I'm sure lots of people have favorite spots where they can get away from the crowds---even in some of the busier parts of the Sierra. So I thought I would get the topic started with these notes. They're from our website on destinations...
And now for something really different. Do you want to find a quiet spot away from the crowds?
First of all, take just about any backpacking trip; particularly the ones that avoid the John Muir Trail and/or Half Dome. You'll be amazed at how few people you see. But there are some other, shorter hikes that will do the same thing...and some of them are right in the heart of Yosemite Valley!
Yosemite Meadows: Yep--so many people drive around the valley, and so few get out of their cars! We've had some delightful picnics by just walking out into the center of the meadows (and to protect this fragile ecosystem, please only use the official trails here) and sitting down. It's really almost amusing to see the people standing near their cars, 1/2 a mile away, and yet we have the meadow to ourselves. A very relaxing, easy, and enjoyable way to get away from the crowds. No matter when you are in Yosemite, give yourself the pleasures of these meadows.
And if you are up a more energetic experience, try one or more for the hikes below. They are guaranteed to be beautiful, and you will leave far more than 99% of all the visitors to Yosemite Valley behind once you strike out on your own! But a word of warning--these are not for the faint of heart. And three of them have no official trail. If you get lost or hurt, you may not get rescued. If you don't have a good sense of direction, know how to use a topo map, and are comfortable with Class II and Class III climbing, these are NOT for you.
Snow Creek Falls: Do you want a hike out of Yosemite Valley that has almost no people on it, great views, and some exciting destinations at the end? Snow Creek Falls is the perfect trail--if you don't mind a very steep first few miles up out of the Valley. This trail leaves from the end of the Mirror Lake trail, and heads up the side of Tenaya Canyon opposite Half Dome. The views in the first mile are well worth the effort, as within a couple of hundred yards you are well above the trees, and can see up Tenaya Canyon, across to Half Dome and over to Glacier Point. From then on, it just gets higher and better. It does not get easier.
Those with good eyes (or binoculars) can clearly pick out the long lines of people working their way up the cables on Half Dome.
At the top, you find yourself up above the Valley, with Mt. Watkins a nearby destination, along with North Dome. You can camp along Snow Creek, and from here work your way along any number of trails, including one back down along the rim of the Valley past North Dome to Yosemite Falls. Or you can continue up, and connect with Tioga Road and the destinations beyond.
It's a tough climb. But it's well worth it. 6 miles straight up and straight down.
Tenaya Canyon: OK--we know. This one is NOT RECOMMENDED by the park staff. This is pretty rugged country, and in the spring, when Tenaya Creek is roaring, it might well be suicide. We've never even tried it then. But in September or October, when most of Tenaya Creek is dry, this is a great adventure.
We started at the bridge above Mirror Lake, where the trail crosses Tenaya Creek. You can see a trail on the left side of the creek as you stand on the bridge, looking upstream. That's because once, a long time ago, there was a trail here. Take the remains of that trail...and stay on the left side, no matter what happens. You will find cairns left by rockclimbers, but not enough to mark the trail well. And you will need to use your hands at times to clamber up some of the steeper spots. But once you get up into the canyon, it really is quite beautiful.
This is not a trail. It is not a hike for inexperienced hikers. But the photo above right shows Clouds Rest and the Quarter Domes from the Canyon.
Illilouette Canyon: This one is very similar to Tenaya Canyon, in that the rangers in the park will not recommend it. In fact, we know at least one person who was told that you need ropes and climbing gear to get here. You don't. You need arms and legs, and an indomitable will to plug away uphill through some dense brush and really big boulders. And you need to be smart, not stupid.
There is no trail. You start by the Happy Isles Nature Center, and follow the trail there up past the display about the rock falls, and into Illilouette Canyon. When you get to first bridge across the creek; stop. Don't cross the creek. There should be a huge water tank on your right. Turn right and go past the tank and keep climbing up the canyon, always staying to the right of the creek. There is no trail. It gets steep. It gets brushy and full of massive boulders. But you eventually get up above most of the trees, and at that point you have some great views of the back of Half Dome, and up Merced Canyon above Vernal Falls.
Illilouette Falls themselves are lovely, but that's not the real reason for this hike. The real reason is to get away from everyone in the Valley and see a part of Yosemite that very few people have ever seen.
It's only about three miles round trip, but we recommend at least three hours to make this scramble/trip. And be careful. There is plenty of evidence of bears in this area...and if you get hurt up here, it will be reallly hard to get you out of here. Be safe.
Ribbon Falls: Speaking of getting away from it all...there are people who rock climb all over Yosemite Valley, and they don't see many people at all! This "trail" is a use trail that was created by some of those climbers on their way to climb the Golden Wall--a section of granite just west of El Capitan. They've left a ducked route that you can follow, if you pay a lot of attention, and it goes just about straight up. This is a very steep trail, as these guys don't believe in switchbacks. They just go straight up the side of the canyon, and so do you if you follow them!
But it's easy to get started. As you drive west past El Capitan, look for road V9 that goes up off to the right. Sometimes you can drive up this--other times it might be closed. Either way, it's not far to the "trailhead." The road switchbacks twice, and just as you complete the second one (near a large woodpile) and head off on a long straight section going West, look for a small cairn on the righthand side of the road. That's it.
(By the way, this road is the old road into Yosemite from Big Oak Flat--and it does run for quite a while to the West of here. You won't meet many people on it, and if you work your way through the slides, it will take you all the way out to the new road into the park, many miles to the West. Another chance for a quiet hike in Yosemite Valley.)
From the cairn, follow the trail as it goes straight up to the base of the cliffs, and you will have climbed up about 1400 feet in about a mile. That's STEEP. It took us more than an hour to climb that mile. Good thing those cairns were sometimes hard to spot---because that gave us a chance to rest and look for them.
But once you get to the cliff, you can bushwhack your way to the right towards the creek...around the first huge boulder, then through the Califonria Bay trees. That will take you over to the foot of Ribbon Falls. It's only a hundred yards or so...and then you are out on a rocky slope underneath these towering cliffs, with a waterfall on one side. and the Valley and Cathedral Rocks all in clear view. Yowza!
Coming down is a LOT easier--but take your time. If you get hurt up here, it's no joke.
SOrry about the photos.