We’ve all seen the Ansel Adams photographs. The famous black and white prints of soaring peaks, deep valleys, crystal clear lakes, and alpine forests. These days, Adams is replaced by his thousands of admirers who channel their love of nature through Instagram. Admirers who, in the process, have made Yosemite National Park more of a global icon than it already was.
Each year, four million visitors enter the pristine nature preserve to witness the awe-inspiring landscape for themselves. Glacier Point Road offers perhaps the most incredible and accessible views of Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley and the High Sierras in the entire park.
The Best Views of Yosemite
There are any number of day hikes you can take from the road, but two of the most famous ones (which you can combine into one) are Sentinel Dome and Taft Point.
If you don’t recognize the names, you might recognize the views.
Sentinel Dome and Taft Point are relatively tame hikes for the casual park-goer. They’re each 2.2 miles roundtrip, but you can combine them by taking a section of the Pohono Trail that connects the two landmarks. The combined trail takes a few hours to complete.
Many people will head to Taft Point first, but we opted to start with Sentinel Dome during our visit. I’m glad we did: We saw a blonde-streaked bear cross right in front of our path! Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to snap a photo, but the “spirit bear” lives on in my memory.
After an easy incline, we came upon the dome. The climb appears imposing from the bottom, but the scramble to the top is fun and not too strenuous.
Once we made it to the top, my jaw hit the floor and didn’t find its way back to its socket until we returned to the trail.
Sentinel Dome is truly one of the few awe-inspiring, spiritual experiences I’ve had in nature.
Try not to feel the same way when you cast your eyes upon this.
As a geology buff, I couldn’t help but imagine what the valley must have looked like millions of years ago before glaciers carved out the deep u-shaped valleys and rounded out the massive granite peaks formed by the cooling of molten rock. The resulting landscape is otherworldly.
We lingered at the top for an hour staring off into the distance.
Finally, we made our way down and set off for Taft Point.
We greatly underestimated the amount of time it would take us to finish the circuit. We connected up with the Pohono Trail and hiked through the woods for what seemed like forever. Thankfully, the trail followed the edge of the cliff which offered incredible views the entire way!
We stopped for lunch at a small outcropping of rocks, dangled our feet over the exposed cliffside, and took in the best views of Yosemite with some PB&J.
Finally, we made it to Taft Point. By now it was midday and the crowds had thickened. A word of advice: if you do this hike, try to go early so you can have the trails and the sweeping views to yourself!
The views from the cliffs were spectacular nonetheless. Fissure cracks seem to appear out of nowhere and drop hundreds of feet. It goes without saying, but don’t forget to watch your step.
After waiting our turn for the traditional Taft Point “edge of the world” photos, we made the quick hike back to the car. My feet were tired and welcomed the hour-long drive back to Camp Curry (which was directly at the bottom of the cliff we had just been on). I laid out a blanket by the Merced River, took a nap, and let the soft valley breeze cool my body.
What to Know If You Go
- Plan for a three- to four-hour hike (plus any additional time if you stop for lunch or for frequent breaks). If you choose to just do Sentinel Dome or Taft Point, you’ll probably need two hours.
- The trail is 13.6 miles into Glacier Point Road, and about an hour from the valley. Be sure to make your way to Glacier Point (at the very end of the road) before or after the hike to take in the impressive views.
- Go early for the best light and fewest crowds.
- Glacier Point Road is only open seasonally, so be sure to confirm that the road is open before you set out for the hike.
- Never climb Sentinel Dome (or any dome for that matter) if there is the threat of a thunderstorm.
- Bathroom facilities are located at the trailhead. There are none on the trails.
Additional Reading and Resources
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