Love Yosemite? Hate Crowds?

If so, I'm with you. Look, I get it, the scenery is spectacular, the water is crystal clear and refreshing. The massive granite cliffs, the grassy meadows dotted with wildflowers and butterflies, the roaring waterfalls...Yosemite has it all! The only thing it's missing is readily available campsites, but we'll even put up with that hassle in order to view its majesty. The one thing that is difficult are the crowds. Because Yosemite is so spectacular, it does get very crowded. So many times we want to visit on a three day weekend or holiday, because, let's face it, that's when we have the extra time off! But the thought of dealing with the traffic jams, the throngs of people, and then the possibility of not even being able to enjoy the beauty without someone else elbowing into your really makes you wonder if it's worth the effort at all. Well, I think it is. And we found some ways to enjoy the beauty all by ourselves!!!
1. Prioritize. Look at the website, read a few books, decide what are on your list of Yosemite must see's PRIOR to your trip. You can always adjust your plans later, but having a list of a few things you really want to do makes things easier.
2. Get going early. Hit the most popular tourist attractions as early in the morning as possible. While there are some early risers, the majority of visitors (especially those with kids) will get a slower start, take longer to get through the gates and into the park. If you can get moving early, you will be ahead of all of those people.

On our last trip, we knew we wanted to take the Vernal Mist Trail all the way to Nevada Falls. Knowing this is one of the most popular hikes, we planned to do it first thing in the morning and get to the trailhead as early as possible. It was still busy, but definitely not unpleasant at all. We hiked with many other people up to Vernal Falls, and then continued up the more difficult trail to the top of Nevada Falls. It was amazing. We are so glad we didn't let a busy holiday weekend deter us from hiking this trail. It was a memorable family event that none of us will ever, ever forget. Even our youngest hiker (6) managed to do the whole 6.8 mile, very steep hike by himself. We were so proud of him!

As we were coming back down, the amount of people heading up the trail was crazy! They were like thousands of ants crawling up a hill! We were very glad we chose to do this hike early, as we absolutely could not believe the crowds later in the afternoon.

For the most crowded, popular afternoon time at Yosemite, we headed over to Soda Springs and Tuolumne Meadows. Since that's a huge, expansive area, it rarely feels crowded and there is plenty of room to roam and explore!

3. Get off the beaten path. Go beyond where the guidebooks lead you. For example, we hiked to Mirror Lake (a popular hike recommended by many) first thing one morning. We arrived at the lake and it was just beautiful!
When we arrived at the lake (early in the morning) there were only two other people wading and swimming. Having read that this was an extremely popular swimming hole, we continued on the trail, past Mirror Lake. We hiked for about another mile and then cut through the woods (you could still plainly see the trail, PLEASE don't get lost in the wilderness on my advice) to the river feeding into Mirror Lake. We scouted out a perfect wading, swimming and picnic spot and spent several hours there. We were the only people at this lovely spot with gorgeous views of the granite cliffs, completely sparkling cool water and even little mini water falls. This was over Memorial Day Weekend! So, if you do just a little extra work hiking and hunting, you can have an absolutely serene experience at Yosemite, even on the busiest of holidays.  

Check out this amazing spot:
Not another soul in sight!

As we hiked back out, and passed Mirror Lake again on our way home, you could barely see the water, for all of the people trying to swim in it. And all of the saggy diapers...ugh I won't even go there. Needless to say, if you enjoy your peace and quiet, go see the main attractions, then push on just a bit further and find your secret spot. It's so well worth it!

4. Bike. Whenever possible, ditch the car and ride your bike. It is so much easier to get around Yosemite (especially the Valley) by bike instead of car (or RV). During the holiday weekends, they even had Park Rangers directing traffic and helping walkers/bikers safely cross the roads. The only part of the park that was very difficult for our youngest biker to navigate was the area by the Yosemite Lodge when all of the tour buses were loading. Other than that, biking was lovely and the most scenic way to travel.

5. Take a Tour!
We recommend the Valley Floor Tour, which was an open-air tram tour throughout the Yosemite Valley. Our Tour Guide was also an avid climber, and along with telling us really interesting information about the park, she kept us all spellbound with her rock climbing adventures through Yosemite. We loved it! We did this tour during the busy after lunchtime at the park. The trams are allowed to use special lanes on the roads, so while cars/rv's and buses were stuck in gridlock, we sailed past them in the open tram. It was really relaxing, educational, and allowed our usual drivers to relax and look around at the scenery.
Views from our Tram Tour
This is one of our favorite overlook spots. We were VERY thankful to have our tram drivers navigate this insanely crowded parking lot this time!
If you buy your tour tickets ahead of time, online, you will get a considerable discount. Also, if you want the "family package discount" you will have to call, instead of ordering online. It is a great deal though, so well worth a quick phone call. Special note: Even with your email confirmation, you still need to take this inside the lodge to get your tickets in person on the date of the tour. We saw several unfortunate tourists lose their spots because they didn't realize this. Don't forget to check in at the kiosk. 

Every time we leave Yosemite, my heart is full, my mind is clear, and I have new memories of one of the most beautiful landscapes I've ever seen. Please don't let the threat of crowds make you miss out on such an amazing place. With some strategic tips, you can feel like the park is all your own! Happy Travels. 


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