Yosemite Adventure Session: El Cap to Half Dome

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I fell in love with the West during my first Yosemite adventure back in 2015. Drew and I were en route to our summer internships before our senior year of college; he worked at Boeing in Seattle being a genius and I spent my summer cooking for hundreds of people at a YoungLife camp in Oregon (so on brand for me and Drew, huh?). Yosemite has so many old pine trees and iconic views, so it didn’t take long for me to be totally sold on this treasure of a national park. This blog will recap the first chance I had to go back to revisit my Western adventure roots. Ready to adventure? Keep reading!

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Kim and Pawel live on the East Coast and chose to head west for a Yosemite adventure to celebrate their anniversary! This was their first time to visit Yosemite National Park, so they were ready to see all. the. things. Yosemite is filled with so many iconic backdrops, and these stunning views make this one of the top 10 most visited national parks. So, when deciding where to adventure with Kim and Pawel, I knew they wanted to experience the iconic views and avoid as much of the crowds as possible. Worried about unwanted photobombers during your Yosemite adventure session? Don’t worry! I’m sharing all my tips and tricks on how to see Yosemite like a seasoned professional.

How to Avoid the Yosemite Crowds

Like I mentioned, Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular adventure destinations in the U.S. Here are some tips and tricks for how you can avoid the crowds during your next Yosemite visit.

Visit Yosemite National Park on the weekdays. Tuesday through Thursday will be less crowded then the weekends in national parks. 

Start your adventure early. Sunrise at the iconic overlook locations will definitely have far less people present, and you will have amazing backdrops during blue hour and golden hour as the sun rises.

Find the trails that are less known. Taft Point and and Glacier Point are really popular trails in Yosemite. A golden rule when looking for less-known trails: the further you hike, the less people there will be.

Know the best time of year to visit Yosemite. The beginning of May and the end of September are the two bookends of the busier summer season. Being strategic about the month you choose to visit Yosemite for your adventure could avoid the masses of crowds.

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Kim and Pawel love to go rock climbing together, so they obviously wanted to have photos with El Capitan in the as a backdrop. El Cap is known for its massive wall of granite, sizing more than 3 times as high as the tip of the Eiffel Tower (woah). After spending time in the valley, we hopped in the car and drove Glacier Point Road to catch sunset overlooking the valley. Kim changed into a beautiful, flowing gown that moved with the wind and caught the golden sunlight perfectly. If you’ve been a friend of Between the Pine’s for a while, you know I’m a big fan of outfits with movement!

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Yosemite Hikes: My Personal Favorite

Sentinel Dome Trail

This Yosemite hike is less well known and pretty easy (2.1 miles). The last time I was there, there were only about 10 other people there! It offers amazing views of the valley, El Cap and Half Dome. 

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop is a little longer, 5.1 miles, and offers views of all the iconic spots in Yosemite. This is a great option of an all-day elopement to be able to get every backdrop Yosemite offers.

Taft Point via Glacier Point

This Yosemite hike is a 7.5 mile out and back trail where you can see the iconic views and is known for chances to spot wildlife. On this trail, you can see the valley, Half Dome and Taft Point.

Half Dome Trail

This trail is my all-time personal favorite, because this was the first Yosemite hike Drew and I did all those years ago that caused me to fall in love with the West. I will say, this hike is not for the faint of heart! This trail is 14.8 miles and is recommended for experienced adventurers. When Drew and I hiked Half Dome Trail, we slept in the Little Yosemite Valley. This is an amazing option for anyone looking for an overnight backpacking adventure.

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Where to Stay In Yosemite

One option is to camp inside Yosemite National Park. Some campsites require a reservation and others are first-come-first-serve. Click here to reserve a campsite in the park. Another option is to stay at the Yosemite AutoCamp, which are custom Airstream trailers and luxury canvas tents. This option is every glamper’s dream! During this Yosemite adventure session, I stayed in Groveland, California, which is about 25 miles from one of the entrances to Yosemite. I stayed at the most adorable bed and breakfast called Five Butterflies Lodging. If you’re wanting a place to stay that feels like a home away from home, I highly recommend staying here. The hosts, Buffy and Chip, are amazing!

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How to Get to Yosemite

Traveling to Yosemite isn’t necessarily an easy feat! The park is located in a remote area of California, which can make planning your visit to Yosemite overwhelming. Let me help!

There are three major airports that I would recommend flying into to get to Yosemite. Please note, these airports are listed in order from my top to least favorite and travel times do not account for traffic.

Sacramento International Airport (SMF)

A benefit of flying in to Sacramento is that it is a smaller city, so there will be less traffic as you travel out towards the valley. It’s about a 3 hour drive from the Sacramento airport to the national park.

Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)

The San Jose airport will put you between 3 to 3.5 hours from Yosemite National Park.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

The San Francisco airport is about 3 hours and 15 minutes from the national park. Although San Fran can sometimes be a little cheaper, it’s worth it to me to fly into the smaller airports (like Sacramento) for less of a travel headache.

Pro-tip when booking a rental car: make sure you book through an airport on-site rental car facility! I made the mistake of not doing this and I had to wait for over an hour and a half for the rental car to arrive. So, please learn from my mistake!

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As the sun dipped behind the mountains during Kim and Pawel’s Yosemite adventure session, we pulled out the beers and they clinked their drinks together. It was truly a celebration of a milestone for them. I will never get over what an honor and gift it is to get to capture milestones, beginnings, celebrations and seasons for my couples. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of celebrating you both, Kim and Pawel!

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Between the Pine is an adventure elopement and wedding photography brand created by Mollie Adams. Based in the Pacific Northwest, Mollie travels with her camera in hand to document “I dos” in epic landscapes including Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii.