Dis­turb­ing the peace? 5 hikes to avoid Yosemite crowds

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Amanda Lee My­ers

YOSEMITE NA­TIONAL PARK >> Dap­pled sun­light kisses the val­ley floor of Yosemite Na­tional Park. Gran­ite mono­liths, gush­ing wa­ter­falls and gi­ant se­quoias abound. The wilder­ness is call­ing.

But in­stead of hit­ting the trails in a place John Muir called “by far the grand­est of all the spe­cial tem­ples of na­ture,” you’re sit­ting in a traf­fic jam, vy­ing for limited park­ing.

More than 4 mil­lion vis­i­tors poured into Yosemite in 2018, and be­cause its main at­trac­tions are con­cen­trated along a 7-mile loop, it gets con­gested. Like, 5 p.m. in down­town Los An­ge­les con­gested. Park­ing can take hours.

“In gen­eral, na­tional parks ev­ery­where, they be­come more and more pop­u­lar ev­ery year, and a place like Yosemite, you can’t just show up un­pre­pared,” says James Kaiser, au­thor of “Yosemite: The Com­plete Guide.” “It feels like a huge dis­ap­point­ment vis­it­ing a place to ex­pe­ri­ence nat­u­ral beauty and spend­ing your time look­ing for a park­ing space.”

But there’s no rea­son any­one’s trip to the ma­jes­tic park should be so fraught. Go­ing any other time than sum­mer, plan­ning val­ley ac­tiv­i­ties on any day but Satur­day, get­ting an early morn­ing start and choos­ing lesser-known trails can all help en­sure a peace­ful and restora­tive va­ca­tion.

The fol­low­ing hikes aren’t as fa­mous as Half Dome or the Mist Trail, but that’s the point. They of­fer just as much beauty and a lot more seren­ity.

North Dome

Like most of the rec­om­mended hikes on this list, this 8.8-mile roundtrip trek is off Tioga Road just north of the val­ley. Ev­ery­thing out­side the ac­tual val­ley au­to­mat­i­cally will be less busy, but the views are no less stun­ning. The last quar­ter of the hike of­fers a front-row view of Half Dome and the val­ley floor be­low, and with­out the crowds.

“The view of Half Dome is so un­like any other view in the park,” Kaiser says. “Half Dome is such an iconic site in Yosemite — to be able to en­joy it from North Dome I re­ally think is spe­cial.”

To get to the trail­head, take Tioga Road to Por­cu­pine Creek, about 28 miles east of Crane Flat and 21 miles west of Tuolumne Mead­ows. It’s easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled for a small build­ing with pit toi­lets and park­ing spa­ces in a row on the south side of the road. Af­ter park­ing, look for a wooden sign that says, “Por­cu­pine Creek Trail Head.” Be­low that you’ll see it’s 4.4 miles to North Dome.

The first few miles of the trail are easy, quiet and heav­ily forested. Don’t be sur­prised if you see deer or even a black bear (don’t worry, they’re more afraid of you than the other way around). The views start open­ing up af­ter 3 miles, but the high­light of the hike is hoof­ing it to the top of North Dome, scur­ry­ing a bit far­ther down the other side and drink­ing in views of Half Dome.

Climb­ing the ac­tual dome can be chal­leng­ing but isn’t dan­ger­ous un­less you like to court peril by walk­ing too close to the edge. Hik­ers who tackle the dome should be gen­er­ally fit or highly mo­ti­vated.

Tem­per­a­tures can vary wildly from the bot­tom of the dome to the top, where there’s noth­ing to block the wind. Bring lay­ers, 2 liters of wa­ter and snacks. Even bet­ter, bring a lunch and re­store your en­ergy on top of the dome. On the way back, check out In­dian Rock Arch, the only gran­ite arch in Yosemite and just a .6-mile de­tour.

Dog Lake, Lem­bert Dome

Another con­quer­able dome in Yosemite is quicker to get to from its trail­head than North Dome. Lem­bert Dome looms over Tioga Road, jut­ting so seem­ingly straight up, it looks doable only with rock-climb­ing gear. All it re­ally takes is a smidgen of brav­ery.

The well-marked trail to Lem­bert Dome is next to Tuolumne Mead­ows, just 10 min­utes from the eastern exit of the park. It’s a haul if you’re stay­ing in the val­ley or the towns south of the park, so con­sider com­bin­ing the hike with other smaller jaunts to May Lake (2.8 miles roundtrip off Tioga Road) and Tuolumne Grove (see be­low).

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