Yosemite Valley is not only one of the busiest destinations in the National Park Service, it is one of the busiest destinations that you’ll visit anywhere. The best we can offer you are a few tricks to keep the worst of the crowds at bay.
Crowd Factor: 10/10
TBH, Yosemite might even deserve an 11/10. Nothing about your trip will be easy, but if you work and plan for it, there will be moments that take your breath away.
Peak Hours: 8a-6p
Staying in Yosemite Valley itself requires planning, luck, and/or money—in that order. Unfortunately for you and your family, this means early morning wake ups and long drives before you even really start your day.
Navigating Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley Shuttle System: The Third Best Way to Get Around
The system simply cannot handle all the people trying to use it. Long wait lines and lack of personal space make riding the shuttle more stressful and less efficient than one might expect.
Explore Yosemite Village Near Closing Time (2p-5p)
This exorbitantly developed area contains museums, exhibits, a theatre, and gobs and gobs of information to help educate and enrich everyone’s park experience.
Valley Parking Fills at 9AM
Mornings feel like a rat race as visitors flood into the Valley. Everyone is fighting for the same limited parking, which can fill to the point that rangers have to turn people away.
Things to Do
Most Popular: Vernal Falls via Mist Trail
While all Yosemite Valley is filled with people, nearly every single visitor that sets foot there will hike Vernal Falls Trail. Assuming hiking up wet granite stones with hundreds of inexperienced hikers doesn’t scare you, the experience is absolutely exhilarating and 100% worth the “must-see” status it has earned.
Late Arrival Hike: Merced Grove Trail
If you're set to arrive to Yosemite NP in the afternoon or early evening, avoid the Valley and check out the easy giant sequoia hike to the small Merced Grove. You will likely be only one of a few people on the trail.
Peak Alternative (Easy): Visitor Center to Mirror Lake/Tenaya Creek Loop
Few others will join you on this stretch, which makes it one of the most rewarding trails available to hikers of all levels.
Peak Alternative (Strenuous): Yosemite Falls Trail to Just Beyond Yosemite Point
After a 3-4 hour toil to the top, you will finally find peace, serenity, and solitude at Yosemite Valley. We've dubbed this unlabelled place, "Serenity Lookout."
5 Hikes That Mather
#1 Yosemite Falls Trail to “Serenity Lookout”
As difficult as it is rewarding. Follow Yosemite Falls Trail to just beyond Yosemite Point for quiet and serene vistas of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra .
Distance: 10.0 Miles
Difficulty: Very Strenuous
Peak Alternative: Sort of. The hike up to and down from the Brink of Yosemite Falls is very busy, but hikers thin out to Yosemite Point and vanish beyond.
Best Start Time: Before 8AM. Park at Yosemite Lodge for a convenient picnic area when you're finished.
Best Kept Secret: Enjoy Dinner at a Valley Picnic Area
Yosemite Valley is usually the exception to the rule based on the sheer number of people who visit, but this tidbit still rings true.
Mather's One-Day Itinerary
These times are based on summer daylight hours, typical temperatures, and crowd sizes. If you're lucky enough to be staying in Yosemite Valley, use the advantage to start earlier.
545am: Wake Up
645a-730a: Drive to Yosemite Valley, Park Near Yosemite Village
730a-8a: Load at Shuttle Stop 10. Take Shuttle to Vernal Falls Trailhead, Stop 16.
8a-12p: Vernal Falls via Mist Trail, Return via John Muir Trail. BRING RAIN GEAR!
12p-2p: Lunch and Shuttle to Yosemite Village
2p-330p: Languidly explore Museums, Yosemite VC, and watch Park Movie.
330-630p: VC to Mirror Lake/Tenaya Loop Hike. Hike back or return via Park Shuttle.
630-7p: Return to Car, Drive to El Capitan Picnic Area.
7-830p: Dinner El Capitan Picnic Area.
830-930p: Return to camp/hotel and pass out.
545am: Wake Up
645a-730a: Drive to Yosemite Valley, Park at Yosemite Lodge.
730a-5p: Hike Yosemite Falls Trail to Serenity Lookout (just past Yosemite Point).
5p-630p: Dinner at picnic tables near Lower Yosemite Falls
630-8p: Wander the Cooks Meadow Loop
8p-930: Return to your campsite/hotel and Pass Out.