More and more lately, Cole and I have been intentionally slowing down. We began this trip under the mindset of seeing as much as possible at each park. We’d exhaust ourselves trying to hike every trail and read every exhibit.

We thought this approach would give us more insight into the parks, and it did. We could recommend one trail over another, and advise which points of interest to skip over.

But this pace also made us frantic. (Okay, mostly me.)

Now, in light of our trip’s mid-life crisis, we go a bit slower. We stop at overlooks and just stare. We walk through the backcountry slowly. We skip trails.

This evolution has been key for our connection with and enjoyment of the parks. And that’s exactly how we think everyone should approach visiting national parks.

Yosemite can be very chaotic if you let it be. Our first day in the Valley was stressful; we tried and failed to find a campsite, driving and parking was a nightmare, and we listened to several disgruntled visitors complain about the smallest things to lodge employees. And there were herds of people everywhere.

It was not pleasant. At that moment, the park seemed a far cry from John Muir’s “unspoiled” vision.

Then, we spoke to a ranger. Our saving grace. Probably the most helpful and honest ranger we have encountered yet. He helped us create a plan for the next six days that would include a backpacking trip, some free camping, four longer weekday hikes, and a snowshoe ranger program. We were feeling much better as we drove away from the Valley and the weekend masses.

We were able to find so many amazing moments in those six days.

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We highly recommend you take on Yosemite with a similar mindset. Aim to fully enjoy and truly connect with the park. Try to learn something about the park that you never knew before. Challenge yourself. Walk into the wilderness.

In this post, I thought I’d provide a few tips for maximizing any Yosemite trip, without feeling the stresses of itinerary-following and crowd-dodging.

How to Foster Connection + Enjoyment in Yosemite Valley

P.S. We visited in the spring, when most roads (including Tioga Pass and Glacier Point) and wilderness trails were closed, so these tips reflect those limitations.

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1. Multiple Days

I read in our guide book that once, a visitor asked a ranger what he’d do if he had only one day in Yosemite. He replied, “I’d weep.”

Obviously, the best way to slow down and see more at Yosemite is to spend more time there. With multiple days, you’ll be able to set a much calmer and slower pace. You’ll be able to relax in the evenings and get an early start.

I can’t recommend a one-day itinerary. But that’s how long many visitors spend in Yosemite, so whether you are going for a day or a week, I thought up several ways you can see a lot without feeling hectic.

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2. Research ahead of time

There is plenty of information about Yosemite online and in print. I’d suggest downloading their monthly newspaper guide from the NPS website first, because that will have the most up-to-date and accurate info. You won’t waste precious time driving to an area that is under construction (like the Mariposa Grove, until 2017), or planning to hike a trail that is closed for the season. You’ll also want to check out driving times within the park, because that is a sneaky time-suck. Calling a ranger to confirm your ideas is also helpful. (Although the one in Yosemite we talked to said Valley campgrounds were first-come-first-served and we could climb Half Dome in March… both completely false.)

3. Combine activities & elements

Once you have an idea about what Yosemite has to offer (a lot!), it’s time to prioritize. I’d recommend focusing on just one or two larger activities per day you are in the park. Surely you could run around the Valley checking things off a list… waterfall, check! Learn about geology, check! Take a picture of El Capitan, check! Or, what I strongly prefer, you could look for one hike that combines several of those. Not having to navigate crowds in between short activities will be much more relaxing. By not rushing from one activity to the next, you’ll also be able to sit in deeper enjoyment of the beauty around you.

Here are a few fun, color-coded formulas based on what you’d like to do in Yosemite:

Spring Yosemite Planner

4. Start early & stay late

Especially if you only have one day to visit Yosemite, maximize it by using all the daylight you can. Early sightseeing will lead to more solitude, and the extra time you have given yourself can be used for slowing down and taking it all in later. Staying in the park after it gets dark can also be a great time to relax at an evening ranger program or grab a beer at the Yosemite Lodge Lounge. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, end your day with a bucket-list dinner at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee). Just remember that reservations, a dress code, and a fat wallet are required.

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5. Pack a lunch (& dinner!)

While there are numerous eating options throughout Yosemite Valley, we suggest you pack a lunch and/or dinner to make your trip less chaotic (and, of course, less expensive). This allows so much flexibility to be able to eat wherever you happen to be in the park. We love a good waterfall picnic 🙂 You can purchase groceries inside the park, but they are much cheaper outside in neighboring towns.

6. Smile, you’re on vacation

On our first day, when we were rushing around trying to snag a last-minute waiting list campsite, we saw a sign in the reservation office that said “Smile, you’re on vacation.” I didn’t realize how relevant that would be until Cole and I sat in the Yosemite Valley Lodge lobby (using their free wifi) and overheard a slew of disgruntled guests, either about their inadequate rooms or disappointment at the fact that it was cold. I think that office sign says a lot. Making things complicated and trying to squeeze many activities into one day can add quite a bit of stress to your trip.

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Alleviate that intensity by slowing down. Try to make a connection with Yosemite. Walk patiently through the crowds. Focus on the views. Be flexible. If you don’t get to see everything that the beautiful park has to offer, simply make a promise to return soon.

 

Don’t miss our Yosemite video, bonus post on camping options and Person of the Parks.

Written by Elizabeth

  • Susie

    Good advice! Tx & enjoy :- )

  • Josh

    I find that crowds don’t bother me as much in National Parks as at other tourist attractions, because they’re public lands. We’re just sharing the land with our brothers and sisters. The idea of shared property is arguably even more beautiful than the scenery. I wonder, what else can we learn to share?

    Enjoy Redwood; hug a tree for me.

    • Yes, good point! As much as an excess of people is a little annoying, it is always great to see so many people enjoying the parks that belong to us all 🙂

  • Lori

    We found the exact same issues when we went to Yellowstone! The best advice we read beforehand was to hike a 1/2 mile off the road and 80% of the people would be gone! SO TRUE!!! We spent 9 nights in Yellowstone; 4 nights at Yellowstone Lake (cabin), 3 nights at Mammoth (cabin) and 2 nights at Old Faithful (Old Faithful Inn.) We were able to get up early, day trip nearby, and then move to the next area. We ate breakfast in our room, usually packed lunch, and ate dinner either early or late to avoid the crowds. We would take 3-5 mile hikes mid-day when roads were busy (this was during July). We booked our stay a year in advance and drove from St. Louis. It was a wonderful trip for our family! We loved every minute and have over 3,000 pictures to prove it. 🙂

    • Oh my goodness that sounds like the best trip ever! I bet you had so much time to slow down and truly soak in the park… awesome!!

  • Terry G

    Elizabeth, I have been following your adventure since the beginning. Good for you! Do it while you are young. Yosemite is your best post so far. But maybe because Yosemite is one of my favorite parks. Keep having fun. I’m sure many people, like me, feel like we are there with you. Thanks for sharing with us.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Terry! Being eight months in to our trip, we sometimes need that kind of encouragement. It’s so good to know you are following along!

  • Aimee Schweitzer

    It’s so easy to get caught up in the “hubbub” of Yosemite. We were incredibly excited to visit as we adore the National Parks and Yosemite is often touted as the “Crown Jewel”. On our first day we realized upon entering the valley that the waterfalls were indeed dried up for the summer (as we visited in late July) and a thick haze from nearby wildfires was making it difficult to capture those epic landscapes in pictures. The crowds of the valley and missing out on permits to hike Half Dome had us all doubting, but by day two we were looking on the bright side, just as you all did! We suddenly felt lucky that we were able to reach the high roads and hike amazing trails that would’ve otherwise been inaccessible. By the end of our trip the magic of Yosemite had engulfed us and we were totally blissful and grateful that next time we could come back at a different time of year and see completely new sights! It sounds like you also made lemonade out of your lemons!