Yosemite is massive
The overwhelming majority of the people will be clustered in a few choice vistas, and all the traffic will be associated with getting into and out of the Valley. Given what we’ve heard from people who go in the summer, and especially on weekends, it’s strongly preferable to go in the spring or fall and during the week if possible.
Stay at Rush Creek Lodge
We’ve stayed twice at Rush Creek Lodge and we absolutely love it.
Vibe: Just a couple years old. Really nice without being fancy. Family-friendly. Focus is squarely on people and the outdoors (no TVs in the rooms).
Amenities: A restaurant and a pub; heated saltwater pool and two hot tubs, which is key post-hike with a beer; commissary that sells tons of snacks, sandwiches, etc. to load up each morning
Location: Really convenient; a mile from the western entrance to the park, ~30m to Hetch Hetchy, ~60m to the valley, ~75m to Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point
The same company also operates Evergreen, which is ~10m away and looks nice, though older.
There are, of course, tons of camping options in the park if that’s your scene, and one grand old-fashioned hotel that is classic but expensive and often booked.
We’ve done a handful of hikes in the park, so I’ll only speak to what we know. In priority order — favorites come first.
Sentinel Dome, Glacier Point, and Taft Point
The most consistently epic Yosemite views of any hike I’ve done. Moderate difficulty, 8 miles round trip, mostly looped (so you don’t do the same trail twice), and though the vista at Glacier Point will be mobbed, almost everywhere else is dead quiet. AllTrails info here, and a few more photos below.
This is a hard hike, no doubt about it. But it’s also a hike you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
The trek’s an up-and-back route that starts at Tenaya Lake and climbs for the first 7+ miles. If you’re game for a hard day, do this one. And if you’re feeling extra brave, jump in Tenaya Lake at the end to (really) cool off.
You emerge from the tree line into the final approach. The last half mile takes you up and over a granite crest that, at its narrowest, is only about ten feet wide, with thousands of feet of granite falloff in either direction. Most of our group, myself included, was ready to turn back when faced with this last stretch until a woman hiked past in the other direction and gave us the kick in the butt we needed. I’m so glad she did.
The payoff is unmatched. The path widens again to a flat terrace that looks down onto Half Dome and the valley from the northwest. Hawks are circling overhead. Most of the people who’ve made it are staring into the distance in awe.
It goes without saying it’s worth doing a lap of the valley, even if it means sitting in traffic. It’s hard to appreciate the scale until you’re there.
Vernal and Nevada Falls
Tiring vertical scrambling, but with two amazing waterfalls. AllTrails link here.
A short hike that starts with brief but intense climb at elevation — the climb begins at 10,000 feet. The payoff is trails that navigate sparse, isolated lakes and alpine fields. AllTrails link here.
Wapama Falls /
Convenient to the western entrances to the park, oriented around a huge dammed lake. A flat, out-and-back route. It makes for dramatic photos, but honestly is somewhat forgettable. AllTrails link here.