Contrary to what some may say, it’s not that hard to find peace and solitude in Yosemite.
Traditionally, Yosemite’s summer season is notoriously popular. Visitors flock to the park from all over the world. And the heart of their visit is Yosemite Valley. This is where the throngs gather to bask in the spray of plunging waterfalls, to crane their necks to see the tops of the cliffs above and warm their faces in the all-encompassing Californian summer sunshine.
You can hike all day on the busiest holiday weekend and see only a handful of people. You can carve out precious moments of solitude to recharge, and fill your soul with the sounds of warbling birds and the hum of the Merced River.
1. Discover Different Seasons
Compared to summer, the cooler months can be a perfect time to reach out and bask in Yosemite’s silence. Much has been written about Yosemite in winter. With just a few simple things to keep in mind, a winter journey to Yosemite rewards visitors with room to breathe, and the kind of leisurely routine that provides a break from the grindstone and nourishment for the soul.
Spring comes early to the lower elevations at Yosemite. Wildflowers fill the canyon around Highway 140 on the way to Yosemite long before the snow melts at higher elevations. The verdant green of the foothills of Mariposa County surrounding Yosemite sings the promise of new beginnings.
On the flip side, autumn colors peak in October each year, drawing shutterbugs for the Yosemite fall photography season. The cooler weather is also perfect for rock climbing, hiking, and general outdoor exploration. September through November are some of the best months to day hike throughout the foothills and Yosemite due to cooler temperatures and lightly trodden paths.
Pro tip: Each season reveals a completely different character in the park. To take advantage of everything the park has to offer, you will want to come back repeatedly to
2. Embrace the Rain
Don’t let a wet forecast dampen your enthusiasm for the outdoors. It’s true that low-hanging clouds can sometimes obscure Yosemite’s vistas, but when nature pulls back those curtains and the sun comes shining through, you’ll be rewarded a thousand times over for your willingness to get a little damp. That’s why serious photographers race into the park at the first sign of clouds. When there is rain in the forecast, Yosemite belongs to the bold, and the ones who have good rain gear.
Pro-tip: Rent a cabin with laundry and dryer so you can dry out after your hiking adventure. Being able to celebrate your adventure with a hot beverage by a roaring fire is just a bonus.
3. Get Going Early
Morning people already know the luxuriant feeling of cradling a steaming cup of coffee while watching the world at large come to life. Especially in Yosemite, the early bird gets to see Yosemite at her finest, brimming with the possibility of a new day.
During the summer sunrise comes early, so if you’re fired up to get out the door you can get a few hours of hiking or exploring in solitude before most people are even done brushing their teeth.
Pro tip: It’s not about when you wake up; it’s about when you can get moving in the morning. If you’re staying in Yosemite Valley, can you get out into the park for a short stroll first thing? If you’re traveling into the park for the day, consider packing a picnic breakfast the night before to enjoy after you’ve gotten to your destination.
4. Step Out of the Bustle to Find Pockets of Peace & Quiet
It’s easy to get swept up into wanting to see and do it all while you’re in Yosemite on vacation. Pretty soon you’re double-timing it to the next destination, looking at your watch and wondering just how long it’s going to take to get there. However, if you simply make the effort to step off the bustling tourist treadmill you can find room to breathe deep and recharge in even the busiest parts of the park.
Like a river, the flow of human visitors frantically making their way to the next jaw-dropping Yosemite location forms a strong current. At the edges of that current, you can find pools of peace and quiet to give you a few moments to catch your breath and revel in relative quiet and serenity.
Explore a trail that doesn’t “go” anywhere noteworthy.
Find a comfortable spot by the river.
Set up a hammock under some shade trees. No hammock? Find a warm flat rock, a sandy beach, or a wide log so you can sit down and soak it all in.
Pro tip: Try joining an art class. They are open to all levels. You’ll leave with a personal souvenir of your time in the park, and the instructors will often lead you to a quiet spot where you can relax and paint in peace.
5. Take the Path Less Traveled
Yosemite National Park contains more than 750 miles of trail to explore, and yet most of the traffic is concentrated around the 7 mile-long Yosemite Valley. What about exploring the other 700+ miles of trail in the park?
Obviously, the popular trails are popular for good reason. They are the gateways to some of the most iconic destinations and view-points Yosemite has to offer. If you’ve never been to Yosemite before, it would be a shame not to stand on the bridge at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall or stroll through Cook’s Meadow to see the views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.
However, if you’re willing to trade the legendary selfie spots for a little more space on the trail, there are plenty of options ““ so many we couldn’t possibly list them all here. Try this; Look up the Top 10 Hiking Trails in Yosemite, and cross those off your list. Go anywhere else.
Look for trails along the road to Hetch Hetchy, like the one to Carlon Falls. Set off through Mono Meadow off the Glacier Point road to enjoy a rich bouquet of wildflowers in season. Hike up the Chilnualna Falls trail from Wawona to the top of the eponymous fall, or stop and enjoy the shorter cascades that will greet you just a short distance from the trailhead. Visit a quiet alpine lake. The walk to Harden Lake from White Wolf is one of dozens of opportunities along these lines. Outside the park, explore the Briceburg trail.
Pro tip: Watch out for unofficial GPS tracks that you find on sites like AllTrails. Some of these tracks are not really “trails” but steep climbers’ routes where a slip in the wrong spot without a rope could easily kill you. Being terrified and having to call for a rescue is no fun. If you want to explore one of these routes, be aware of the abilities and limitations of everyone you are with, including yourself, and leave enough time and energy to back-track if you need to.
6. Explore outside the park
Beauty abounds in the Sierra Nevada ““ from the highest peaks to the foothills, and you don’t have to be inside the National Park to enjoy it.
Combine your trip to Yosemite with a day or three in the surrounding National Forests. You’ll find lonely trails through wildflowers and among the pine-scented forests. Forest Service Roads wind up deserted ridges with mountain views and out to quiet meadows. A short hike or bike ride from Tenaya Lodge along a dirt Forest Service road, Jackson Road, will bring you to a small but cheerful waterfall that runs year-round.
Park at Briceburg and enjoy a trail along the Merced River either West or toward Yosemite. There is a short trail near Coulterville that leads to a small waterfall and swimming hole. Stop at Lake McClure or Lake McSwain for the many lake-related activities there, or take some laps at Exchequer Bike Park above Lake McClure.
Pro tip: Looking for something exceptional and out of the ordinary? Try one of the 100 Things to Do in Mariposa County outside of Yosemite National Park. In the meantime, enjoy this Mariposa Moment from Oliver Creek Falls.