Summer vacation fun in Yosemite is not a secret. This busy season accommodates families, students, international travelers and casual daytrippers with warm sunny weather, activities for all ages such as hiking and biking, and access to Yosemite’s backcountry for backpacking under the stars. Sharing Yosemite with so many people may seem inevitable, but visitors can still find places to call their own with unique experiences that are worthy of an Instagram or two. Unless, of course, you want to keep it all to yourself!
1. Hike in Wawona. Yosemite Valley’s iconic trails are crowded for a reason. In Wawona, you can experience the same Sierra Nevada landscape with less company at a more leisurely pace. The Chilnualna Falls Trail and the Swinging Bridge Trail put visitors face-to-face with Yosemite’s magnificent waterworks in the form of waterfalls and the south fork of the Merced River. One of Wawona’s best kept secrets? The Swinging Bridge is perched above one of Yosemite’s coolest summer swimming holes. After a day in the sun, have dinner on the lawn of the Wawona Hotel during the Saturday BBQ.
2. Swim laps in the pool at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. Then have an ice cream cone. River swimming isn’t for everyone, and parents may feel more comfortable swimming with small children in a pool environment. One of the best kept secrets at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls? The Cone Stand located at the entrance to the pool provides old-fashioned summer fun with ice cream cones for extra cooling after a dip. And the pool really is limited to lap swimming only at the beginning and end of each day.
3. Stargaze at Glacier Point. No doubt about it, Glacier Point is one of the most popular sights in Yosemite and on a summer day it may feel like every single visitor in the park has congregated there to goggle at Yosemite Valley 3000 feet below. But what is magnificent during the day is just as striking – and much less crowded – at night. Watching the sun set from Glacier Point is truly wonderful, but just wait until night falls and Yosemite’s night sky fills with millions of stars. Star Parties are hosted on select summer weekends with regional astronomy clubs where park visitors are welcome to take a look through club telescopes after dark. Yosemite Valley lodging guests will enjoy catching the Stargazing Tour – a bus tour that departs and returns to Yosemite Lodge at the Falls after a stargazing program at Glacier Point.
4. Check last minute availability at the High Sierra Camps. If you are a spontaneous traveler with a yearning to experience the High Sierra, last minute availability at Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps may be just the lodging for you. Open for a short summer season, the first reservations are acquired by entering a lottery in November the year prior. Once the lottery dates have been awarded over the winter, any leftover dates are posted on yosemitepark.com in spring. The available dates are often sporadic, but they do exist. If you can throw your backpack in the car for a last-minute hiking trip, you may be in for the experience of a lifetime.
5. Visit the Merced and Tuolumne Groves of Giant Sequoias. Yosemite is home to three groves of Giant Sequoias, though Mariposa Grove is by far the most famous. Due to the restoration of the Mariposa Grove in 2015 and 2016, these giants may not be accessible at this location. Luckily, both the Merced Grove and Tuolumne Grove require only a moderate 2 mile round-trip hike to view Giant Sequoias – which are found only in California’s Sierra Nevada. Both groves are located near the Crane Flat junction of CA 120 in Yosemite.
6. Order a sandwich at Degnan’s Deli in the AM and hike to the El Capitan picnic area. The made-to-order sandwiches at Degnan’s Deli in Yosemite Village are deservedly popular at lunchtime, but did you know that sandwiches are made at Degnan’s all day long? Arrive in the morning and order your sandwich wrapped to go for a day hike to the west end of Yosemite Valley following the Valley Loop trail. Sights along this route that follows the flat terrain of Yosemite Valley include Yosemite Falls, Camp 4 rock climbers campground, a stretch along the Merced River, and of course, El Capitan. Once you’ve arrived at Yosemite’s most famous granite monolith, look for the Ask-a-Climber program on the El Capitan Bridge. Equipped with a telescope, one of Yosemite’s local rock climbers will give you the scoop on climbers currently ascending El Capitan.
7. Take Part in the Great Yosemite Family Adventure. Visitors will find a wide range of family activities in Yosemite, but only one activity gives your family a chance to demonstrate their love for Yosemite as a team! Using a GPS unit and information about history, nature and geology, this scavenger-hunt-style program traverses roughly 3 miles of Yosemite Valley with clues, puzzles and riddles to solve for family members of all ages.
8. Buy a Fishing License in Yosemite. California’s fishing season gets underway in April, but summer allows access to all of Yosemite’s prime fishing environment – including High Sierra lakes. California fishing licenses are sold in Yosemite Valley at the Village Sport Shop, and in Tuolumne Meadows at the Tuolumne Meadows Store. You can purchase a license for the season or just for the day or week during your visit to Yosemite.
9. Kayak the Merced River in Yosemite Valley New designations have opened a much larger stretch of the Merced to non-motorized vessels, though the river conditions may make this trip feasible only for kayaks. As of April 2015, kayakers can run the Merced from Stoneman Bridge near Curry Village to Pohono Bridge at the west end of Yosemite Valley. http://www.adventure-journal.com/2014/04/yosemites-merced-river-opens-to-kayaking-and-rafting/
10. Take a guided hike, bike and rock climb with the Yosemite Mountaineering School. Yosemite’s local guides do it all: day hikes, bike-to-hike-tours, overnight backpacking trips, and of course, rock climbing lessons.