The Best Day Hikes in Yosemite National Park (to beat the crowds)

The best day hikes in Yosemite National Park to beat the crowds, California

Artist Point, an crowdless places to see Yosemite Valley

I love the scenery of Yosemite: Towering waterfalls, towering trees, sheer cliffs, rocky domes, and the peaks of the High Sierras.  It’s a view junkie’s paradise.

 



 

Paintbrush on Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Paintbrush on Sentinel Dome

But I don’t like the crowds.  There’s no place to park, no place to camp, and even if you’re lucky enough to get through the traffic jams, you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with a few thousand other people all wanting to see the same sights.  And that’s no understatement: an average of 2.8 million people visit Yosemite from May to October (that’s 75k to 150k people each week), with another 875,000 visitors the rest of the year.

Bridal Veil Falls on 4th of July weekend, Yosemite National Park, California

Bridal Veil Falls on 4th of July weekend

So here’s how to enjoy some of Yosemite’s best scenery without the crowds.  Will you still see people?  Yes – but at least you’ll be able to park at (most of) the trailheads after 7am.  And you can even take pictures of the view you came to see without having a tour bus full of others taking the same picture, either next to your elbow or in your viewfinder.

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest, Yosemite National Park, California

Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from Clouds Rest

The Hikes

I’ve detailed here some of the most scenic hikes in Yosemite that don’t offer as many people as views.  To avoid the crowds you might want to…

Check out trails on the Tioga Road…

Trail to Mono Pass, Yosemite, California. Courtesy of Tom Hilton

Trail to Mono Pass, courtesy of Tom Hilton

Mono Pass or Parker Pass.  Views over Mono Lake plus mountain peaks, lakes, and a mountain pass. 7.4 miles RT to Mono Pass; about 11 miles RT to Parker Pass

 

Near the Gaylor Lakes, Yosemite National Park, California. Courtesy of 4johnny5

Near the Gaylor Lakes, courtesy of 4johnny5

Gaylor Lakes. The trail climbs over a scenic pass, then drops to a lake basin with a total of five lakes.  You can keep hiking to an old mine, if time and energy allow.  About 4 miles RT, depending on how you go

 

Upper Cathedral Lake, Yosemite National Park, California. Courtesy of evelynquek

Upper Cathedral Lake, courtesy of evelynquek

Cathedral Lakes. Rising from near Tuolumne Meadows, the trail takes hikers to two incredibly scenic lakes below the Cathedral Peaks. 8 miles RT

 

Views of the Sierras from Pothole Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Views of the Sierras from Pothole Dome

Pothole Dome. An off-shoot from the much more popular Tuolumne Meadows Trail, hiking up the dome means you get to look down on the meadows instead of just across them – without compromising the view of nearby domes and peaks. Up to 1.3 miles RT.

 

Indian Rock, Yosemite National Park, California

Indian Rock

Indian Rock. Hike through a peaceful forest to Yosemite’s only named arch – and you might even get to see Half Dome! 6.6 miles RT

 

Half Dome from North Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Half Dome from North Dome

North Dome. If you want to see Half Dome, this is the trail to take.  And as an added bonus, you get to see Vernal Falls from a distance, not to mention the High Sierras. 10.4 miles RT

 

Teyena Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

Teyena Lake, courtesy of Simon B.

Tenaya Lake. Bang for buck, this is a short trail with fantastic views across the lake of granite domes reflected in the water.  There is also a sand beach. 2.5 mile loop

 

Views from Clouds Rest, Yosemite National Park, California

Views from Clouds Rest

Cloud’s Rest. If you really like the bang-factor, this trail delivers it.  Forests, waterfalls (seasonal), lakes, and a breathtaking view on the peak of the High Sierras, Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and more domes and lakes than you can count. 14.6 miles RT

 

Lake May from the slopes of Mt. Hoffman, Yosemite National Park, California. Courtesy of David McCracken

Lake May from the slopes of Mt. Hoffman, courtesy of David McCracken

May Lake & Mt. Hoffmann.  Lake views or mountains?  Get both on this short trail to May Lake, then up Mt. Hoffmann, with views of both the lake and nearby domes and peaks. 2.5 miles to the lake; 6 miles including Mt. Hoffmann

 

Try Trail near (but not in) Yosemite Valley…

 

Wildflowers and views from Artist Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Wildflowers and views from Artist Point

Artist Point (via the Old Carriage Road).  A very peaceful, deserted walk on an upward-sloping old road takes you to a view that rivals Tunnel View.  Or so I say. 3.0 miles RT

 

Views from Artist Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Views from Artist Point

Artist Point (from Tunnel View). Hike from Tunnel View to an old road, then descend to a view of El Capitan, Bridal Veil Falls, Half Dome, and more. 2 miles RT

 

Views from Inspiration Point, Yosemite National Park, California. Courtesy of Mark Gunn

Views from Inspiration Point, courtesy of Mark Gunn

Inspiration Point.  It’s something like Tunnel View, only higher up.  The very steep trail begins at the famous viewpoint, crossing the old carriage road and continuing up to the viewpoint. 2.6 miles RT

 

Views along the Pohono Trail, Yosemite National Park, California. Courtesy of Darold Massaro

Views along the Pohono Trail, courtesy of Darold Massaro

Pohono Trail. Better done as a point-to-point because of its length, this one trail takes in Tunnel View (crowded), Inspiration Point, Dewey, Stafford, and Crocker Points, Taft Point, Sentinel Dome, and finally ends at Glacier Point (crowded).  It’s views enough to make your head spin. 13 miles OW

 

Or hike some hikes on the Glacier Point Road…

 

Views from Dewey Point, Yosemite National Park, California. Courtesy of mellow cat

Views from Dewey Point, courtesy of mellow cat

Dewey, Crocker, and Stanford Points.  Views of the valley, but from a very different perspective.  Be ready for views of domes, sheer cliffs, and El Capitan. 7.8 to 10.5 miles RT

 

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Dome

Sentinel Dome. I know of few better places to view the whole of Yosemite Falls than Sentinel Dome.  Then throw in Nevada Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan, and a lot more.  The link here is a shorter trail, bypassing the popular Taft Point Parking Area. 1.4 miles RT

 

Illilouette Falls, Yosemite National Park, California. Courtesy of Fabio Achilli

Illilouette Falls, courtesy of Fabio Achilli

Illilouette Falls. Often overlooked because it happens to be up a side valley from the more famous Vernal and Nevada Falls, this waterfall is accessed from Glacier Point. 5 miles RT

 

For big trees without big crowds check out…

 

Sequoias in the Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park, California. Courtesy of Ben Churchill

Sequoias in the Tuolumne Grove, courtesy of Ben Churchill

Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. Located at the eastern end of the Tioga Pass Road at Crane Flat. 2.5 miles RT

 

Looking up in the Merced Grove, Yosemite National Park, California. Courtesy of Nick Doty

Looking up in the Merced Grove, courtesy of Nick Doty

Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias.  Smallest and least crowded grove of sequoias in the park, west of Crane Flat. 3.0 miles RT

 

Grouped around a big tree in the Nelder Grove, California. Courtesy of Glenda Gilreath

Grouped around a big tree in the Nelder Grove, courtesy of Glenda Gilreath

Nelder Grove of Giant Sequoias. Located south of Wawona and outside the park, proper.  If you’re looking for a less-crowded Mariposa Grove experience, this comes closer than the other two. 0.2-5.5 miles RT

 




 

You can also hike outside the park…

 

One of the lakes along the 20 Lakes Basin trail, California. Courtesy of Greg Blazer

One of the lakes along the 20 Lakes Basin trail, courtesy of Greg Blazer

20 Lakes Basin. On the Tioga Road, just outside the park proper, the 20 Lakes Basin is a paradise of lakes, cliffs, and peaks. 4.9 to 9.1 mile loop

 

Blue Lake, one of the multiple lakes along the Virginia Lakes Trail, California

Blue Lake, one of the multiple lakes along the Virginia Lakes Trail

Virginia Lakes. A lengthy drive to the north, but not far from the park as the crow flies, the Virginia Lakes are an angler’s paradise.  Walk up the valley past several lakes, or even all the way up to the pass, or to summit lake on the other side of the pass, if you have the time and energy. 3.2 to 10.0 miles RT

 

And to really avoid the crowds, try any trail in Hetch Hetchy.

Wampana Falls at Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite National Park, California. Courtesy of Bryan Hetrick

Wampana Falls at Hetch Hetchy, courtesy of Bryan Hetrick

Other Tips for Avoiding Yosemite’s Crowds

 

Don’t even enter Yosemite Valley.  It’s overcrowded at almost every time of year, and in the summer, just trying to get into the valley could mean an hour or more in a traffic jam.

The traffic jam to get into Yosemite Valley from Wawona, Yosemite National Park, California

The traffic jam to get into Yosemite Valley from Wawona

If you really want to hike one of the more popular trails, start out as soon as it’s light and try to be off the trail by 10am.  (Note that Yosemite Falls will be in the shadow of the cliffs until at least 8am.)

Close up of Vernal Falls from North Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Close up of Vernal Falls from North Dome

Visit in the off season – November to April.  The high country will be snowed in, though, and famous roads (like the road to Glacier Point and the Tioga Pass Road) may not be open.

 

Yosemite Falls flows from about November to sometime in July (it all depends on snowmelt).  May is peak season, so visiting in April may allow for viewing a higher flow rate without (quite so many) crowds.  Other falls may only be active March to June or December to April or… (see this link for more information on average flow of waterfalls).

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Dome

Fees: $35/vehicle.  Yosemite Annual and National Parks & Federal Lands Recreation Passes also accepted.

Visitor Centers: Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center on the Tioga Road; an information station near the Big Oak Flat Entrance (north of Crane Flat); Yosemite Valley Visitor Center in the valley; Wawona Visitor Center north of the Mariposa Grove Road (open summer only).

 

This Week’s Featured Product!

My favorite book on hiking and day hiking Yosemite!  Beyond the most popular trails, the author also includes hidden gems and quiet treks for all skill levels.

 

 




2 thoughts on “The Best Day Hikes in Yosemite National Park (to beat the crowds)