled into a thoroughly modern Honda Passport, this grand touring trip set off from Autocamp Yosemite, a resort made entirely of Airstream trailers, tiny houses, and small cabins, just as the sun was starting to shine the first light of morning. Headed seats, accurate navigation, and right-sized cup holders gave the beginning of the trip an optimistic note.

On the winding roads of CA 140, the Passport was relatively efficient and stuck to the road much better than the Honda Pilot would have. The sun continued to rise and touch the tree tops as the route wound its way over and around the Merced River.

2019 Honda Passport The Honda Passport is smaller than a Honda Pilot and bigger than a Honda CR-V.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Making it into the park before the sun has fully risen is not only a treat but a necessity if you want to beat the hoards of tourists that flock to the park's most famous sites, pushing into your space with their selfie sticks, cigarette smoke, and overstuffed backpacks.

Tunnel View Yosemite morning Tunnel View is one of the can't-miss spots in Yosemite National Park.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Start by winding your way up Wawona Road to the start of the Artist Point Trail and Tunnel View with an observation deck that requires no hiking to get to and a view that you've likely seen countless times before in pictures. El Capitan rises on one side as Cathedral Rocks grace the other. It's impossible to fathom exactly how big they are from the viewpoint, but no one leaves the spot unimpressed.

Continuing to head up the mountain, the Passport's V6 had no problem passing 5,000 and 8,000 feet as the SUV rose out of the famed Yosemite Tunnel. The turn up Glacier Point Road had the SUV pointing for, you guessed it, Glacier Point. Getting there early meant not being stuck behind busses and being able to easily cruise uphill while stopping for a bit of hiking and observation along the way. Pulling off for a walk on the Mono Meadow Trail is a must, but watch out for bears.

Mono Meadow trailhead 2019 Honda Passport Park at the tailhead at Mono Meadow for a scenic hike.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Back from the hike, the journey up the road continued to Washburn Point, where the Passport braved the crowded parking area, easily maneuvering into a tight spot near the far curb, setting up its occupants for a short walk to a viewing platform to see awe-inspiring views of the Clark Range and Sierra Crest rising up from the treetops, Illilouette Falls flowing, and the profile of Half Dome. It's one of the better selfie-taking spots in the park because of the angles of the scenery.

Yosemite National Park Washburn Point view Washburn Point provides a different view of Half Dome an surrounding hillsides. Be sure to visit in the morning before the parking spots get swallowed up by tourists.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Continuing further up Glacier Point road, easily passing 9,000 feet of elevation, the road ends at the Glacier Point parking area where the peanut-bladdered find relief in the numerous restrooms available. Parking is easier further down the row you travel. Spaces are narrow so making full use of the Passport's on-board camera system to ensure proper space sitting was wholly appropriate.

Glacier Point crowd Yosemite National Park Getting up to Glacier Point early in the day should be a priority for adventure seekers who don't want to deal with heavy crowds.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

From there, it's a short and slightly uphill handicap-accessible walk to the most spectacular view that Yosemite offers. Standing before the visitor on the observation deck are Half Dome and three waterfalls. The Yosemite Valley floor is carpeted with thick trees that mask the ant-sized cars winding their way to Yosemite Village. Space is limited and tourists are generally pushy, but be sure to leave time to have a moment to put down your phone or camera (or both) and just stand and take it all in. (And maybe thank Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir for ensuring that it is still around.)

Glacier Point Yosemite National Park guide key sign The National Park Service has installed these helpful signs to show visitors what they're seeing. The space around them is often crowded so take a quick picture then move and use the image on your phone to help you navigate.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Before you leave, use the restroom again. There are several, often overlooked options available so check for the shortest line.

The trip back down Glacier Point Road to the Yosemite Valley isn't nearly as long as it seems when driving the other direction. By now, it's likely near lunchtime, but before heading to The Ahwahnee for lunch, stop on the way back down near Bridalveil Falls where roadside parking is generally easy to find and the views are, once again, spectacular.

The Ahwahnee's dining room isn't as fancy during the day as it is during the night. This gives parents dressed in hiking clothes the opportunity to sit and dine in the historic hotel without the obligation of staying at the hotel and wearing a dinner jacket.

The Ahwahnee dining room Yosemite National Park The historical Ahwanee dining room is a must-stop. It has tasty cuisine at prices that aren't outrageous.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Continuing after lunch, the rest of the day relies more on your patience and the time limits of daylight rather than the availability of sights to be seen. Skip the urge to circle for a parking space near the Visitors Center and instead cruise for an hour along Big Oak Flat Road and head east on Tioga Road. When touring with little ones, this gives them an opportunity to take a 45-minute or so nap that can be used to your advantage later in the day.

Pull-off points with unique views are abundant along this road the further you travel. Don't forget your camera and perhaps think about leaving the heated seats on if you're hopping in and out of the car in the cooler months (read: not June or July but most other times of the year).

Olmstead Point Half Dome Olmstead Point is on the other side of the park from Yosemite Valley and worth the trip. Here, Half Dome is in the distance.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

If your shoes have sufficient grip and you're still feeling up for some hiking, don't miss a stop at Olmstead Point where the terrain looks nothing like what you'll see in other parts of the park but the view shows off the back side of the terrain you saw earlier in the day from Washburn Point. Proceeding down the road, the stone encroaches and it's easy to think of what the terrain must be like on the moon.

Venture even further east to Tenaya Lake, a peaceful respite that provides the opportunity to sit and marvel at calm true-blue water away from mobs of tourists. That's also a good turnaround point, where you can head back to the Valley to take advantage of the waning afternoon crowds to see some of Yosemite's most popular features including the El Capitan Meadow, Valley View, Yosemite Chapel, and Yosemite Falls.

Tenaya Lake Yosemite National Park Tenaya Lake is a peaceful respite away from the hustle and bustle of Yosemite's more popular attractions.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

While a stop at the Yosemite Visitors Center provides some historical context for your visit, if you're looking for souvenirs, the best place to go is the Village Store.

Souvenirs in hand, it was now nearly dark on the Valley floor, and it was time for these travelers to point the Passport back to AutoCamp. The two-row SUV had served as a trusty steed - reliable, comfortable, and easily maneuverable. Those aren't the characteristics that shoppers frequently look for, but it's something that they remember when it comes time to get their next vehicle. Though not a traditional grand tourer, the Passport provided a grand level of touring capability.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Honda Accord has been revised for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

The 2021 Honda Accord has undergone a mid-genenration refresh. For the new model year, the midsize Accord gets a host of styling updates, upgraded technology, a new trim level, and additional safety features. The Accord Hybrid is also getting powertrain upgrades and new wheels.

Honda will sell the 2021 Accord in five trim levels: LX, EX-L, Sport, Sport Special Edition (SE), and Touring. The SE grade is new for 2021 and replaces the EX trim. There's also a revised Accord Hybrid.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

Honda has restyled the front of the Accord to feature a wider, less segmented-looking grille. The look adds sophistication and draws comparisons to the Mazda6 and Audi. With the redo, the Honda Sensing suite of safety technology's radar unit is now housed in the grille. Flanking the grille are new LED high- and low-beam headlights with longer and wider illumination. The fog lights are now housed in smaller offerings.

Honda differentiates the Accord Sport and Sport SE from the other trims by adding a rear trunk lid spoiler, trim-specific 19-inch wheel design, LED fog lights, dark-chrome grille, and chrome exhaust finishers.

The Accord Hybrid is set apart from the rest of the crowd stylistically with a blue H-mark on the grille, adds its own unique touches to the styling updates made to the entire 2021 Accord lineup, including a blue H-mark on the grille and Hybrid badges on the front fenders and trunk lid. This year, Accord Hybrid Touring grade features 19-inch wheels, giving it an upscale and sporty appearance.

Accord LX, EX-L, and Touring receive new alloy wheel designs. The Sport, SE, and Touring trim levels have a new available wheel color: Sonic Gray Pearl.

The Accord Hybrid has gotten a powertrain update designed to improve the car's performance. Engineers have recalibrated the hybrid system for a more immediate throttle response. The car's acceleration will now feel more traditional and this should follow a trend that is seeing automakers offer more responsive performance from their hybrid models. It will also spend more time operating solely on electric power than competing hybrid models.

The Accord Hybrid has a total peak output of 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque. It achieves 48 mpg combined. Honda was recently named the most fuel-efficient automaker in the North American market.

The cabin of the Accord remains relatively the same. It now includes a standard 8.0-inch Display Audio infotainment touch screen. Accord EX gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which requires a cord to connect a smartphone to the system, while Accord EX-L and Touring get wireless versions of the same tech.

The Accord's USB ports have been moved to the front of the center console. Accord Sport and higher trim levels now include dual 2.5-volt USB ports for rear seat passengers. A wireless charger is available.

For 2021, the new Accord Sport SE replaces the Accord EX 1.5T. It builds on the Sport trim adding leather seats, heated front seats, a four-way power passenger seat, 12-way power driver's seat, heated mirrors, Smart Entry, and remote engine start. Its dual rear USB ports, leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, leather-wrapped shift knob, and an eight-speaker audio system will carry over from the EX 1.5T model.

All Accords also get rear seat reminder technology while upper trim levels get Honda's Low Speed Braking Control system.

The 2021 Accord goes on sale October 13. It has a starting MSRP of $24,770.

The 2021 Accord Hybrid starts at $26,370.

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For 2021, the Honda Ridgeline gets meaner looking but keeps the equipment that makes it well-mannered.

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc
The current iteration of the Honda Ridgeline is the anti-truck truck. The 2020 version looks more like a Honda Pilot with a bed than most anyone's idea of how a pickup truck should traditionally look. For 2021, that's going to change.

The 2021 Honda Ridgeline featrures an extensive refresh of the model. Nearly the entire exterior is new. The interior has been significantly upgraded where needed (it was already quite highly regarded). Most importantly, the Ridgeline maintains what buyers have thus far loved about it - the available all-wheel drive and comfortable seating.

2021 Honda Ridgeline The Honda Ridgeline sees its biggest changes on the exterior.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

"Truck enthusiasts have long recognized Ridgeline as an incredibly versatile and capable pickup, and now it's got the rugged looks to match," said Art St. Cyr, vice president of Auto Operations for American Honda Motor Co., Inc. "The Ridgeline signals a new direction for our light-truck designs, one that more effectively communicates all the hard work that goes into making Honda pickups and SUVs such proficient on- and off-road performers."

From the front roof pillars forward, the sheet metal of the Ridgeline is new. It has a new hood with a pronounced bulge, new front fenders that are designed to enhance the fresh squared-off nose. The 2021 Ridgeline's grille is more upright than before and now flanked by LED headlights.

A crossbar sits atop the grille and extends to bisect the headlight lenses. It's gloss black on Ridgeline Sport and Black Edition models and chrome on the RTL and RTL-E. Below that the new front bumper, with more body color on it than the previous iteration, incorporates side vents that are designed to enhance the truck's aerodynamic performance.

2021 Honda Ridgeline The truck has a new, more upright grille.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

The back of the Ridgeline has a reshaped bumper with exposed twin exhaust outlets.

The entire Ridgeline line rides on 18-inch wheels with backspacing reduced 10 mm, increasing track width a total of 20 mm. This gives the truck a more aggressive and athletic stance.

For buyers looking to make their Ridgeline more dominating, a Honda Performance Development (HPD) Package is available. It adds a unique grille treatment, black fender flares, bronze-colored wheels, and special HPD graphics on the bed walls. This package is one of four post-production packages that Honda will offer on the 2021 Ridgeline, taking a cue from other automakers' playbooks. The others are the Utility, Function and Function+ packages with equipment lists forthcoming.

The 2021 Ridgeline will continue to be powered by Honda's 3.5-liter V6 engine, which is rated at 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet for torque, and paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Honda offers the Ridgeline Sport and RTL with torque vectoring all-wheel drive while the RTL-E and Black Edition have it standard.

2021 Honda Ridgeline

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

The Ridgeline is the only truck in its class to have the ability to carry 4-foot wide items such as plywood and drywall in the bed, between the wheel wells. Ridgeline also comes standard with a washable, lockable In-Bed Trunk®, offering an additional 7.3 cu.-ft. of secure storage space under the bed floor.

The Dual-Action Tailgate, which folds traditionally and opens at the side, swinging wide, can handle dynamic loads of up to 300 pounds, supporting long payloads including motorcycles and ATVs. Eight standard tie-down cleats rated at 350-pounds each are inside the bed.

Honda continues to rate the Ridgeline as having a 1,580-pound payload capacity and up to 5,000-pound towing capacity.

Inside the cabin, the 2021 Ridgeline continues offering top-class passenger comfort and rear-seat legroom. The Ridgelines Sport trim gets new cloth seat inserts, all trims get new contrast stitching on the seats, and Sport, RTL, and RTL-E trims have new dash, steering wheel, and center console accents.

2021 Honda Ridgeline The Ridgeline has plenty of power to haul two dirt bikes. Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

It's also gotten an infotainment system upgrade including the Display Audio system, which features crisper graphics, easier-to-use touch screen icons, and a physical volume knob. Honda will continue to offer an in-bed audio system for RTL-E and uptime levels.

The 2021 Ridgeline comes standard with a suite of safety and driver assist technologies called Honda Sensing, featuring Collision Mitigation Braking System with forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.

The 2021 Honda Ridgeline was designed and developed by Honda R&D Americas in California and Ohio, and is manufactured along with its V6 engine at the Honda plant in Lincoln, Alabama using domestic and globally-sourced parts. For the 4th straight year, the Ridgeline ranked in the top 10 in the 2020 Cars.com American Made Index.

More information about the 2021 Ridgeline, including prices and detailed specifications, will be available closer to its on-sale date early next year.

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