If you only do one thing in Yosemite, this has to be it. Drive up the 27 km to the top and then walk out on to the promontory over the valley. The stupendous panorama extends for miles, even the Sierra Nevada comes into view. Sublime !!!
It is a long drive from the southern entrance (Hwy 41 coming up from Fresno) until the tremendous sights of Yosemite Valley make an appearance. Miles of very twisty roadway past endless groves of pines. Resist the urge to pull over and peer through the trees over the edge of the cliffs that you will drive along. The views are mediocre and you want to be wowed by the first sight of Yosemite Valley.
We chose to take the road up to Glacier Point before driving on to the valley floor. It was a good choice. Glacier Point is a long drive in itself, 16 miles from the turnoff with top speeds of maybe 35 mph given the precarious curves along the way. But the payoff is worth the drive and worth the wait. The first view from either Washburn Point or Glacier Point looking at Half Dome, Cloudsrest and North Dome are just indescribably jaw-dropping. The vista is so unique that it is not surpassed by the likes of Denali, Big Sur or Crater Lake.
We decided to head to Glacier Point and enjoy "Sunset Ranger Talk". The talk began at 19:45 and lasted for about 1/2 hour. It was a good introduction to the park and gave us time to sit down and just enjoy the scenery.
The Ranger gave a informative and interesting talk about the area and was certainly worth missing dinner for. we snacked on half a sandwich and a bag of nuts each as we watched the sun go down.
We spent a few hours at Glacier Point and it gave us some spectacular views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley.
A short spur from the main path to Glacier Point leads you to the Geology Exhibit, a stone hut with a description inside of how Yosemite Valley formed. It starts with the upllift of the Sierra Nevada, and then the canyon cut into the range by the Merced River. Later, glaciers blanketed the whole area; in fact, at one point, all of Yosemite Valley except the top of Half Dome was glaciated. Later glaciers eventually carved out the steep cliffs and walls of the valley. After the last glacial retreat, terminal moraine created a giant lake that eventually silted up into today's flat Yosemite Valley. After seeing the exhibit, walk out onto it's viewpoint for a view of Half Dome, the Giant Staircase, and Tenaya Canyon.
If you've made Nevada Falls and you're ready for more, hump your pack and water all the way to Glacier Point, one of the highest overlooks in the valley. From here you can witness at once the effects of past glaciation in this beautiful park, see how Half Dome was sheered away from its original form, and see how forests were left to thrive once the glaciers entirely receded.
And for an awesome view of the points you just passed only a few hours back, there's Half Dome, Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls looking like miniatures from Glacier Point. Both legs of Yosemite Valley are immediately visible from the overlooks.
Mmmm, what can I say that hasn't already been said about this lookout? Nothing I suspect. Stunning one minute, unforgettable the next, it's one of those places that lives up to its hype and then some.
Someone once said, "If you only have time to see one national park in America, then it should be Yosemite." They were obviously standing at this lookout when they said it.
It's a clear case of sensory overload, mainly visual but sound and the caressing of the wind play their part as well.
I would suggest sunrise would be an excellent time to visit, followed by sunset. While the former is happening you have a better percentile chance of having a clear sky in this weather ravaged area.
One of my panoramas now resides on my computer as my screen saver and, trust me, it takes some special memory to get that status.
Well not quite, but the view is spectacular at over 3200 feet. The lookout is over the Yosemite Valley where many of its well known features can be seen. This is considered to be one of the most exhilarating overlooks in the world. There are many paved walking paths and informational signs.
A snack bar, gift shop and restrooms are here.
Glacier Point, is a scenic overlook that is about a 1-hour drive from the Yosemite Valley. It as actually located at the top of the cliffs on the southern edge of the valley, about 3000 feeet above the valley floor. It provides you with an amazing view of the Yosemite Valley from above, as well as all of the surrounding mountains and valleys. If you are going to make one trip outside of the valley, this should be the one.
This photo is taken from Glacier Point and zoomed to 300 mm or so. Tenaya Mountain and Cathedral Peak are in the high Sierra in Yosemite's less visited backcountry. It is possible to drive the Tioga Road to get much closer to these peaks, but if you wish to climb to their summit expect long hikes and overnight camping.
Looking north across Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point you can see North Dome and Basket Dome. They are absolutely beautiful symetrical domes--but they get only a nod as supporting cast when viewed alongside Half Dome or El Capitan.
The summit of North Dome is a strenuous overnight hike from the Yosemite Valley (a 3600 foot climb) or a moderate dayhike from the Porcupine Creek Trailhead off the Tioga Road (an 8.8 mile roundtrip with an 800 foot descent).
The Glacier Point Road is generally only open from Memorial Day (late May) to October, and is closed in winter and spring due to snow. Plowing of the Glacier Point road begins April 15 each year; check the national park service website if you plan on driving to Glacier Point before July. From the junction with the Wawona Road (Hwy 41), the Glacier Point Road climbs a ridge above the valley of Grouse Creek. It eventually crests at Badger Pass, where you'll find the little-known Summit Meadow. Since it is so close to the road, you'll hear many cars going by, which is unpleasant; but not many people stop at this meadow. It doesn't have the most spectacular setting, but you can find wildflowers and wildlife near this meadow.
Whatever you do in Yosemite, Glacier Point is DEFINITLY worth a visit. It sits on top of a 3,200 foot almost sheer cliff rising from Yosemite Valley below and offers the most spectacular views over the valley and to the mountains beyond. My adivce would be to make it one of the last things you do in the park. We came on our last day (although this was mainly because they only opened the road that day!) We spent ages there admiring the views, taking photos and trying to figure out which waterfall was what. It was really nice to be able to piece everything together, identifying waterfalls, peaks and trails that we'd seen during the previous couple of days.
For those with plenty of stamina, Glacier Point can be accessed by the VERY steep (3,200 foot ascent!) Four Mile Trail - which, according to my guide book, is actually 10 miles long! Alternatively, you can get the Glacier Point Hikers Bus ($15 each way) from the valley floor, or you can get there by car along the Glacier Point Road.
Glacier Point is a long drive from the valley. First, you have to take the road up and out of the valley. From there, it winds through the forest until you reach Glacier point. Here, is the most spectacular view of the valley that I remember. Below, the valley reaches far to the east and west. The north rim appears as if across a small ocean. Between is the open sky. Here, you're so far above the valley bottom that birds don't venture over the rim.
The Ranger picture is from the 1970's, the way I remember it. There were/are ranger talks at the top of the point and at night there are talks in the campground at the bottom of the point. Experience the height of the valley from both the top and the bottom.
The other is from 1915, when you could take your life in your hands and stand on the edge of eternity. Today, you should visit Half Dome and take the hike to the top for this experience. Oh- Half dome can be seen on across the valley in the 1915 picture.
You can see Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Yosemite Falls, the Libery Cap, Clouds Rest and the valley from Glacier Point. If you walked up, you might even spot your car in the parking lot down below.
There are several ways to get to Glacier Point. You can drive, take a shuttle or hike. If you hike, you can take 4 Mile Trail, which is a steep but short trek up 3200 feet, or you can take the beautiful but long Panorama Trail. We did the Panorama Trail -- parked at Curry Village and hiked up from the Happy Isles Trailhead (8 hours at an easy pace with stops).