Escaping Valley crowds is easy, says park ranger Scott Gediman: The trick is knowing the secret backcountry stashes. Here, he shares his favorites.
Valley Floor Loop Trail
No joke: This hidden, 13-mile path links such icons as Bridalveil Fall and El Capitan, yet sees virtually no traffic. "You can hike here on the Fourth of July and see no one else," says Gediman. Pick it up at Camp Four and walk west, hugging the base of El Cap to Pohono Bridge, where you cross to the Valley’s south side. Then head east through El Cap Meadow to Swinging Bridge and its view of Yosemite Falls.
Lower River Campground This hideaway no longer appears on park brochures, since the Merced River’s 1994 flood washed away the former campground. Now, with ponderosas pushing through the old concrete pads, this forgotten corner provides the perfect riverside idyll. Pack a picnic and park just north of Stoneman Bridge. Walk past the gate on the southwest side of the Valley Loop Road and head toward the river, where you gaze at El Cap reflected in the water.
Hidden Falls No official trail leads to Hidden Falls, where Tenaya Creek cascades 80 feet into pools beloved by locals. But this secret waterfall and swimming hole is well worth the scramble up the boulder-filled canyon–just watch out for falling rocks. From Mirror Lake trailhead (Shuttle Stop #17), hike three miles on maintained trail to the footbridge spanning Tenaya Creek. Look for a faint user trail on the southeast side of the creek, and hike upstream a half-mile to Hidden Falls.