Skip to comments.How to Survive Yosemite in July
Posted on 06/18/2013 10:52:14 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Get off the tourist track and head for the High Country
With limited free time and a bucket list growing by the day, a return trip to Yosemite National Park had been on the cards for a while, but sadly the only weekend we could spare was in late July. We expected the worst the heat, the traffic, the overcrowded viewpoints but decided to grit our teeth and do it anyway. We knew there had to be a way to find the less-travelled roads and still enjoy the park in its peak season.
First, we needed somewhere to stay. In-park accommodation was out of the question at such short notice in the summer, and we prefer the out-of-the-way lodging options anyway.
We stumbled across the Red Door Inn in the nearby town of Ahwahnee and were so glad we did; just thirty minutes from the parks south entrance and for less than $50 a night, we had a private apartment complete with farm-fresh eggs, deer grazing outside the window and starry skies to die for. Our hosts, Judie and Kevin, couldnt have been more welcoming, and their invaluable hiking tips helped us solve our next dilemma: how to enjoy the grandeur of nature whilst avoiding constant traffic and busloads of yelling tourists.
Classic Yosemite shot of the valley and Bridalveil Falls. On the advice of our hosts, we headed for the Sierra High Country at the east side of the park, even though it added an hour to our drive each morning. Best decision we could have made. The traffic through the entrance up to the 120 was hideous (think L.A. weekday rush hour, but single lane) but once we turned onto the high road we were practically alone.
The scenery through Tioga Pass is outstanding. Our first stop at Olmsted Point gave us a breathtaking view of Half Dome and the valley and the deep blue Tenaya Lake.
We spent our first day exploring Tuolumne Meadows. After an easy stroll through dappled forest to the pretty Dog Lake, we hiked up the impressive Lembert Dome for an incredible 360-degree view (top). Crows soared at eye level and struggled against the breezes as we tried to eat cheese doodles (unsuccessfully) in the face of the gale. This high up, it's hard to imagine that the speckled ant trails below are actually cars winding through the pass.
The trip back down was a different story; the face of the dome is steep, slippery and near-vertical in places without regular foot or handholds.
We descended with great care while a gang of hikers shouted for us to "channel our inner mountain goat" (they were lucky I didnt channel my inner grizzly and smack them off the dome face). We did make it to ground level without injury or tearful breakdown, although for me it was a close call on both fronts.
With our confidence and nerve regained, we finished our day with a short hike to Soda Springs, where naturally carbonated water bubbles up through the red soil and lazy marmots chill out on the warm, flat rocks. My husband insisted on drinking the spring water, despite its dubious unnatural color, and still lives to this day.
The drive back out of the park was as hellish as expected, so we made the wise decision to stop for pulled pork at Todds Cookhouse in Oakhurst and wait for the traffic to thin out. They made me the best vanilla milkshake I have ever had, and Ive had a lot of milkshakes in my time.
Back at the Red Door Inn, we laid out our blanket under the stars to enjoy the moonrise and a picture-perfect milky way with a few beers. We could not have asked for a more tranquil place to stay.
On our second day, we drove straight through Tioga Pass to the Gaylor Lakes. Parking at the trailhead was easy again, hardly any traffic this side of the park and we started the five-mile loop up to Middle Gaylor Lake. The first mile is fairly steep and the altitude kicks in quite rapidly, but the cooler temperatures are a pleasant respite from the sweaty grit of the valley and take the edge off the exertion.
The trail leads to the edge of the serene Middle Gaylor Lake, then cuts across an alpine meadow between rising granite peaks to the even quieter Upper Gaylor Lake. Even though the air is cooler, sunscreen and hats are definitely needed for the open meadow. We had a peaceful lunch by the water disturbed only by mosquitoes, unable to figure out why so few souls had followed us here on such a beautiful Sunday.
View of Gaylor Lakes from the silver mine. After strolling round the lake, we took the short hike up to the ruins of a silver mine. If abandoned buildings arent your thing, it's still worth a clamber for the stunning overlook. The derelict mining cabin at the peak had been taken over by a family of noisy marmots that seemed most annoyed by our intrusion; they squeaked and brucked while we rested in the shade of the cabin, but werent quite brave enough to do anything about it.
After exploring the pits and stone structures that remain of the mine, we headed back down to the lakes. The hike's even more breathtaking on the return trip, with the long shadows of the peaks stretching out across the panorama.
In the six hours we were hiking, we encountered four other hikers and two fishermen. Not bad for a July weekend at one of Californias most sought-after natural spots.
So soon, we were back on the road and following the lazy flow of traffic out of the park. After stopping in Lone Pine for obligatory burgers at the Mount Whitney Restaurant, we sped through a whole heap of nothin and made it back to San Diego by two in the morning, exhausted but very happy. Not a bad weekend at all.
Great hit. Hard to avoid the crowds, but it reads as though you found the niche.
Yeah, don’t go swimming in the streams above the waterfalls.
Happens evvvvvery year.
The author is Zactly right. Most people want to stay in the valley but, the good stuff is in the high country and there are wayyyyyyyy less people there.
If you go to Yosemite in the summer take the authors advice but, get in the park the second the gates open and do it on Mon, Tues, Wed.
It starts getting packed Fri, Sat and Sun. Think parking lot and impatient wife or husband and kids who have ADHD. Not worth it.
You’ll and everyone will have a better time if you schedule an early weekday tour.
In the winter, same deal. It so unbelievably beautiful that Ansel Adams should have taken photos there....wait...oh yeah...I have some photos or lithographs.
You have to see the amazing play of light and shadows off everything.
The icicles as your car passes under tree branches look like they should be on your Christmas Tree.
The water combined with the scenery and snow invite you in. But, you know it’s frickin cold, let the bears have at it.
Still, just pure and peaceful.
At night, you would need all the people of Manhattan to count the stars but, you will be stunned at the light shows in October, November, June and July with the comets soaring overhead and you wonder “Wow? So my God made this for me to see and enjoy?”
Yes, he did.
I wonder about the dimwits who do but, then I remember Darwin kinetics are a fact of life.
High res photo of Yosemite, Pretty cool zooming in and around.
Try this one. Same site:
Go there 50 years ago like I did!!!
Guess it’s the same link.
hey, I did this climb years ago. Isn’t there a chain link on the dome?
I don’t see it on the zoom.
The last time I was in Yosemite was in July a couple of years back. Came from Vegas, where it was one hundred and twenty degrees, up through the desert (past the prison where OJ is incarcerated...seemed fitting somehow), and in the east entrance. That’s one scary pass. But worth it, of course. :-)
I followed your advice with Hawaii...much nicer 50 years ago.
Almost no one there - no one had planned on it being open...amazing.
My favorite place in the world! When my hubby was alive, we went to Yosemite 3-4 times a year and each time was a new experience. It was “our” place. Haven’t been back since he died and probably never will, but I will always miss it.
Two other additions to out-of-the-way places are Bodie ghost town near Mono Lake if you’re going in the Tioga Pass entrance. Bodie is really interesting and has a fascinating history. The wood buildings have been preserved beautifully.
The other is Mineral King campground in Sequoia, outside Yosemite’s south entrance. You take a dirt road up to the campground, which is more than 11,000 feet high. The views along the way are spectacular and if you like starry skies, you’ll see more stars than you could imagine!
Good tip someone gave me:
If you’re in the High Country, go east out of the park on Tioga Rd. A few miles out of the park, take the turn to Saddlebag Lake.
There’s a great loop hike there that takes you around many alpine lakes with great views. If you like to fish, take a rod. And if you don’t have all day, just do part of the loop. Check first which part to do because one part is more scenic than the other and I forgot which is which.
You can hike along the lake to the trailhead (adds a couple of extra miles) or take a boat shuttle across the lake to the trailhead.
You’ll get away from the crowds here and have scenery that rivals that in the park.
All of a sudden, Yogi Bear didn't seem so funny.
Awesome, was wanting to go there and do some hiking. Finding the lesser traveled path is a better way to do it.
We stayed in the White Wolf tent cabins - fun experience. Cold at night, even in summer. Great sky viewing at night.
Bears were all around that place and they were brazen, so I can understand how your experience could happen. Now I believe they won’t let you backpack unless you have approved bear canisters.
Wasn't that Robert Frost's advice?
Yeah, that east entrance is an e ticket ride, for sure.
I've been to Lassen National Park a couple of times--spectacular place, not nearly as well-known or crowded as Yosemite. Volcanoes rather than granite cliffs.
There are impenetrable, anchored down bear boxes at White Wolf now. You’re STRONGLY advised to keep all food, drink, and toiletries in the box-padlocked. It’s not even safe in your car. There was a car there with windows broken by a bear who saw a bottle of water in it and went after it.
One stupid couple left their food out on top of the bear box and went to the rest room. In an instant a bear grabbed a loaf of bread and bounded through the campground with it. I got a good photo of it.
The workers were SO ticked off. That bear had become a real nuisance and they were hoping to get to the end of the season (another couple of weeks) without having to kill it. Too bad.
But we’ve been camping in central PA when bears roamed through the campground daily, so it’s not only bear country out there.
Haven’t been to Lassen. There are a good many lesser known AND better known national parks and monuments out west that are on our bucket list. We’ve been to most of the big name ones at least once.
When we retire in a few years, we’re going to take time to RV out there and stay a while exploring. Long drive from VA, so might as well make it count after we’ve driven all that way.
Have you ever hiked on the Muir Trail? We stayed at Vermilion Valley (near Shaver Lake and Mono Hot Springs) a few years back. That was an interesting place with a harrowing drive to get to. It’s a popular “refueling” stop for hikers on the Muir Trail.
I don't think I have been on any of the John Muir Trail but have hiked a few miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in Lassen NP, perhaps elsewhere. (We also went backpacking in the Sierra National Forest, between Yosemite and Kings Canyon NP, but I don't remember if we were actually on the PCT or just very close to it. Likewise when hiking near Lake Tahoe.)