Point your GPS towards Glacier Point Road, located off of Wawona Road, and begin the steady climb to the parking lot at the end. It's an easy walk to the viewing platform. Generally Glacier Point Road is open late April through early November, but if you're visiting any other time, pack your snowshoes and make the trek on foot.
As the sun continues to rise, wander the area around Glacier Point, including a quick visit to the geology hut, built in 1924 as a trailside museum.
Continue exploring the area and taking in the views. You can also visit the Visitor Center onsite, where you can learn about the evening ranger talks in the Amphitheatre nearby.
For those of you who are more adventurous, you can take the Yosemite bus to Glacier Point and hike 4.1 miles back into Yosemite Valley. Learn more about this hike here.
Just a few miles down from Glacier Point is the trailhead for Sentinel Dome and Taft Point. Try to arrive early or later in the day to find a spot in the small parking lot.
The trail out to Sentinel Dome is fairly even and gradually inclines. There are several spots to stop along the way for great shots of the valley, but the best views are at the top of the dome.
At the end of the trail, scramble up the steep side and to the top of Sentinel Dome, with views that rival Glacier Point. To the east, gaze at Nevada Falls, Half Dome (as seen here) and Clouds Rest; to the west view across Merced Canyon; and finally, Yosemite Valley to the north, including Yosemite Falls and El Capitan.
Return to the trailhead and continue on to Taft Point. Most of the trail is an easy walk through the woods.
After the switchbacks you will start to see the fissures of Taft Point - deep grooves in the rock. Photos do not do them justice - these steep drop offs are utterly intriguing but also rather dangerous, as most do not have guard rails. Watch your step and continue to the lookout point.
Impressive views of Yosemite Valley and El Capitan await at Taft Point. The terrain levels out at the top, with several areas making it easy to rest and enjoy a snack or picnic lunch, as we did.
On your return trip from Taft Point, don't miss the beauty of the woods surrounding you. There were several of these trees with moss-covered branches, which we found particularly beautiful.
The start of the trail is a bit tricky to find. Park at the Tunnel View parking lot (preferably on the south side) and look for the trail start. We found it towards the back of the parking lot but it seemed there were several ways to enter.
With almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain, and rocky terrain, the trail is steep for most of the ascent. Luckily the distance isn't too great, but you will want to stop to catch your breath and check out the views along the way.
Imagine stagecoaches filled with curious travelers from the late 1800s as they disembarked after a long journey to this, the end point of Old Wawona Road. No car or stagecoach has entered this area since 1937. This view is from the trail, looking to the right. To find the viewpoint, go to the right of the circle and descend to a granite shelf.
When you find the granite shelf, this is the view that will greet you. While essentially the same as Tunnel View, it's framed by beautiful trees and allows you to soak in Yosemite's grandeur without the crowds and selfie sticks. There are plenty of spots to relax and break out snacks or a picnic lunch.
If you're up for more adventure (and have the time), continue up the Pohono Trail for another 3 miles to reach Old Inspiration Point, where Yosemite Valley was first sighted in 1851. Otherwise, return via the same trail to reach the starting point at Wawona Tunnel.
There are multiple points from Northside or Southside Drives to start this hike, but we recommend beginning at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, where you will find a handy leaflet to guide you along the trail. If you're driving, park in one of the day-use areas, such as the one noted on the map near Yosemite Village. If you're on the shuttle bus, stops 6 or 11 access the hike as well. Since much of the path is bike-friendly, you can also rent bikes at Yosemite Lodge, as noted on the map.
Meander along the path in either direction and enjoy spectacular views of the valley. In the Spring and Summer, wildflowers blanket the ground.
Depending on the time of day, there is a good chance you will encounter the resident deer of Yosemite Valley.
The Cook's Meadow trail reaches the Merced River in two locations before crossing Northside Drive to continue Lower Yosemite Falls. If crowds are bothersome at the falls, there are many other sights in this area to enjoy. Don't miss the Yosemite Valley Chapel, built in 1879, or the Ansel Adams Gallery next to the visitors center.
Sunset in Yosemite Valley is an incredibly peaceful time. After a delightful dinner at The Majestic Yosemite Lodge, we made our way back to the meadows to watch the sun set over Half Dome.
Heading west on Tioga Road, you will see a small parking lot on the south side of the road. Visitors tend to come and go quickly, so you shouldn't have to wait long for a parking spot. And if you've reached Tenaya Lake, you've gone too far.
From here, you can see Cloud's Rest, Half Dome, Tenaya Lake and more. Helpful guides point out the highlights and provide background on the glacial formations you see throughout Yosemite.
If you would like further exploration, Olmsted Point connects to Snow Creek Falls Trails. Going north, it's about 2-miles to reach Tenaya Lake. If you head south, it's a challenging 21.3 mile hike down to Yosemite Valley. Plan accordingly!
This town, preserved in a state of "arrested decay", is much the same as it was in 1879 when it's population reached its highest point, 8,500. Though several fires destroyed many of the original 2,000 buildings, it's easy - and eery - to get a sense of what daily life was like in Bodie.
As Bodie declined over the next fifty years, many residents left behind everything when they moved out. You'll see stores still stocked with goods and homes with children's toys, beds and desks.
On the ranger-guided tour of Bodie, you'll learn more about the Bodie curse. Apparently, many visitors who have stolen artifacts - everything from letters to shoes to nails - have returned them complaining of terrible suffering. Read some of the letters of woe at the Bodie museum.
After seeing the winding, elevated road, you'll be thankful you're not driving. Take the shuttle bus from Mammoth Mountain Activity Center to the ranger station (stop #6), then hike the short 0.4 miles to Devils Postpile. Signs posted in the area will share more details about the unique geology of the formation.
Escape the crowds and find the trail to ascend to the top of the Postpile, where you can get up close and personal with the hexagonal columns (and in our case, it's wildlife residents). It's a fascinating formation, appearing more like floor tile than a natural creation. This is also the perfect spot for a picnic lunch or snack.
After exploring Devils Postpile, follow the many signs towards Rainbow Falls. A portion of the hike emerges from the forest to this open landscape, a result of the 1992 Rainbow Fire, which burned over 8,000 acres of the Inyo National Forest. However, fire is an important ecological process, and you'll witness forest regrowth first hand.
Continue the hike along the middle fork of the San Joaquin River. The trail crosses the historic Pacific Crest Trail, where you may meet up with intrepid travelers on their months-long journey.
The roar of the falls will be difficult to miss as you approach the Rainbow Falls viewpoint. Enjoy the 101-foot waterfall, but don't miss the two layers of volcanic rock in the surrounding cliffs. The waterfall is wearing away the softer layer of rock at the bottom, creating an alcove. On a sunny, clear day, a rainbow should welcome you. Head back to the ranger station, or follow signs to the Rainbow Falls Trailhead shuttle stop (#9), shortening the hike to 3.8 miles instead of 5 miles.
Vol. 1, 2018: Travel Planning Brings Happiness
Vol. 2, 2017: Go on Safari, Hotels We Love & Spring Gift Guide
Compass & Key is proud to be an independent online travel resource. All photography by Pradeep and Tara Anbudaiyan unless otherwise noted. Attraction, hotel and restaurant prices and hours are as current as possible, but please re-confirm before finalizing travel plans. And bravo to you for reading the fine print.
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