Yosemite National Park is like an entirely different planet. With endless granite, giant sequoia trees and waterfalls at every turn, Yosemite hits the top of my list of places to visit in California. This post will bring to light the road less traveled through Yosemite. Those backcountry places that are miles away from the sea of tourists hiking up the Mist Trail. If you're looking for a more secluded but just as scenic route through Yosemite, this is for you.
Upper Cathedral Lake
The view upon arrival is worth every bit of work it takes to get there. Cathedral Peak rises beyond a pristine alpine lake. Along side of the lake a beautiful meadow filled with wildflowers adds color to this amazing landscape.
It is truly paradise. But it is essential to register early if you plan to stay overnight. The campgrounds fill up fast.
You haven’t really seen Half Dome (figuratively, at least) until you’ve stood on North Dome and looked across Yosemite Valley at it. It’s an incredible closeup view.
Much of the route to North Dome is your standard walk in the woods, but there’s a big finish. The approach to North Dome, and North Dome itself, offer spectacular views looking across the valley to Half Dome and Clouds Rest and down to Yosemite Valley itself.
Like so many of Yosemite’s high lakes, May Lake rests at the base of striking granite cliffs, Mt. Hoffmann, in this case, giving it a memorably picturesque backdrop. Unlike other lakes, though, May Lake’s low side gives way not to forest, but to a drop off that looks over the Tioga Road area all the way to Clouds Rest and Tenaya Lake, a bonus that makes this one of Yosemite’s most scenic lake hikes.
El Capitan is 3,000 vertical feet of sheer rock granite. El Capitan is a beacon for visitors, a muse for photographers and one of the world’s ultimate challenges for climbers – Best time to see it? Any day of the year.
One of Yosemite’s most stunning and wide-ranging 360-degree panoramic views. This hike is all about the destination, from which you’ll have striking views in every direction, including, perhaps most gripping of all, straight down.
Turn a complete circle and you’ll be able to see any number of Yosemite landmarks, including Tenaya Lake, Half Dome, Mt. Hoffman, Sentinel Dome, North Dome, and bits of Cathedral Rocks and El Capitan, plus Merced Lake and dozens of peaks you probably won’t be able to name.
This icon rock formation lives up to its name. The best way to beat the crowds and the hot sun in the summer is to spend a night in Little Yosemite Valley and get up for a sunrise hike to the top of the dome.
Being one of the first up the dome is incredibly rewarding. There's nothing quite like having the top of half dome all to yourself with sweeping views of all of Yosemite Valley 7,000 feet below.
Make sure to grab permits well in advanced for this popular hike.
This is the high country. This part of Yosemite is nearly inaccessible in winter, when heavy snows blanket the road and freeze the rivers. In the spring and summer months, winter melts away and the meadows bloom.
The high country also offers exceptional hiking trails. The High Sierra Camps, accessible from Tuolumne Meadows, are a favorite for backpackers.
These three lakes are some of the smallest in Yosemite but can be a nice private getaway for a night of camping. The one closest to Tenaya Lake has the best camping spots and views of sunset. The lake is beautiful with half granite, half forest surrounding the lake itself and a small island in the middle you can go sun bathe on.
Tips & Tricks
Go Early: Wake up before everyone else to see Yosemite Valley. Later in the day can have lots of traffic and busy trails.
Go into the Backcountry: Your best bet for beautiful views and a peaceful experience in the park is to get on a trail and get exploring.
Drive Tioga Road: Make sure to check that this backcountry road is open because it’s seasonal. Make sure to take your time on this road stopping at any viewpoints or just to explore the area.
Food in the park: The two best places for food are Half Dome Village Pizza Deck in the Half Dome Village in the valley and a great burger shack in Tuolumne Meadows that all the backpackers stop at. Both of these are conveniently placed at the beginning and end of some really awesome trailheads.
Don’t Rely on your Phone: Besides the million other people trying to get the spotty reception in the park, get a map and go explore!