Yosemite is one of our country's most popular national parks, and 90 percent of visitors see little beyond Yosemite Valley, which, while spectacular, represents just 5 percent of the park.
Timing your trip for an off-peak period, hitting the hiking trails first thing in the morning, and going off-the-beaten track into the backcountry are some of the ways you can avoid the crowds, as we point out in the current Trip Coach: National Parks story. But even within and around a place as popular as Yosemite Valley, there are tiny pockets that are peacefully free of monster crowds.
John Flinn, a former travel editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, recently listed five of his favorite "Yosemite Sites for the John Muir Experience," where, with minimal effort, travelers can enjoy fabulous, pristine views with more than enough elbow room. All of the sites are in or adjacent to normally crowded Yosemite Valley. The spots include Cathedral Beach, which Flinn describes here:
Entering the valley along Southside Drive, there's a spot, just beyond the turnoff to Bridalveil Falls, where El Capitan first rears into view and everyone pulls over to gawk in wonder. But if you continue along the road a short way, just past the turnoff to Northside Drive, you'll come to the Cathedral Beach picnic site. Here you can wiggle your toes in the icy Merced River while contemplating the impossibly sheer monolith in semi-privacy.