There’s only one place to get a sweeping view of the valley from the Yosemite Visitor’s Center to Half Dome to the Nevada and Vernal Falls, and that’s Glacier Point. Only 1.5 miles from the valley as the crow flies, it’s well over an hour drive since you head west down 49 and then back east up Glacier Point road, but it’s a trip that’s well worth the time it takes to get there. Think journey, not just destination!
Even with traffic, the winding road up to Glacier Point is an enjoyable drive, with scenic views and beautiful surroundings. You’ll likely see a coyote or two wandering next to the road begging for handouts – do NOT feed them! Feeding the wild animals trains them to become dependent on handouts and then they lose their ability to forage naturally. Quite often, the Park Service is forced to kill these animals as they become a threat to themselves and humans. We spotted one running in and out of the road in the middle of the blind curve, and wondered how many accidents are caused by panic braking to avoid hitting them.
Brace yourself for the crowds at Glacier Point itself. Not quite as crowded as the Valley, but you’ll be jostling around for that perfect spot for your photo ops. There’s plenty of space, but plenty of tourists too! Make sure you check out the geological exhibit, it’s really quite mind-bending to envision the Valley as it was filled with a glacier. If you’ve done any hiking today, reward yourself with an ice cream from the concessionaire – we did! Lots of tourists provide lots of people watching opportunities, as long as you brought a heaping helping of tolerance with you.
Hopefully you also brought your hiking boots, because the only way to get a view of El Capitan from here is to hike the Sentinel Dome or Taft Point trails from the trailhead a few miles back up Glacier Point Road. Neither are listed as easy, but they’re easy enough hikes and we saw plenty of people in tennis shoes making the trek up Sentinel Dome. Depending on the time of year, you might want to bring a light jacket with you because the wind whips up out of the valley and over the face of the dome, as evidenced by the twisted torturous shapes of the few pine trees hardy enough to survive life at the top of the rock.
There are a few more checklist items that you can knock out that are just a bit south of the Glacier Point turnoff – see the Wawona Hotel, check out the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, and of course – hike the Wawona Meadows Loop. We hiked this a few weeks back, an found it to be an enjoyable trail if you have some free time. It’s an easy 3.2 mile hike, mostly paved and with very little elevation change. They weren’t lying when they listed it as ‘easy’. With promises of a ‘virtually guaranteed’ herd of mule deer (they lied!) and wildflowers galore, it seemed like a hike right up our alley. Despite the lack of deer and wildflowers, this is a beautiful leisurely hike, and it’s very nice to be able to go out for a stroll without worrying a schedule or a particular goal. Stop the smell the pines. Listen to the wind rustling the tree tops. Marvel at the young trees growing in a previously burned zone. These are lots of things that we might miss with an agenda, a timeline, places to go and things to do.