There is a reason why Yosemite National Park is as famous as it is. With towering granite walls and numerous thundering waterfalls it is truly a unique place to visit. Unfortunately with the beautiful views come the crowds. People travel from around the world to see Yosemite, but we found that if you are up for a longer hike it is not hard to avoid the crowds. We decided we wanted to see the famous Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail even though it is notorious for crowds. We found that after Vernal Falls (about 1.5 miles in) the crowds seem to thin out and after Nevada Falls (3.5 miles in) we were actually able to find seclusion both on the trail and at the falls. We even found a nice little spot to put up the hammock.
Although seclusion can be found by hiking further in (because a lot of the tourists are only interested in the easier hikes), the best way to avoid the crowds is to avoid the valley altogether. Tuolumne Meadows is the area right above the valley that is insanely beautiful and nowhere near as crowded. We did a 25-mile backpacking trip starting at the Cathedral Lakes trail head in Tuolumne Meadows, hiking up and over Clouds Rest (beautiful 360 degree views of the whole valley), and ending in the valley. On this trip we only encountered four other hikers until we made it down to the valley.
Half Dome is another must see attraction. If you can snag a permit (150 are available by reservation and 50 by lottery each day) and you are not scared of heights, Half Dome is definitely worth the 16 mile round trip trek to the top. This hike is not for the faint of heart with a 4,800-foot elevation gain, but the scariest part comes at the very end. The last 400 feet of the trail have two cables that you use to guide yourself up the steep rock that would otherwise require rock-climbing equipment. This hike usually requires about 10-12 hours to complete, so people typically leave before the sun comes out. However, we decided we wanted to see the sunrise from the top, so we hiked through the night. Needless to say the view was worth every step.
Location: Yosemite National Park