Yosemite National Park: Off-Trail & Avoiding the Crowds

After a recent visit, Yosemite National Park — an enormous 750,000 acres of postcard-worthy wilderness and wonder — easily tops Hit City's list of favorite places in California.

Yosemite offers an endless supply of adventures: North America's tallest waterfall (Yosemite Falls), its largest block of granite (El Capitan), its tallest trees (giant sequoias), 800 miles of hiking trails, and 1,700 miles of crystal clear streams that feed into its 3,200 lakes. Its just crazy how big and diverse this place is. 

Since it was established as protected land in 1864 (paving the way for the United States National Park system's creation and the Sierra Club), Yosemite has attracted every serious rock climber, explorer, biologist, botanist, geologist, and nature lover from all over the world. In fact, 3.7 million visitors come here every year. Unfortunately, this means some of the main attractions, despite being well-worth seeing, feel a bit more like visiting Disneyland® than a pristine National Park.

The good news is that we're here for you and, through our own trial and error, can offer some recommendations to make your trip to Yosemite as rewarding and stress-free as possible. 

First off, if you want to see the main attractions and popular hikes — Yosemite ValleyGlacier Point, Tunnel View, Half Dome, Mist Trail, Vernal Falls — go early! They're totally worth it, but if you go at noon you'll have to share them with hundreds of amateur photographers. 

For instance, we had the unfortunate experience of trying to visit Glacier Dome where we wound up directed to an alternate parking lot and sent on a crowded 25 min bus ride, before finding ourselves hiking on concrete through a herd of people to glimpse the viewpoint and waiting twice as long for the bus back. This is not how to do Yosemite! 

El Capitan

El Capitan

Assuming crowded tourist destinations aren't your thing, you should also probably avoid camping in Yosemite Valley. The majority of visitors end up here, which means noise, traffic, and crowds. Instead, try Crane FlatTamarack Flat, or Tuolumne Meadows. Or better yet, get a free permit to camp in the vast Yosemite high country — after all, 95 percent of the park is designated wilderness.

Our biggest recommendation is to take the time to explore on your own. Follow a river until you find a secluded spot, hike a fire road trail off the highway, explore a meadow by your campsite, or simply stroll through a nearby groove of trees. The beauty of this place will take your breath away.