If you’re one of those who have a love-hate relationship with Yosemite (it’s gorgeous, but crowded), we have the solution: visit the less-traveled northwest corner around Hetch Hetchy. Back before the valley was dammed to create the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir — SF’s controversial water source — John Muir called it “one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples. A second Yosemite.” For a leisurely exploration of this uncrowded treasure, overnight at the historic Evergreen Lodge, only 6 miles from the reservoir. Built in 1921 to house the men who worked on the O’Shaughnessy Dam, this rustic place combines the quintessential Yosemite experience with a comfortable and friendly atmosphere. Their staff can lead you on one of their excellent outings (bike rides, hikes, fly-fishing trips) or give you enough information to explore on your own. Be sure to hike the 2.5 miles to impressive Wapama Falls; the trail is open and easy, with wide views of the gorgeous valley and a full 1,000-foot refreshing waterfall at your turnaround point. Also highly recommended: a 1.5-mile hike to your own private swimming hole at Carlon Falls; you’ll have to ask Joe, Evergreen’s benevolent manager, for the directions to this secluded spot. If Yosemite Valley is the heart of this national park, Hetch Hetchy is its soul.
CUSTOM CAMPING: A great budget alternative is Evergreen’s “custom camping”; the tents are already set up for you, with everything from air beds to towels and toiletries. Cost is $50-$80.
Evergreen Lodge, 33160 Evergreen Rd., Groveland, 800-935-6343. Cabin rates: $99–$259.