There's nothing like driving into Yosemite for the first time to see El Capitan and Half Dome shooting thousands of feet into the California sky from the valley floor. But if you spend your whole day looking upward at those monuments to nature, you'll get a stiff neck. And you'll miss the crystalline lakes, golden eagles, black bears, and the park's signature thousand-foot waterfalls dotting more than 800 miles of trails.
EXPERT ADVICE: "Look at some of those access points that may be outside the park," suggests Yosemite ranger Adrienne Freeman. "Starting from Lundy Lake, you have the canyon, then these great high lakes, and then talus and glaciers." From Lundy Lakejust outside Yosemite's eastern boundary in the Inyo National Forest's Hoover Wildernessfollow the Lundy Canyon Trail 5.5 miles up to Twenty Lakes Basin. Cross the basinpassing several lakesthen ascend the 11,000-foot saddle between North Peak and Shepherd Crest and continue into the park to McCabe Lakes (another three miles).
CRASH PAD: The Tioga Pass Resort is just two miles from the park's eastern entrance, at an elevation of 9,641 feet. With ten log cabins and a café featuring famous homemade pies, it's the perfect takeoff point for the high country. From $185 per cabin; tiogapassresort.com