Hikes / Trails, Yosemite National Park
Not exactly off the beaten path, but you can avoid climbing half dome of you are hiking south along the John Muir trail. You can go right around it, or take to the face and climb to the top within the hour. It is very steep, but there is protection built into the rock by the park service.
Cathedral Peak, Waterwheel Falls, etc. These are great places to be for sure, but unfortunately even in the back country, crowds of tourist congregate. Take the trail head toward Dog Lake, and continue on up to the Young Lakes for a diversion. This is a vigorous hike, so keep a light load and start early. However, if you can skip the first two lakes, you'll find at the highest altitude the third Young Lake. Surrounded by granite peaks and glaciers, the water is ice cold and tourqouise in color. Wildlife can be found here.
In addition to scores of douglas firs and granite walls, Yosemite Valley also has large flat meadows such as this one. Although you cannot walk through them because it will damage the area, trails lead alongside the meadows and take you even closer to the mountains and the occasional small bodies of water that have not completely dried up during the semi arid summer months.
There are so many beautiful areas to walk and hike in Yosemite. Stop at a meadow and walk along the trails within and around it. Doubtless, if you calm your mind and let go the pressures of civilization, you'll open your eyes to the wildlife.
And hopefull you'll see the snakes before they see you.
The area around Tuolumne Meadows is a climbers' paradise full of polished domes, needle-like summits and alpine peaks. And probably the most beautiful and striking peak in that area is Cathedral Peak (some say it is the most beautiful peak in Yosemite, possibly in the entire Sierra Nevada range). The peak is made up of two spires sculpted by ancient glaciers; the western one is called Eichorn Pinnacle. John Muir made the first ascent of Cathedral Peak in 1869 and since then many climbers have followed in his footsteps. The peak has an elevation of 10911 feet (3326 m). The most popular climbing route on Cathedral Peak is the Southeast Buttress route, with a maximum difficulty of class 5.6, however, there is an easier class 4 route which ascends its northwest side, nicknamed "Mountaineer's Route".
A moderate hike of approximately 7 miles round trip, the Cathedral Lakes trail is one of the most popular of Yosemite's high country destinations. The trail begins in Tuolumne Meadows, along Tioga Road. It starts out climbing, then it levels off. This hike is very beautiful, most of it going though the green forest and at times crossing small meadows and streams. We got to see a family of marmots (we were to see many of them while hiking Mount Hoffman the next day). The Lower Cathedral Lake is located at an elevation of 9288 feet while the Upper Lake is found at about half mile past the Lower Lake at an elevation of 9585 feet. Pack a lunch and something refreshing to drink and once you get there pick one of the two pretty lakes and enjoy basking in the sun and looking at John Muir's favourite mountain, Cathedral Peak.
Fit? Keen walker? Want to taste some of Yosemite’s more demanding hiking? Fed up of tripping over chubby, loud sweaty tourists? Short on time? Then I definitely recommend doing the Nevada Falls day-hike out from the Happy Isles campground in Yosemite Valley. Granted for the first half of the hike up to Vernal Falls you will be tripping over said loud-tourists, but observe how after resting at Vernal and continuing up on to Nevada how you loose about 95% of the hoards! You’re left on the trail with the keen hikers, people who seem genuinely happy to be here and drinking all of the place in rather than just getting their photographs and heading back down to the home comforts. When you’ve made it to Vernal, a great option is to head back down via a part of the famous John Muir Trail. It’s about a five-hour, 6.5-mile (10.5km) hike, and you’ll definitely be able to gauge your fitness on the final punishing switchbacks up to Nevada. Allow more than the five-hours, because believe you me you will want to hang around and experience some truly staggering views.
Not exactly off the beaten path, but the majority of visitor won't end up here.
Starting at the Happy Isles Nature Reserve, a trail leads up to the start of the Mist Trail, taking you to the bottom of Vernal Falls - which is as far as most people go.
However, if you don't take the turning off to the Mist Trail by it's gates, and continue up, you will eventually reach John Muir point, with views of both Nevada and Vernal Falls below. You can then walk down to the Vernal Falls.
I took the trail in February, and there was only one other person on the trail, plus two trail maintainers ascending to inspect a recent avalanche. Definatly the best time to be here, as the trail was thick with snow and very technical at times.
Park at the Bridalveil Fall parking lot and walk about a third of a mile west on the road. Look for a clear area along the south side of the road. This is the old Wawona carriage road. Built in 1875, this road allowed the first visitors access to Yosemite Valley by carriage and automobile in its early days. This road was closed when the current road was built in 1933. Hike up this road for an adventure into history. It's a long steep uphill climb but you'll enjoy perfect solitude as you hike through Yosemite's forests and think about how this trip must of been in the 1900s when it took over 4 days to reach Yosemite from the nearest city. Eventually after a long climb you will reach Inspiration Point where the road rounds a bend. This was the place where early visitors to the park got their first peak at Yosemite Valley. Unfortunately, trees now obstruct this formerly amazing view. From here, the road becomes hard to follow and dangerous. I can't really tell you with good conscience to continue on. I'd hate for something to happen to you. But if you really feel adventurous (and have a good topographical map) go for it! Note however that this road is not an official trail and is not marked on any map that I know of. If you find on that has it, let me know please! To get to Inspiration Point on an official trail, see my tip on Pohono Trail.
This is a long and somewhat strenuous hike with the first 5+ miles being all uphill. But the views and solitude are worth it! Just make sure to plan ahead and take plenty of water. Start the hike at the Tunnel View parking lot. Look for a signed trailhead just east of the tunnel on the south side of the road. A big sign tells distances to several viewpoints along the route. If you want a long dayhike or overnight hike, you can hike all the way to Glacier Point on this trail. The hike to Dewey Point and back is just under 11 miles. After a bit of a climb and several switchbacks you cross the old Wawona carriage road. This is the road originally used to access the Valley in the parks younger days. The road was closed when the current day Wawona Road was opened in 1933. The old road joins the new one a little over a mile and a half east of this point and about a third of a mile west of the Bridalview Fall parking lot. Continuing on uphill, you eventually meet up with the old Wawona Road again, this time at Inspiration Point. This is where early travelers got their first views of Yosemite Valley. Today the view is mostly obstructed by trees. Eventually, after a long grueling climb we are rewarded with Old Inspiration Point. This is the point where the Mariposa Battalion first laid its eyes on the valley. The next portion of the trail isn't as steep and you soon reach Stanford Point, the first impressive view down into the west end of Yosemite Valley. Climbing 400 feet in a half mile beyond Stanford Point you reach Crocker Point. From this cliff edge, you can see all the way to the Seirra Crest on the eastern flanks of the park. From here, it's just another 2/3 of a mile to Dewey Point. Some think Crocker Point provides a much more stunning view. You can decide for yourself. From here you can continue on to Bridalvail Creek Campground 5 miles away or continue 11 more miles to Glacier Point. Otherwise, return downhill the way you came to Tunnel View.
El Capitan, an ultimate challenge for world's best climbers. This rock goes up vertically for an amazing distance. Average alpinists take appr. a week to climb to the top and sleep vertically, hanging in their sleepingbacks. From the valley, looking up, we could vagely destinguish several mountaineers as flies on a huge wall. Our guide made jokes about seeing the colour of their backpacks, jackets, trousers, helmet and ... the fact that they were wearing certain brands watches (good eyes?).
The hike to Mirror Lake can be very crowded during the day if you take the route suggested by most tour books and rangers. I prefer a small trail that starts across the parking lot from the Ahwahnee! There is a sign that points one way to Yosemite Village and the other to Mirror Lake. This trail winds its way through boulders that have fallen from the cliffs above and also takes you close to the Royal Arches cascade through which you will have to walk across in the spring so wear waterproof shoes.
This photo was taken along the short trail to Bridal Veil Falls. These darker grey rocks appear at the base of the falls. They are fun to climb over, but very slippery. Its easy to lose your footing.
Looking at it from this view, its amazing that people can just walk up to the top. But about 1,000 of them do just that every year.