Glacier Point Road
If you love the thrill of heights, head up Glacier Point Road and take a hike up to or along one of the spectacular (and slightly scary) granite cliffs. Hikes in this area run from quite easy to rigorous, but note that many of the cliffside trails aren’t appropriate for hard-to-control children.
The two-mile round-trip hike up Sentinel Dome (trailhead just southwest of end of Glacier Point Rd.) makes for a surprisingly easy walk; the only steep part runs right up the dome at the end of the trail. You can do this hike in 2–3 hours, and you’ll find views at the top to make the effort and high elevation (more than 8,000 feet at the top) more than worthwhile.
On a clear day, you can see from Yosemite Valley to the High Sierras and all the way out to Mount Diablo in the Bay Area to the west. Be sure to bring a camera! Be aware that there are no guardrails or walls to protect you from the long falls along the side of the trail and at the top of the dome.
Another not-too-long walk to a magnificent vista point is the hike to Taft Point and the Fissures (park 1–2 miles southwest of Glacier Point, Glacier Point Rd.). This two-mile round-trip hike takes you along some of Yosemite’s unusual rock formations (the Fissures), through the always lovely woods, and on out to Taft Point.
This precarious precipice boasts not a single stone wall—only a rickety set of guardrails to keep visitors from plummeting off the point 2,000 feet down to the nearest patch of flat ground. Thrill seekers enjoy challenging themselves to get right up to the edge of the cliff and peer down. Happily for more sedate hikers, the elevation change from the trailhead to the point is only about 200 feet.
If you’re looking for a mid-level or challenging hike, plus the most spectacular view of all of Yosemite Falls anywhere in the park, take the Four Mile Trail (Glacier Point to Southside Dr., eight miles round-trip) that connects Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley. The easiest way to take this hike is to start at the top, from Glacier Point, and hike down to the valley.
You can then catch a ride on the Glacier Point Tour Bus (be sure to buy tickets in advance!) back up to your car. The steep climb up the trail from the valley can be much harder on the legs and the lungs, but it affords you an ascending series of views of Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Valley that grow more spectacular with each switchback.
For a longer high-elevation hike, take the 12.5-mile walk to Ostrander Lake (trailhead approximately two miles past Bridalveil Creek Rd., Glacier Point Rd.) and back. (You can cross-country ski to the lake in the winter and stay overnight at the local ski hut.) This trek can take all day if you’re going at a relaxed pace-especially if you’re visiting during June or July and stopping to admire the wildflowers in bloom all along the trail.
The lake itself is a lovely patch of shining clear water surrounded by granite boulders and picturesque pine trees. Consider starting up the trail in the morning and packing a picnic lunch to enjoy beside the serene water. And remember to bring bug repellant since the still waters of the lake and nearby streams are mosquito heaven during hiking season.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition