So there tends to be an itinerary in every summer visitor’s mind of what to see on their Yosemite vacation: A waterfalls, an elevated view of Yosemite Valley & a sequoia grove. This is, in fact, what we would recommend to any guest staying for 2-3 days. However, you might find such an itinerary reduced to this: Walking up to Lower Yosemite Falls (or Vernal Falls if you are adventurous), driving to Glacier Point for a scary look over the cliff, and walking through the Lower Mariposa Sequoia Grove to the Grizzly Giant and back.
We would like to believe our average guest may be somewhere between this description and a recreational rock climber. And though you may wish to climb up the cable to Half Dome once or twice in your lifetime, really you are looking to avoid the tidbits in summer every other chicken in the yard is crowding in on. Well read on then.
Yosemite’s High Sierra. TaDa!
There’s one day, at least, in your trip to enjoy in the rarefied air of the high country. You may encounter many hikers, but it is joyous. You come to say hello, or, er, chat, with another soul enjoying the sun and 12000′ mountain tops in your view. You are all here to be the 11% of park visitors who make it our of Yosemite Valley or off the road.
Let’s talk about he the Tioga Pass Road. Sure, it is two and a half hours over the Sierras, plus a bit more from the Bug. But you have made a wise and fulfilling choice. This road is closed up to 6 months of the year. You can stop and do the Tuolumne Grove near Crane Flat. A mile in and a mile out on the old road surrounded by 300 year old Sugar Pines to the Grove. There’s Olmstead Point & Tenaya Lake. My first sighting of a cute little Pika was in the scree below the viewpoint looking down on the lee side of Half Dome. You should take the little hike out to the real viewpoint. Note, at the other end of the carpark is a great view of Tenaya Lake & Piwiak Dome, my favorite in the Park.
Tenaya Lake. Hmmm. How many times have I asked myself to bring a sea kayak and paddle out onto that for hours to soak in various aspects of the view. On one occasion I have ice skated out and around, and it isn’t the same as from a car on the road. Eat lunch on his shores if a casual traveller. The walk about the lake is fantastic as is the Sunrise Lake Trailhead which is a starting point for Cloud’s Rest, my superior & easier replacement for Half Dome’s hike. Take the kids and lay upon the sunny beach at the far end while they romp and play in the water (just take your suncream since you will get more UV up here). The low angle granite rising from the lake can make a good future mountaineer of anyone well prepared.
Further up into Toulumne Meadows you have quite a few options. Take the time and plan this hike as your one hike of the day: Lembert Dome. Park at its feet and take the 2-3 hours left up and around. Take the short spur to Dog Lake for a refresh. Once on top you will see what Lembert does for Tuolumne Meadows: An elevated view of the High Sierra over a huge alpine meadow with the Tuolumne River running through it. Can’t be explained. Don’t leave your pack to far away in your reverie since you may find a marmot has found it and taken all of your lunch. Walking down and crossing the road a bit follow the meadow back and see Belding Ground Squirrels popping up to take a look at you. We love to mimic their bark to have them stay a few moments longer up on their hind legs.
There is Cathedral Lakes hikes if you have more time. Cathedral Peak will change faces for you on your journey. There are multiple Park views from points above & around the lakes worthy finding. You can go a bit further for views of Tresidder Peak and sit upon Columbia Finger for an inspiring rest above the world. Glen Aulin is a High Sierra Camp below White Cascades. It is a long hike but you have no need to complete it, you can turn around along the meadow at any time or you can make prior arrangements to stay there. Most of the elevation loss on this trail is near the end. Stop at Soda Springs and Parson’s Lodge on the way for a bit of history from the darks ages before the Park Service! Everyone should plan a 3-4 day backpacking trip further down the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne for one of the best backcountry hikes in the US in my estimation. Think a longer narrow Yosemite Valley all to yourself.
Mono Pass trail is the ancient Paiute trading trail with a view of all points east including Mono Lake with a small alpine lake at the top. Lyell Canyon heads in the direction of Devils Postpile near Mammoth as a backcountry hike, but I love the perfect glacier valley shape, the wildlife & the peace of the canyon itself. Perfect place to stare up into the clouds for hours (if there are any). There’s close by Elizabeth Lake and Gaylor Lakes from Tioga Pass.
We can talk all day about the steep East Side of the Sierras. It’s towns, hot springs, historical sites, ghost towns, canyons and bristlecone forests. If you are going to Tahoe, Vegas or LA, do NOT miss the summer opportunity to circle around the east side around after Yosemite. You will be happy.
We can still finish with the alternative options for falls, elevated views of Yosemite Valley & sequoia groves. So here it is: Vernal Falls runs all year, so take the Mist Trail up, and/or down with the John Muir to lunch up on top of the falls. You can go further for the just-as-beautiful Nevada Falls. Sentinel Dome is a nice one mile in and one mile out cheat for avoiding Glacier Point. It is spectacular for sunset and a bottle of wine. And lastly, yes, go the extra mile for the upper Mariposa Grove with to be surrounded by the giants and on to Wawona Point.
OR, take the easy similar walk down to the quiet Merced Grove, with its log cabin you will want to spend the rest of the year in. Maybe the rest of your life like me.