By Michael Lanza

A bit over a mile into our first day backpacking in Yosemite, as we round a bend in the trail, Half Dome suddenly rears up in front of us, looming over the horizon like an asteroid just seconds before it impacts the planet. “Wow!” bursts from my mouth involuntarily, sounding very inadequate for the majestic scene before us.

Jeff, who’d stumbled upon this apparition a minute ahead of me, chuckles and says, “I thought you’d want me to wait.” One of my most cooperative photo models, Jeff’s hiked enough miles with me—and backtracked a section of trail enough times for my camera—to sense in advance when I’ll require his services.

Our vista from high above Yosemite Valley frames Half Dome and a constellation of distant peaks—that kind of scene I’ve learned that backpackers come upon countless times throughout this park and the High Sierra. Almost every time I’ve enjoyed a view like this one overlooking the Valley, I’ve been surrounded by other hikers—sometimes dozens of them. And yet we’ll encounter just a handful of other people over more than five hours on the trail today—and surprisingly few over the four days of this loop hike, considering its proximity to both the Valley and Tuolumne Meadows.

A backpacker overlooking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Jeff Wilhelm at an overlook toward Half Dome while backpacking in Yosemite National Park.
” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ width=”900″ height=”600″ src=”″ alt=”A backpacker overlooking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.” class=”wp-image-48624″ srcset=” 1024w, 300w, 768w, 150w, 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />Jeff Wilhelm at an overlook toward Half Dome while backpacking in Yosemite National Park.

My friend and regular backpacking compadre Jeff Wilhelm and I have come to Yosemite in late September—luckily, during a respite from the smoke hanging over another grim fire season in California (yet another stark reminder of how little time humanity has to take aggressive action to minimize climate change). Our plan: to hike a four-day, 45-mile loop that scampers along one rim of Yosemite Valley—including one of the best Valley overlooks—and explores a lakes basin at 9,000 feet before finishing at one of the park’s prettiest lakes. And yet, this area doesn’t see nearly the same demand for a coveted wilderness permit as Yosemite’s most popular trailheads, even though it’s just as accessible and only moderately difficult.

You could say this hike is hiding in plain sight.