Staying in a Curry Canvas tent end of July and it's our first trip to Yosemite. We're excited but we know how busy it will be and I'm looking for any tips, tricks, must sees, trails, points and peaks that may be fun and out of the way. I also want to know about must-do's that will be busy. We may put in for a cables permit 2 days prior but not sure if this is what we want to do and the odds, who knows. Open to long days.
Tuolumne Meadows is the place to be in summer, especially in a drought year. Still, the valley has iconic views not to be missed.
Gaze at Half Dome in the evening from the meadows near Curry Village or the meadows near the likely dry Yosemite Falls. If wanting to hit the valley tourist spots for part of a day, rent a bike to tour the valley rather than attempting to drive it.
Hike the Mist Trail even though it is a zoo and won't be anything near peak runoff. Consider a 4-mile Trail-Glacier Point-Panorama Trail-Mist Trail Loop for great views.
Consider hiking to Clouds Rest from the Mist Trail; it does not have the same thrill and bragging factor of Half Dome for the casual hiker, but has better views and no crowds. Sunrise TH provides a shorter hike to Clouds Rest either out and back or as a one way hike via bus or arranged by car.
Like I mentioned, go up to Tuolumne Meadows. Stay up there some of the time if you can swing it. Swim in the river pools north of the campground. Pick a peak or dome, or several of them, to hike and scramble. Lembert and Cathedral are nice, short hikes. There are other scrambles and climbs galore to be found if you are into that.
Consider hiking Mt. Conness, North Peak, or Conness Lakes from Saddlebag Lake; that area is not to be missed! Mt. Hoffmann, or if looking for a long hike, Mt. Lyell are known to be very scenic hikes.
Here is a guide to some off the beaten path Yosemite Valley hikes from a guy who has made a spectacular Death Valley website: http://www.panamintcity.com/exclusives/intro.html Note: This summer will not be the best time for some of his suggestions.
Also, consider hiking the four-mile trail up from the valley (take the early shuttle from Curry that drops you close to TH) enjoy the views at Glacier Point once you top out and then continue down the Panorama Trail, passing Illilouette Falls to Nevada Falls and down the Mist Trail. Makes for a beautiful day hike. The shuttle at Happy Isles will take you back to Curry. Cloud's Rest is a beautiful hike and nowhere near as crowded at Half Dome. You can also hike it from Tenaya Lake at the Sunrise TH. A shuttle will take you there from Curry. Bring a mosquito head net, just in case. Smaller hikes: Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, Yosemite Falls (do it in morning before it gets hot.) If you run, an early morning run from Curry to Happy Isles then head north near Mirror lake, head west to the Ahwahnee Hotel, then pass the meadow and run in front of the ranger residence cabins and back to Curry is a lovely loop. Rent a raft at Curry and float the Merced. Pizza at the Curry Patio is the best food in the valley.
The Four Mile-Panorama-Mist loop that Sean suggested is terrific. Did that on rest days when I used to spend long periods climbing there. Do Half Dome if you get a chance, even if it is crowded. It's a remarkable summit. The cables should not be as crazy as they have been in the past given the permit system.
Tuolumne is awesome. You can hike to Glen Aulin. Mt. Hoffman is a terrific summit. Mt. Dana is an awesome hike from Tioga Pass, one of my favorites. I think the best suggestion for the Valley is to realize that often you need only hike 5 minutes from a really crowded spot and see no one. Often we would head down river toward El Portal, park by the river and spend a rewarding afternoon hanging out on a spot by the river.