Finding solitude in Yosemite during summer

Rangers can fine visitors for jumping off Swinging Bridge into the Merced River in Yosemite National Park, but the water's lure proves powerful.
Rangers can fine visitors for jumping off Swinging Bridge into the Merced River in Yosemite National Park, but the water’s lure proves powerful.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

It is not the profusion of wild flowers, the gently swaying grasses or the golden sun on Half Dome that brings most people to Yosemite in summer, at least, not in my experience. As a kid, this is when I first experienced California’s favorite national park.

As an adult, I’ve found/ it is the memory of Yosemite in summer that draws me to her, like the savoring of a first love. For me — and, I suspect, for others, Yosemite meant freedom from school, from work, from the constraints of the city or the monotony of the country. It meant nature and animals and a moon so milky white that it seemed a dream. It meant family and fresh air and the time to pause and reflect on a state that sometimes seemed less than golden.

We love Yosemite and the memories it conjures, but maybe we love it a little too much.

Today, tour buses belch forth legions of passengers, and campsites are full. Sometimes as many as a half a million people tramp through the 1,189-square-mile park at summer’s zenith. I’ve been here many times in the warm months, but it’s not always easy to love the crowds that come with it. Maybe I just don’t like sharing. As I’ve chronicled Yosemite in four seasons for The Times in the last year (this is the last installment; the others can be seen at, I’ve found that my sense of ownership is greater in other seasons when the park seems more like a one-on-one experience.

Nowadays, you need an escape plan for your escape plan, but it means forsaking Yosemite Valley. A drive up Highway 120, Tioga Road, offers a great change of perspective and gives the valley-weary traveler a chance to explore and hike in the high country.

At 8,600 feet, Tuolumne Meadows is about a two-hour drive from Yosemite Valley. The meadow is filled with beautiful vernal pools, wild flowers and hiking trails that lead to pristine lakes and crystal streams.

Glacier Point, too, offers a break from the crowds. The long, winding road to the point provides several great viewing spots, access to some easy day hikes and, perhaps more important, a vivid perspective. The air is clean and the scenery uncluttered.

Here, away from the crowds and the noise, you are that much closer to heaven.