By Kathryn O'Shea-Evans
May 02, 2011

As someone who has lived and worked in three national parks, I know there are some things most tourists will never visit—from hidden hikes and waterfalls to the best happy hours. I turned to ranger Scott Gediman to find insider secrets about California’s Yosemite National Park, an Ansel Adams photograph sprung-to-life.

Q: What’s a surprisingly little-known hike in the park?

A: Yosemite Valley gets a bad rap for being so crowded, but on the 13-mile Valley Floor Loop Trail, you’ll stroll past Yosemite Falls, the base of El Capitan, and Bridal Veil Falls—all with nobody in sight. It’s an old bridle path for horses, so very flat and easy to get to.

Q: How do you get a canvas tent at one of the more popular campgrounds, like Curry Village?

A: Book early. A year and a day before you want to arrive. And don’t forget the less-visited sites near Tuolumne Meadows, or Hetch Hetchy: they’re serene and mostly crowd-free, even in the height of summer.

Q: Do you recommend the famous Ahwahnee Hotel brunch?

A: The dining room there is legendary, but if you want a more affordable meal where you can feel comfortable in hiking gear, hit the bar. It’s partly al fresco, so you can sip Snowshoe Brewing’s Yosemite Pale Ale while overlooking half dome and the granite walls of Glacier Point.

Q: Where do you go out on a Saturday night?

A: Oddly enough, sometimes we head to Tioga Gas Mart, on the east side of the park. They’re famous for their food (fish tacos with ginger cole slaw; lobster taquitos), and on weekends they host free bluegrass concerts on a lawn overlooking Mono Lake.

Kathryn O'Shea-Evans is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure.