There's a reason that a man named John Muir fought so hard to protect the land of Yosemite Valley. If you've been there already, you know perfectly well why. If you're preparing to visit the famous National Park for the first time, you're about to find out why! In plain terms, it's breathtaking. It's jaw dropping. It's unlike any place you could imagine. More wild and more radiant than any place you could go to in a dream. Even if that all sounds cliche to say, it's all true. The first glance of the massive granite cliffs and thousand foot waterfalls will make your whole car fall silent in awe.
Yosemite is a pristine landscape of unfathomable beauty, and trust me when I say that no photograph has ever been able to replace the experience of being there for yourself.
Again, if you've been there before, you know exactly the feeling that I'm talking about. If you're getting ready to visit for the first time, prepare yourself.
With that said...Yosemite has become an increasingly popular park. A whopping 4 million visitors come here each year to take a drink of Yosemite's wild air. So don't expect your own little private getaway. There's going to be traffic and there's going to be crowds. Hang on though! Don't get discouraged. Yosemite is massive! There are hundreds of miles of trails and you'll be happy to know that most of those visitors stick to the 7 square miles of Yosemite Valley where all the shops and road pull offs are.
Don't let that stop you from seeing the valley though. It's going to be crowded, but definitely take a second to frolic through a meadow or something, it's worth the frustration of the crowds.
BUT if you're like me, and want a more secluded and intimate experience with Yosemite, consider prioritizing some of these days hikes. They require a little work, all good things do! But if you do any of these lesser known day hikes, you're guaranteed to get some stellar, unique views of Yosemite Valley that not many visitors get to see.
1. North Dome
North Dome is at the top of this list for a reason, because if you can only do one of the hikes on this list, let it be this one. This 9 mile out and back trail starts at the Porcupine Creek trailhead on Tioga Road. You'll hike a ways through lush ponderosa pines and get to an outstanding dizzying panoramic view of Yosemite Valley with the front side of Half Dome taking center stage. The trail will take you right onto the massive North Dome where you could enjoy a lunch break and just marvel at the impressive features of Yosemite from a unique, and rare vantage point.
I have personally done this hike, and I highly recommend it to all! Now, it IS a hike, so it's not quite going to be a frolic through a meadow. Expect some manageable uphill portions, but the trail is generally flat and easy. Even if you do hike it and while you're on the trail thinking, "Man, that Curtis guy from Save America Prints totally mislead me, this trail isn't flat at all, what a jerk! I'll have to send him an angry email" You'll forget about it as soon as you see what North Dome has in store for you.
Photo Courtesy of Jordan Briski
2. Chilnualna Falls
Even less of a frolic, is Chilnualna Falls. South of the bustle of Yosemite Valley, in the lesser known Wawona region of Yosemite is this 7.9 mile out and back trail that packs over a 2,000 climb in elevation.
But as I always say, if you're doing that much uphill, there's gotta be something good at the top right? It's true! Chilnualna Falls is a private little oasis, with another rare vista of the park's features. The bottom of the waterfall even has a swimming hole that you're more than likely to have all to yourself. Go see for yourself!
Photo Courtesy of Alexander Rice
3. Yosemite Creek Trail
Ok, there's nothing really too hidden about this hike, it's a popular one to do, but you'll still find some pockets of the trail all to yourself, and you'll quickly learn why it's a favorite in the park.
The end of this trail rewards you with some extreme views of Yosemite Valley from the very top of Yosemite Falls! You can marvel at the 2,425 foot waterfall from the drop off point and get dizzy peering over the edge of the vertical cliffside. Just don't peer too far.
Located on Tioga Road again, this 12 mile out and back trail will start at the Lukens Lake Trailhead. However, you can also skip that route and combine this hike with your North Dome hike and get a 2 for 1 special. Just watch for the signs and you could easily catch both North Dome and Yosemite Falls in the same day.