If you’re up for something a little more adventurous, I recommend this 3-day backpacking trip that lets you see some of Yosemite’s most famous assets from completely different views and on paths that are much less-trodden than the typical approach.
Reasons to go:
- You get the chance to approach and climb half dome from the backcountry, without having to be around tons of day-trippers
- You get to look down on half-dome: the route takes you over Clouds Rest, which is 1,000 feet ABOVE half-dome. You can imagine the longer view of the valley from up there is breath-taking.
- It’s waycheaper than hotels, and is way easier to get hiking permits than to get curry village reservations.
Start from one of the trailheads on Tioga pass near Tenaya Lake. Take the trail up to clouds rest. Descend down the other side where you’ll reach an “out and back” to climb half dome if you want. You can return via an easier parallel trail that doesn’t take you back the same way you came (and hence don’t have to climb clouds rest twice).
Go to REI if you haven’t done something like this before and they’ll help you get geared up. (REI has regular “garage sales” of returned items for really good prices.)
Other great places:
Tuolumne Meadows – gorgeous area away from the more packed valley. Route 120 is an amazing drive to get you there, with views along the way of half-dome, and clouds rest peaking their way through the distance.
Glacier Point – you can either hike or drive there, and is one of the most famous views of the valley from the south rim.
Upper Yosemite Falls – a great day hike that you takes you up one of the more famous waterfalls
Bonus tips re food:
One of my favourite parts about backpacking is the first meal afterwards. If you’re driving west, be sure to stop in Groveland for Two Guys Pizza. If you’re driving east, there’s an interesting little gem where Route 120 meets Mono Lake. The gas station right there has a taco bar with amazing food (get the fish tacos). I know someone who had their rehearsal dinner at the gas station.
Well....That completely depends on what you want to do, budget, time, interests.
However for me it would be as follows:
Budget - $1000 (Most of it spent Saturday night)
Time - Weekend (Afterwork till Sunday night)
Interests - Big Hike one day, pampered the next
Friday late afternoon
----Get up to Yosemite and have a camp site in Upper Pines. I'd get one towards the back so that I didn't have neighbors nor was I near the bathroom. Have a good ole BBQ with some friends and have the standard campfire jolly time. Burgers, smores, the works. Have a few beers and kick back
----Get up pretty early (depending on your hike) and head out for the day. There are countless things to do (on and off trail) after you leave the busy valley and away from Half Dome. I suggest Clouds Rest or Mount Clark (if you dare).
----Get lost...but, just long enough to wonder where you are and contemplate what a search party for you would look like. Did I leave enough clues? Then realize you have the sun as a general compass and can find the trail.
----Find an arrowhead. I've read posts before of hikers running into these that were left by the natives who lived there before. I doubt I will ever find one (but you said perfect)
----Get to the peak of whatever mountain your climbing and pull out a pb and j from your pack. Kinda smooshed from hiking but I mean what do you expect. From the top you look how far you've climbing and where the valley floor is and reflect on the journey it took to get there.
----Start heading down and you can tell you're already sore but after a mile or two your legs are back in action.
Saturday Evening (5pm)
----Get back from the hike and check into the Ahwahnee Hotel. Wash up and head to one of their expensive dinners. Eat as much as a Thanksgiving dinner and then head to their bar for a cocktail...or two. Hear a couple "back in the day" stories from the old experts and have a good laugh. Like earlier in the day, hike up the stairs to your room, and climb into bed. Big huge king size bed and think about the day.
----Wake up sore and slightly hung over, but not enough to miss the wine tasting. Have a few glasses of wine while looking at Half Dome. Take my bike out for a little spin around the valley and check out the beautiful yellow and brown sunlight coming through the leaves.
----Decide its time to get back to real life and head out. No traffic. Before I get on the main roads however I'll stop at Priest Station Cafe and grab a quick bite to eat and have a coffee for the ride home back to the bay.
Well, I used to live there. Ask me my zip code.
I'd want to visit some part of the Park that I've not been in and go climbing. What would make it perfect it would be to travel with good friends of diverse backgrounds who weren't doing things I was doing. I'd have at least one good friend who was a competent belayer with whom i'd swing leads. Other friends could go fishing and catch lots of fish which those of us when went climbing could eat. In the past other friends baked. Still others would play harmonica in the evenings around a camp fire (this part has to be under the timber line because wood is scarce in many areas above certain elevations). These friends were knowledgeable about the geology, hydrology, and glaciology of the Park, and yes, can't forget the botanists. Or we might go skiing around the Park in various areas.Then come out and get a nice meal on the way home.
Excellent suggestions so far, but I will say that a perfect trip to Yosemite has a lot more to do with what you bring with you rather than what you find here. The main thing to bring is an open attitude, a free spirit and a willingness to relax and enjoy.
So with all that preamble, I will say that assuming that you're visiting in the summer, there are a few things you can't miss. They're all crowded, yes, because they are iconic and amazing and not to be missed.
The original small park was created to save two things: Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. You must see both. Do as much walking in both places as your fitness level allows. If you really just can't walk at all, both can be toured in open air trams.
Glacier Point is wheelchair accessible. Go there
The larger park we know now was created to preserve the high country. Go there.
What to do there? Hike Half Dome? Eat at the Ahwahnee hotel?
I actually believe it doesn't matter where you go. Just get out and walk if you possibly can. It doesn't matter how far or how fast as long as you get out and breathe and look and smell and feel and taste. Just be in Yosemite and be open to the experience.
I see more and more people who come to Yosemite with a tick-list mentality and they don't want to do anything they can't Facebook about. If there's no Half Dome permit available, they simply won't hike at all rather than hike something similarly hard and scenic, but which their Facebook friends have never heard of.
I used to snub my nose at the Valley Loop Trail. It remains on the Valley Floor and never gets far from the road. Why bother? That's what I always thought anyway, but I had a ranger colleague who insisted on recommending it to unsuspecting tourists. So one day I had a "rove" day for my entire days' duty (a very rare event) and decided to just walk the whole thing. Before I even got out of developed areas, I picked up a tourist from Singapore who decided to walk with me. I ended up giving him an 8-hour nature walk around the entire valley, sometimes gathering a couple of additional walkers and then losing them. I ended up staying out past my scheduled duty time just truly enjoying taking in the valley and sharing it with a first-time visitor. It was one of my all-time best experiences in Yosemite (and yes, I've climbed Half Dome and done so by few different routes and I've climbed El Cap, but my day spent never getting more than a short ways from the road walking the valley with a first-time visitor is a dearer memory to me than that of hiking Half Dome for the first time).
And that's the best advice I can give for a perfect trip. Make the time and space to immerse yourself in nature and do so. It works as a plan no matter what your fitness level, budget, season and time.
To really get a feel for the geology of Yosemite Vally and to avoid the throngs of people you must experience Yosemite and its environs in the wild, without using hotels.
The best Yosemite trip I ever took began in Hoover Wilderness outside of Bridgeport in the Eastern Sierra.
We free climbed Matterhorn Peak. We followed melting water down to Tuolome and then followed the trail down Yosemite Valley.
I still remember being filled with awe at the view of Tuolome Meadow and then Yosemite Valley as the sun lengthened shadows over rugged rock outcroppings.
If you can stay as high as you can above the timberline you will be as close to heaven in the Sierras as humanly possible.