Many people will tell you that the very best view of Yosemite Valley is from Tunnel View. Others claim it’s from Glacier Point. Both of these are very nice, although I personally choose Artist Point as the best view of the valley. However, what both Tunnel View and Artist Point lack is a view of the famous falls that draw many thousands of visitors to the park each spring. Glacier Point, on the other hand, does offer this view, and it’s quite amazing when the falls are flowing freely in the spring. However, even when the falls are nearly dry in summer and fall, the point is worth visiting. You are high up above Yosemite Valley, with a clear view of Half Dome and Yosemite’s high country, so no matter what time of year you visit, the point offers and experience some call “exhilarating” and others say is “unnerving”. The wheelchair-accessible “trail” to the point is long enough to discourage auto touring visitors, but short enough that just about any visitor could walk to the viewing area (600 yards/0.5 km round trip). If you’re visiting Yosemite National Park when the road isn’t snowed in (usually mid-November to mid-May) I highly recommend this spectacular view.
To get to the parking area, from the south entrance, keep driving up the Wawona Road for approximately 17 miles to the Glacier Point Road (on your right; this junction is very well-signed). Alternatively, from the north (Yosemite Valley), take the Wawona Road past Tunnel View and up, up, up over the mountains to the Glacier Point Road on your left, about 9 miles from the Southside Drive. Again, this is well-signed. Drive on the Glacier Point road until it ends, approximately 15 miles later. There is a fairly large, paved parking area here, as well as a large building with restrooms and a store. Head over to the right of the store to the trail that leads off parallel to the building. A map of the Glacier Point Road can be found at http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/glacierhikes.pdf
The Glacier Point Road is usually open from mid-May to mid-November; however, it can be open as late as July and close as early as October or as late as December. A few years they’ve closed the road, and then reopened it due to less-than-normal snow conditions. During the winter months (December to March, usually) the road can be skied. I recall one year in May when we stayed an extra day just because they were opening the road the next day. There was still snow along the road, as well as at Glacier Point, since the only way they’d been able to open the road was to use snowplows to plow the snow into huge drifts by the side of the road!
The trail itself is paved, and is accessible to wheelchairs. It would also be fairly easy to push a stroller along it, although I believe that the final viewing area has steps going down to it. You can definitely see the view from the upper viewing area, so if the lower area is not wheelchair accessible, you still get a great view. The trail itself goes fairly straight among some pine trees for about 300 yards (275 meters) out to the point. Before you get to the point there will be some large rocks on your right just off of the trail. These rocks are at ground level, so they make a great place to sit and eat a snack or to let the children play (they’re far enough away from the edge that it’s fairly safe). Watch out for wildlife, though, as there are some rodents who would be more than happy to take your food right off of your lap!
Then you finally get out to Glacier Point itself. There are two general viewing areas, one higher up and one lower down. Start at the upper one, and then work your way down into the lower viewing area. The lower one is often jammed with people (or at least it was when we were there on a weekend in late September; I don’t recall it being quite that bad on weekdays in May and early September). You may have to wait your turn (and push yourself in there) if you want to get down to the lower viewing area and go right over to the guardrail. I highly recommend that you do this, as it’s absolutely the best place to see the view from. The view itself is breathtaking, no matter where you are in the viewing areas. You can see Half Dome clearly here and the famed Yosemite Falls, as well as Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Clouds Rest, and North Dome. The view down the valley towards the Yosemite high country is also stunning. I can’t describe it, and the pictures can’t capture it. You’re so high and there’s so much space around you. It’s really an experience. After all, you’re more than 3,000 ft. (900 meters) above the valley floor!
Glacier point also has a lot of history associated with it. Many celebrities have been there and have had themselves photographed on a nearby rock. In the pictures, it’s not that exciting: they’re just on a rock, right? Well actually, the rock is an outcropping, so these people are standing on this little rock that’s projecting out over 3,000 feet of air…straight to the valley floor. No thanks! My favorite picture of the outcropping is of two girls doing the can-can on it. There are also pictures of Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir at Glacier point from the early 1900s. Signboards along the trail and in the area show these pictures, as well as many others and information about the point.
So if you’re looking for a place to see Yosemite Valley, or you just want a view that’s breathtaking, Glacier Point is a good place to go. It’s a bit of a drive from the main attractions of the valley, but you won’t be disappointed.
Round Trip Trail Length: 600 yards/0.34 miles (550 meters/0.54 kilometers)
Facilities: Restrooms, informational signboards, store, telephone
Fees: $20 per vehicle, good 7 days, to enter Yosemite National Park. Interagency (America the Beautiful), Senior (Golden Age), Access (Golden Access), and Yosemite Passes also accepted.
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
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Mon Jan 22
Partly cloudy early then becoming cloudy with periods of rain this afternoon. Thunder possible. High 62F. Winds S at 15 to 25 mph. Chance of rain 90%.
Tue Jan 23
Overcast. High 42F. Winds WSW at 10 to 20 mph.
Wed Jan 24
Sunshine and clouds mixed. High 42F. Winds W at 10 to 15 mph.
Thu Jan 25
Sunny. High 49F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.
Fri Jan 26
Generally sunny despite a few afternoon clouds. High 56F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.