Embracing the Solitude: Yosemite Solo

Jun 11, 2012 by

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength. ~Jack Kerouac

All alone on a small trail leading away from Glacier Point.

Do you know what is a bad idea? Driving around a national park listening to the country station. This is a bad idea for two reasons. One, the combination of amazing, epic American landscape and songs touting the other various benefits of living in ‘Merica may result in an unfortunate swell in patriotism the likes of which might actually cause a person to get an eagle bursting out of a flag tattooed across their back (fortunately there are no tattoo parlors in or near Yosemite). And two, country songs are often very sad. Tears do not go well with twisty, cliff-edged roads. Trust me. I actually turned the volume completely off once because the song I was listening to sounded like it was going somewhere bad (the dad came to the son’s ball game, and then to the birth of his first child—I’m pretty sure the son was there when the father died, but I refuse to even Google to find out if I’m correct).

Which brings me to my main point—when visiting a national park solo, there is something you will be missing: the endless chatter of a travel companion or companions. And given the looks on the faces of most of the vans full of people I passed during my two days in the national park, that’s something I will gladly give up.

Yosemite is huge; it requires lots of driving and lots of hiking. I did all of this driving and hiking in silence (or, occasionally, with afore mentioned country music soundtrack. It’s the only station that comes in here, ok?) And in Yosemite, silence truly is a blessing. It allows you to focus on the reason you came—the beauty of your surroundings. I drove over a hundred miles in the last two days, and hiked maybe ten miles. The entire time I was looking, listening, and appreciating what was going on around me. Some places are just too beautiful to fill with small talk.

Traveling alone, I was able to stop anywhere and everywhere along the roads and trails.

I almost didn’t come to Yosemite. I actually got up at 2:30 in the morning on my last night in San Francisco and started packing my bag for the 6 a.m. flight I could have taken home. I was feeling lonely far more often than on any other solo trip I’d ever taken, and a very large part of me just wanted to go home and be near my friends and family. I even missed my dogs. That same large part of me thought ‘if you’re lonely in this city, you’re going to be way more lonely all by yourself in the wilderness’.

That part of me was wrong.

I was not lonely in Yosemite, though I was very alone. I was half right–it is not as easy to make friends in a national park as it is in any of the other places I travel solo. I’ve never been lonely on a cruise ship, in Disney World, or at any of the way-too-many bars and restaurants and museums I’ve visited in the cities I’ve been to. Heck, I made friends in San Francisco at the pub across the street from the laundromat I was using. In Yosemite it was all families and couples and large groups of foreign tourists. The only solo travelers I’ve seen in Yosemite were all old men with large beards, tall socks, and floppy hats; not a woman in her 30’s among them. So yes, I was alone. But strangely, in Yosemite, alone is ideal.

Yosemite is so beautiful that you don’t need anyone else to appreciate it with you. In fact, it’s the solitude that makes it so stunning. I was fortunate enough to visit mid-week in early May—a time when one of our nation’s most popular (and thus most crowded) national parks was all but empty. At one point on my first day in the park, I pulled off into a tiny little turnout, got out of my car, wandered down a path worn into a meadow, and spun around with my arms outstretched reveling in the beauty and the aloneness. It was the most vast, most amazing space I’d ever seen, and I was totally by myself. It was perfect.

A panoramic shot of my personal meadow. Note the complete lack of anyone else.

Even at the more ‘crowded’ places, I still managed to find complete privacy. Glacier Point, the most amazing lookout I’ve ever seen, was being visited by maybe twenty people when I was there on a Thursday afternoon (anyone familiar with Yosemite knows that this is beyond fantastic). Still, that was nineteen people too many for me—so I once again wandered down a ‘you’re probably not supposed to be here but clearly lots of people walk down here’ path, and hung out with Half Dome for a good half hour—all by myself.

I’m admitting that I had my doubts about this kind of solo trip. I mean, who walks around the forest alone? Well, John Muir for one. He walked around that wilderness alone all the time. I think he may have been onto something.

At Tunnel View overlook on my first day in Yosemite.


On my first day in Yosemite I covered quite a bit of ground. Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m, I explored Yosemite Valley, stopping absolutely everywhere to get out and walk and take photos. I walked to Lower Yosemite Falls, wandered around a meadow, strolled across hanging bridge, and pulled into almost every parking area in the park to gawk and point my camera at things. I then ventured up to Glacier Point, also stopping along the way. After Glacier Point I completely intended to drive directly back to the lodge, but a rest stop at a parking area resulted in a walk up to Bridal Veil Falls, where I witnessed a perfectly circular rainbow (that I did not photograph because I was shielding my camera from the freezing cold soaking mist coming off of the falls).

Having missed my evening guided hike at the lodge due to 56 miles behind a super-slow RV (and the resulting encounter with a coyote or wolf which totally made me glad that RV guy was going so slowly) I then retired to the Lodge’s tavern for a bowl of gumbo and a drink made with ginger beer and lemongrass—a luxury never afforded to Muir (though I’m sure if he’d had that option he would have taken it).

Along Tioga Road on day two, three days after it opened for the season post-plowing.


On day two I drove Tioga Road, which had just recently opened for the season. I stopped to hike two different trails along the way—and to take photos at more than a dozen turnouts as well. I hung out with giant redwoods, gaped at the beauty of Olmstead Point–which is more stunning than the guidebooks can even describe–hung out on the shores of a crystal clear lake bordered by snow topped mountains, hiked up a mountain along a river that should really be called a waterfall, and tromped through a meadow still partially covered in snow.

Does any of that sound terrible? At any point during my description did you think ‘oh she must have been so sad to be alone?’ I’m thinking your answer to those questions are ‘no’ and ‘no’. Because it sounds amazing–and it was. My visit to Yosemite was wonderful–quite possibly the highlight of my entire year of travel. And I almost didn’t go because I was afraid to go solo. What a mistake that would have been.

Yosemite solo—it’s a great idea.

I would like to once again thank the wonderful people at Evergreen Lodge for inviting me to stay with them; without that offer, I would have flown home from San Francisco without having made the trip to Yosemite.  I could not be more grateful.  

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  1. Toni

    Your description of yourself twirling around in the meadow reminded me of Anne when she went down to the shore and met Leslie (in Little House of Dreams)! I can just picture it! I’m so glad you enjoyed that part of your trip so much.

    • Tracy Antonioli

      Aww–you know I love Anne of Green Gables references! I did feel very Anne-esque in Yosemite, now that I think about it! And, according to some of my very cheesy poses in my photos, very Sound of Music-esque too. 😉

  2. Toni

    Now you are talking MY stuff. Sound of Music is ‘our’ flim. We even had a Sound of Music wedding- sort of. We absolutely LOVE that film- along with The Wizzard of Oz.
    You need to add Austria to your list, by the way. If you like the moutains in Yosemite, you’ll love the alps. And Salzburg makes a great base to see the Saltzkaergurt lakes and Bravaria. And the food…. ahhhhh now you’ve made me travelsick again.

  3. Becky

    So first of all, I’m a big country music fan – but I feel the same way about the sad songs, I always turn them off! And I definitely know the song you’re talking about.

    Anyway – wow. Yosemite looks absolutely gorgeous. Out of all the things you did in California I think this would be at the top of the list for me.

    • Tracy Antonioli

      I’ma big country fan too, and I’m actually glad I listened to the country station so much in Yosemite because now when I’m driving around here at home, I’m reminded of my trip by the songs playing on my own country station. :-)

      And yes, this is probably at the top of my California trip list of ‘wow’ experiences. Though I also had a blast in Napa. And San Francisco was pretty great, too!

  4. Glad you posted this, because Yosemite has been one of my dream places to travel to in years. Hope to travel there one day. Hoping to travel with family & friends but may not be able to “coerce” them to live my dreams. So may end up going solo as well.

  5. Rahi

    Thanks! This post gave me encouragement to enjoy yosemite solo. I enjoy trip with friends however there is a part ot me that always felt silence is valuable to have authentic experience especially in nature, no pressure to engage in chatter.

    “Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” –John Muir

  6. This blog post was just what I needed to find in my google search! I was on the fence about a spring time solo trip to yosemite and this post sealed the deal for me! I’m-a-going! Thanks!

    • Tracy Antonioli

      Yay! That’s great to hear! Really, it was an amazing experience. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, I may this coming spring.

      Just be sure you go late enough in the season that Tioga Road is cleared and passable (unless you don’t really care about that part of the park, though it is stunning, just not in the same way as Yosemite Valley.) I was there in early May, and it was the earliest the pass opened in many, many years (it was a dry winter). I’d advise late May as the earliest. But in spring, the waterfalls are unbelievable. Enjoy!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this – you’ve inspired me to just do it and stop talking about maybe, maybe going already!

    • Tracy Antonioli

      Fabulous! Have a great time! Really, I’d go back in a heartbeat. Definitely this time of year, too. Before it gets crowded and while the waterfalls are…well, they might not be that impressive this year, what with the drought and all. But still. Go now!

    • Tracy Antonioli

      I just looked at your website. You live in the Bay Area and you haven’t been to Yosemite!?! Get thee there, woman! It’s a DAY TRIP for you (but you’ll want to spend the night, I assure you). Then report back. This is an order!

  8. Gemma

    I’m off on a solo trip to Yosemite in 4 weeks time and looking forward to the solitude, reflection and the great wide outdoors! Your blog definitely helped me to confidently make my decision about this part of my trip, as a solo 31 year old female traveller! I’m actually staying in a hostel just outside the park, so perhaps I will meet people there – but I’m not too bothered! One thing I am a little cautious about is I have an ankle injury so need to take some less strenuous trails. If you could recommend any I would really appreciate it!

    • Tracy Antonioli

      First–I LOVE COMMENTS LIKE THIS! This, this right here is why I have a blog. I’m SO GLAD you were helped by this post, and I’m confident you will have an amazing time. Honestly, Yosemite solo was one of the single best experiences of my life (so was the PCH solo. Apparently I like to be alone in California…?)

      And yes, you will meet people at the hostel. I promise.

      As for non-strenuous trails, my only advice is: don’t listen to the guide books. I picked what was marked as a ‘moderate’ trail off of Tioga Road, and I assure you, it was strenuous. But the good thing about the valley floor–and Glacier point–is that there are some short walks (legitimate walks, not hikes) that afford some spectacular views. Yosemite is accessible to all–from those confined to wheels to those willing to climb half dome (I am somewhere in between…)

      Have a fabulous trip!

      • Gemma

        Thanks! I had an AMAZING time!! And I’m actually really glad I did it alone. I could do everything at my own pace (which is quite fast as it turns out) and get up and head out at when I felt like it. Stop when I wanted.

        I was so awestruck by the great open vistas that I was close to tears! I am definitely going again to do Half Dome – though that experience I would like to do accompanied…
        Thanks again for your great blog!

        • Tracy Antonioli

          So glad you had a good time! And yes, I know I cried at points, too.

          My husband and I went to Rocky Mountain National Park yesterday (we were supposed to go back today but it is cold and pouring) and I noted how I didn’t get any of the ‘wow’ feeling this time. Not because it wasn’t a stunning setting, but because my brain was too crowded with ‘being with him’ to appreciate it on the level I’m accustomed to.

          Oh and if you do half dome, you will have company. There’s a waiting list from what I understand. Even if you go up alone, you’ll come down with friends. Though good for you–I’d NEVER. That’s scary! (Also, me and upper body strength are not so much…) 😉

  9. Jason Shipp

    Thanks for sharing this! I am doing a 5 day backpacking trip in Yosemite in September and have never done a hike this long alone before, so I’m kinda worried. But your blog reminds me why I’m doing it :)

    • Tracy Antonioli

      Glad I could help! Have a fabulous time!

      And honestly? I recently did some group hiking (yes, that would be the opposite of what I’m talking about here). And do you know what? A five day SOLO trip sounds lovely! 😉

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