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Yosemite's Best Day Hikes That Avoid the Summer Crowds

For all the beauty of Yosemite Valley, the summer crowds can make it nearly insufferable at times. But some glorious escapes await the avid, well-conditioned hiker. In general, the farther that you're willing to hike, the less populated the park becomes. In some cases, you may find yourself almost alone on some of Yosemite's most scenic perches, like I did just a week ago in the middle of summer.  

Here are 3 suggestions for epic, uncrowded day hikes in Yosemite National Park.
Clouds Rest summit view, Yosemite
Hike #1: Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest to Yosemite Valley

Forget about Half Dome in the summer—the new permitting policy makes it a challenge to get access and it still feels crowded. Nearby Clouds Rest offers stunning 360-degree views (see photo, above) of Yosemite and includes a view over the top of Half Dome. You may even find yourself alone on top of the world as my small group recently did.

The Route: Start at Tenaya Lake (8150') and take the Forsyth Trail to Clouds Rest (9926'), 7.4 miles. Hang out at the spectacular summit, then head down to the Half Dome Junction and the John Muir Trail (JMT). Follow the JMT back down to Yosemite Valley and take the free shuttle back to the Yosemite Lodge. Total distance is 15.6 miles, and it's mostly downhill from Clouds Rest to the valley floor.

The trick to making this a one-way hike is to catch the shuttle to Tenaya Lake. From Yosemite Valley, you have 2 options. The Tuolumne Meadows "Tour and Hikers" bus  leaves from Yosemite Lodge at 8:20am and arrives at Tenaya Lake at 10:10am. Cost is $14.50; purchase tickets at the Yosemite Lodge tour desk. Parking is available behind the Yosemite Lodge. YARTS (Yosemite Area Rapid Transit System) also runs a shuttle from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows. The bus does not officially stop at Tenaya Lake, but you can request a stop at the trailhead.

Four Mile Trail, Yosemite, trailheadHike #2: Four Mile Trail-Panorama Trail Loop
This may well be the "Grand Hiking Tour" of Yosemite, because you start with views of El Capitan and follow trails high above the crowds to look at Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Illilouette Falls, Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls. If you finish in the late afternoon, you may even be able to hike down the famed Mist Trail without it feeling like a line at Disneyland.

This hike is one of the best options if you are driving into Yosemite Valley for the day. The Four Mile Trail trailhead usually has plenty of parking nearby, since most people drive past it. The hike is a challenging 2500' climb, but the stunning views are worth the effort; they just keep getting better as you get higher.

The Route: Park near the Four Mile Trail trailhead and begin your climb to Glacier Point. (The distance is actually 4.6 miles). Grab a well-deserved ice cream or cold drink at busy Glacier Point, then walk over to the Panorama trailhead. The Panorama Trail first takes you to a beautiful viewpoint for Illilouette Falls, so don't miss this little turnout on the trail. Continue across the bridge over the river, head back up for a while until you eventually climb down to the top of Nevada Falls. From here you head down the John Muir Trail or the Mist Trail along Vernal Falls, and back to the valley floor. You can catch a free shuttle back to your car at the trailhead.  Total distance is 12.6 miles.

Hike #3: Upper Yosemite Falls Trail to El Capitan
Another alternative to Half Dome is an out-and-back hike to the top of El Capitan via the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. This far less-travelled route offers great views, beautiful rest spots and the distinction of conquering "El Cap!" The trailhead is located almost directly across from the Yosemite Lodge behind Camp 4, making parking easy and offering a great place to return for post-hike refreshments.

The Route: Park or take the free shuttle to Yosemite Lodge. Walk across the street to Camp 4 and the Upper Yosemite Falls trailhead. This hike begins with a challenging 4-mile, 2500' climb to the middle and top of Yosemite Falls. Enjoy the views as you climb. At the top, head over to the view area atop the falls, or linger along the river that feeds the falls to recover from the climb. Head back over to the trail junction and proceed toward Eagle Peak and El Capitan. The short side trail to Eagle Peak on your way out or back is worth the view. Celebrate your summit of El Capitan and then head back the way you came. Round-trip distance is about 15 miles.

For more day hiking details, check out this map and guidebook. For a longer backcountry excursion, consider this Backpacking Yosemite trip by REI Adventures.

What are your favorite Yosemite day hikes?

Photos courtesy of Curt Cragg.

Posted on at 1:19 PM

Tagged: Hiking, Travel, Yosemite and national parks

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I hiked Cloud's Rest with some friends the other day because we couldn't get the permit for Half Dome and it was absolutely amazing! I definitely recommend it! You get a 360 view of the entire valley!!

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Alaska Chris

Last August I did the Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest to Half Dome to Happy Isles hike. It was fantastic. I would tell people not to give up on Half Dome. I was there at 2-4 in the afternoon on a perfect weather August day and there was NO one else on the cables. Otherwise Clouds Rest is indeed incredible. I'll include a link here of my video of the Clouds Rest knife edge ridge:

P.S. Everything I was carrying and wearing on this hike came from REI!


I did Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest and continued on to the valley via Glacier Point over two days/1 night last week. Great hike. The views from Clouds Rest are amazing. This route had a good amount of elevation gain/loss too--would be significantly harder going the opposite way (Leaving the Valley to Clouds Rest and on to Tenaya Lake).


P.S. - I spent an hour on the ridge of Clouds Rest and saw less than 10 people while I was there. I saw plenty of people on the trail, and numbers increased once I reached the John Muir Trail and the area near Half Dome.

Avoid Little Yosemite Valley if you are seeking solitude and wilderness.


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