Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Beat the Crowds at Yosemite This Year

Want to visit Yosemite National Park, but you feel overwhelmed by the masses of fellow tourists? Good news! There are tips and tricks to help you beat the crowds and explore further into some of the less popular, and often more amazing sights, trails, and attractions. Here you go, solace seeker. Enjoy!

Avoid weekends, particularly beyond the summer months. Nearly half of last year's 4 million park visitors arrived during June, July and August. And year-round, many of those visitors are "weekend warriors" from such key markets as San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. By coming midweek, you'll also increase your chances of landing a lodging reservation: while most rooms are booked a year and a day in advance (when they first become available), about 30% are booked within one month of arrival because of cancellations.

Get out of Yosemite Valley. About 95% of park visitors head straight for Muir's "incomparable valley," with good reason. But many would argue that the best of Yosemite lies beyond — in such places as Hetch Hetchy, the Mariposa grove of giant sequoias, and Tioga Road. Only open in summer (this year, thanks to prodigious snowfall, it probably won't be till mid or late June), it leads to the park's vast high country and some of its finest hiking.

Be an early riser... Since Yosemite Valley faces west, notes Phil Hawkins of Yosemite Landscape Photography Workshops, most shutterbugs congregate here in late afternoon and early evening. That, coupled with the fact that vacationers tend to sleep in, means that "if you get out there by 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., you're guaranteed to beat the crush," even on such high-traffic trails as Lower Yosemite Falls.

...or a night owl. After a long day of exploring, most visitors head to bed. But, notes guidebook author and photographer James Kaiser, Yosemite is located in a remote, high altitude area free of light and air pollution, and local astronomy clubs offer occasional free programs at Glacier Point.

Take the right hike. The park's marquee hiking routes, such as the aptly named Mist Trail that leads to Vernal and Nevada falls, are rarely uncrowded. But the 13-mile former bridle path known as the Valley Floor Loop Trail takes you past Yosemite Falls, the base of El Capitan, and Bridalveil Fall— and often, "you'll be all alone," says ranger Scott Gediman.

Pack a picnic lunch. Pick up a sandwich at Degnan's Deli (the best sandwich shop in Yosemite Valley) or assemble your own picnic at the Yosemite Village grocery store. Best of all, says Kaiser, "you can enjoy it at a beautiful viewpoint while everyone else is waiting in line." Washburn Point offers views of Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and the snow-capped peaks of the High Sierra— with a fraction of the crowds at nearby Glacier Point.

Slow down. "Yosemite is not just another stop between Disneyland and Las Vegas," says Ron Kauk, a rock climber who has been exploring the park for more than 30 years. "Drive slowly, walk softly and take the time to find a place to sit by the river and forget the clock for a while."

Happy Trails!

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