The magnificent waterfalls, dramatically steep granite cliffs and lush valleys of Yosemite National Park attract visitors from all corners of the globe. On average, some four million people visit each year, and most spend the majority of their time in Yosemite Valley, home to famous sights like El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. But the Valley occupies just 1% of the park’s 1,169 square miles and the most spectacular wilderness scenery doesn’t end at its edge, in many ways, that’s just where it begins.
While viewing those popular attractions is a must, you may want to spend more of your time in the vast wilderness that awaits outside of the Valley, filled with sparkling lakes and wildflower-filled meadows, granite domes and pristine rivers – all of which can be experienced without bumping elbows with countless other visitors.
Viewing the Most Popular Sights
To avoid battling the biggest crowds while enjoying Yosemite’s most popular sights, plan to visit outside of the peak season, which is from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Spring is ideal, particularly from late April through late May, as the summer crowds haven’t arrived yet and the waterfalls will be at their peak. As the crowds dissipate in September, brilliant autumn foliage arrives. Even winter can be a good time for a visit as it’s especially peaceful now, with the chance to glide through untouched snow on snowshoes or even ski at Badger Pass.
If you have to visit during the summer, get up early and enjoy a sunrise, as well as crowd-free sights. Most visitors will sleep through it and won’t be out and about for several hours. Early morning is ideal for postcard-perfect shots with the light often just right.
A nice long hike will get you away from the crowds too, as so many tourists look for the easiest ways to take in those views. The more challenging the trail, the fewer people you’ll encounter. Of course, the most famous treks like Mist Trail, are bound to be packed with tourists. The first leg of that route brings fabulous views of Vernal Falls without much effort, but if you go beyond that by hiking the extra three miles to Nevada Falls, you’ll leave the crowds behind.
Base Yourself in the High Sierra by Camping at Tuolumne Meadows
Head to the High Sierra, and you immerse yourself among those soaring peaks, meadows and lakes minus the crowds. Tuolumne Meadows is the most easily accessible area here, and in the summertime, the Tuolumne River snakes through vibrant green meadows blanketed with colorful wildflowers that are surrounded by jaw-dropping pine-covered peaks and granite domes. Tuolumne Meadows Campground is situated here right along Tioga Road, one of the park’s most scenic drives, and it offers easy access to recreational pursuits like hiking, backpacking, rock climbing and some of the world’s best fly fishing. And, oftentimes, you’ll see more wildlife than other humans.