Half Dome might be on the postcards, but Yosemite's best-kept secrets are on the other side of the park. Every year, millions of people gravitate to a few marquee wilderness attractions, choking up parking lots, snatching up campsites, and leaving equally spectacular spots largely untouched. "To get the wilderness experience, you have to dig deeper," says Kathy Kupper, a spokesperson for the National Park Service. That means discovering the less-traveled park entrances and looking regionally – maybe rafting the Colorado River through Utah's red rocks instead of the Grand Canyon – for great trips without the hassles.
Baxter State Park's Back Door
At the northernmost point of the Appalachian Trail sits Mount Katahdin, the 5,268-foot-high pinnacle of Maine's Baxter State Park. Some 20,000 people swarm the peak each summer; joining them requires advance trailhead reservations and a crack-of-dawn arrival at the park's south entrance to claim your place in the queue.
Forget Katahdin and head to the park's woolly northeastern corner, where the triple-peaked summit known as the Traveler rivals its southern cousin for expansive views and dramatic ascents, not to mention actual solitude. Only a few hundred hikers each summer head out on the Traveler Mountain Loop, which stays above the treeline for more than half of its 11 miles and tops out at a respectable 3,541 feet.
"You're going to have some pretty steep and varied terrain," says ranger Mike Martin, who's spent 17 years patrolling the park's northern reaches. "If you want stunning views, less human contact, and more contact with wildlife, the Traveler is your call."
Stay: Big Moose Inn Cabins and Campground, complete with a pub and fine dining, is the closest full-service accommodations to the park.
Do: Rent a canoe at Trout Brook campground, 2.5 miles west of the entrance, and take it out on Matagamon Lake.
Credit: Danita Delimont / Alamy