Yosemite National Park
|Half Dome, Yosemite National Park (Weststock)|
Yosemite is notorious for the type of tourist that park rangers often refer to as the "90-50s"the 90 percent of park visitors who never travel more than 50 feet from their cars. If you're reading this, chances are you're among the better 10 percent. So you should know that completely escaping the rest of them requires a little bit of trail time. Technically, you could spend a week in Yosemite and take a small taste of each section of the park. But the only way to find solitude here is to pick a neighborhood and explore it in some depth.
You probably know Yosemite Valley even if you've never actually seen it. Thanks to Ansel Adams, its best-known landmarksHalf Dome, Yosemite Falls, El Capitanhave been burned into America's collective memory in black and white. Seeing them up close and in color for the first time, however, is an experience beyond comparewhich is exactly why you'll find so many tourists crammed into the valley's wildly popular trails. Fear nota few hours of hiking will separate you from most of the masses. Better yet, visit in the winter, when you and your skinny skis can have these famous vistas almost entirely to yourselves.
Peak baggers seeking summer snow need look no further than Tuolumne. The higher elevation here keeps parts of it frozen as late as June and as early as September. That's good news for cross-country skiers as wellTioga Road is covered in ungroomed powder well into spring, making it a perfect path for ski-camping trips. After the snow melts, the cooler weather draws backpackers to the lakes, creeks and canyons, where lightly traveled trails lead to the northern edge of the park. The midsummer crowds backpacking the John Muir Trail sometimes rival those in the Valley, but it's still worth the trip to the Cathedral Lakes.
This massive canyon in the northwest corner of the park has been a source of controversy since the early 1900s, when Woodrow Wilson approved the construction of a dam in order to quench a growing San Francisco thirst. Ever since, activists have been fighting to knock down the O'Shaunessey Dam and restore the flooded valley. In the meantime, the trails that run above the reservoir and along the Tuolumne River are among the least traveled in the park. Warmer weather near the reservoir makes it a prime spot for spring and fall backpacking trips. There's plenty of climbable granite here, too.
Giant sequoias are the draw in this part of the park. The narrow trails in Mariposa Grove meander beneath the massive trees, forming ideal snowshoe paths in winter. Since it's just inside the south entrance, this section appeals to Mariposa-based visitors, who have easy access year-round. Even in the summer, busy trails are hard to come by. Hikes to the warm, granite-rimmed lakes and swimming holes attract backpackers long after other parts of the park are too chilly for swimming. The fishing on the South Fork of the Merced is some of the best in the park.
If you're interested in viewing those famous Valley landmarks without the infamous Valley crowds, Glacier Point is the place to be. It's only an hour's drive from the valley, but the lookout points aren't littered with hordes of day trippers. If you've only got time for a single hike, the one-way descent from Glacier Point into the Valley is as thorough a "best-of" park tour as you're likely to find. Skiers should note that the groomed trails leading from Badger Pass into this region are definitely worth a visit.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication