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.
Rafting the Colorado River
Rafting the Grand Canyon will always be America's quintessential river trip, even if it does take two weeks to float and reservations must be booked years in advance. But some of the biggest whitewater on the Colorado River lies 100 miles upstream in Cataract Canyon, a cleft of silt-filled water hurtling through Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
The first 40 miles are scenic and flat, with days broken up by hikes to waterfalls and petroglyphs on trails once walked by the area's first explorer, John Wesley Powell. But by the third day, it's clear why this one-week trip is geared toward thrill seekers. Twenty miles of waves and hydraulics the size of school buses stand in the way of your final day's deliverance to the tranquil waters of Lake Powell, where a Cessna is waiting to fly you back to Moab. "A bird's-eye view of the Class V rapids you just rafted is as good a way to end a trip as any," says Steve Markle, from the OARS rafting company. "At the height of the season, it's the biggest commercially run whitewater in North America."
Stay: Rooms at the Gonzo Inn, located off South Main Street in Moab, start at $169 per night.
Do: Through October, OARS in Moab runs six-day trips. $1,629 per person; oars.com
Credit: David Stubbs / Getty Images