On our recent visit to Yosemite, there were a few “must do” hikes on my list along the Tioga Road, namely, Cloud’s Rest and North Dome. Actually, the dome didn’t interest me as much as a photo I had seen of a little arch of white-and-colored-lichen rock, apparently called “Indian Rock”. (It’s actually a lot larger than the photos make it look, but that’s another story.) Since the arch was technically on the way to the dome, it seemed like a great little dayhike… and hopefully the crowds and snow wouldn’t be as bad as the valley (crowds) and higher on the Tioga Road (Mono Pass didn’t look so promising).
So we started off down the trail – really, an old road – late in the morning (EDT it was late), having driven in from the Virginia Lakes before starting the hike. The road is steep for a road, though not too bad for a trail, as it descends 0.75 miles to the site of an old campground. When I hiked the trail, there were a few trees across the road. I’m guessing these will have been care of by the park service once the snow melted out.
Turn right to find the double stream crossing, then continue along the trail.
Now, the trail goes up a north-facing slope, so this next section was the only one with snow on the hike (the Tioga Road had opened two days before). It wasn’t hard to find the trail, even if it was a bit of up-and-down over snow piles as the trail goes through a pine forest.
The next point of interest was at mile 2.0. Here the trail junctions with the trail to Mirror Lake. Turn right, following signs for North Dome. Only 0.05 miles later, turn left toward North Dome at a junction with trails heading toward Yosemite Valley. Really, these trails are just a bit confusing; everything seems to lead to the Valley sooner or later!
Shortly after the trail junctions, a well-trampled trail / campsite appears on right (you won’t miss it). Go this direction, around some rocks, and then up on other rocks for a nice view out toward the Valley.
Continue on the trail through the thinning pine forest. It now heads uphill fairly steeply. Don’t worry, this is the last real push before North Dome, though Indian Rock has one more steep ascent.
At 3.3 miles from the trailhead, the unassuming trail junction indicates Indian Rock, 0.3. (I’ve never personally been a fan of these cut metal signs, but whatever.) Turn left here up the nowhere-near-as-traveled trail.
The trail wanders for a very short distance, then begins to climb in earnest. It looks like people have either lost the trail and made their own, or the trail isn’t very well defined. Either way, it’s a very steep 0.25 miles up 200ft. of elevation gain. The good news is that the arch fairly quickly comes into view on the left and above you, so at least you know what you’re heading for!
Below the arch, plenty of people have headed up to Indian Rock via a number of social trails. I did it, and it’s not a bad scramble. But for an easier trek, continue on the trail behind the arch, then turn left. It’s not quite a stroll in the park, but much easier than scrambling up the front.
Indian Rock is like no other arch I’ve ever seen, especially outside of Utah. It’s amazing that this span could stay up, it’s so thin, and to sit beneath it and look out to the snowcovered Sierras and the cliffs of Half Dome is just incredible.
We were the only visitors to Indian Rock when we arrived, although I think we might have met one or two people coming up as we were heading back down. And that compared to the crowds of backpackers (nothing like the Valley, but still plenty of people) along the North Dome Trail.
Technically, Indian Rock is the only arch in Yosemite. Which spurred my group to point out every arch they discovered the entire time they were in the park (there were lots; there’s even a second arch right next to Indian Rock!) So maybe it’s safer to say that it’s Yosemite’s only named, marked-on-the-map arch…
We enjoyed the view and the shade of the rocks while we had our first lunch (too many years of forgetting lunch has prompted jokes about packing two lunches), then headed back down, carefully avoiding the rattlesnake we had seen earlier, sunning itself on a nearby rock.
At the trail junction, we turned left to go over to North Dome, and even if you don’t want to go to the Dome itself, it’s worth hiking another half mile or so to the first really good viewpoint. But North Dome is a post under its own…
Round Trip Trail Length: About 6.6 miles to Indian Rock. North Dome for me was about 11 miles RT
Net Elevation Change: 489ft. (7,810ft. at Porcupine Creek to 8,299ft. at Indian Rock)
Facilities: Primitive restrooms at the trailhead
Fees: $30 per vehicle, valid 7 days. Yosemite Annual and America the Beautiful Interagency Passes (Annual, Access, Senior, Military, 4th Grader, Volunteer) also accepted.
Trail Notes: Apparently the one north-facing slope (just after the Porcupine Creek crossing) melts slower than the rest of the trail. There are plenty of backpackers on this trail in season, along with a good number of day hikers, though it’s nothing like the valley and you will get a decent amount of privacy (especially after the Indian Rock Trail junction). The last 0.25 miles of the trail can be a bit of a find-the-trail game, but not so much that you can’t figure it out if you can see where the arch is.
Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this?
Key GPS Coordinates for Indian Rock
Porcupine Creek Trailhead: 37.8065056°N, -119.5451722°W (37°48’23.42″N, -119°32’42.62″W / 37°48.39033’N, -119°32.71033’W) (8,133ft.) (0.0; ended 8.27, but that’s wrong)
Enter Wilderness: 37.7993778°N, -119.5482667°W (37°47’57.76″N, -119°32’53.76″W / 37°47.96267’N, -119°32.89600’W) (7,836ft.) (0.71)
Mirror Lake Junction: 37.7869000°N, -119.5586861°W (37°47’12.84″N, -119°33’31.27″W / 37°47.21400’N, -119°33.52117’W) (7,881ft.) (2.05) (Go right)
Yosemite Falls Junction: 37.7866056°N, -119.5589028°W (37°47’11.78″N, -119°33’32.05″W / 37°47.19633’N, -119°33.53417’W) (7,877ft.) (2.10) (Go left)
Viewpoint: 37.7820417°N, -119.5604417°W (37°46’55.35″N, -119°33’37.59″W / 37°46.92250’N, -119°33.62650’W) (7,916ft.) (2.46)
Indian Rock Trail Junction: 37.7755778°, -119.5565000°W (37°46’32.08″N, -119°33’23.40″W / 37°46.53467’N, -119°33.39000’W) (8,108ft.) (3.31; return 3.97) (Left to Indian Rock)
Indian Rock: 37.7763500°N, -119.5536083°W (37°46’34.86″N, -119°33’12.99″W / 37°46.58100’N, -119°33.21650’W) (8,299ft.) (3.5)
The gpx file for Indian Rock and North Dome can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.
Download GPX File size: 234.0 KB Downloaded 3 times
(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website. Thanks!)
Getting to the Indian Rock Trailhead
From Lee Vining (US-395 on the east side of the park), turn west onto the road into Yosemite, more technically known as the Tioga Pass Road. Signs should point toward Tioga Pass and Yosemite National Park. Drive 33.7 miles to the trailhead for Porcupine Creek, on left.
From the El Portal Road in the Valley or coming from El Portal, turn onto Big Flat Road toward CA-120 and Tioga Pass. After 9.5 miles, turn right in Crain Flat, following signs for Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass. Drive 24.9 miles to the Porcupine Creek Trailhead, on right.
The parking area is none too large. I recommend getting their fairly early during the summer months (I think we pulled in about 8am on a Saturday of a holiday weekend, and there were still parking spaces, which there weren’t when we returned about 5pm).
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Mon Sep 25
Mainly clear. Lows overnight in the mid 30s.
Tue Sep 26
A mainly sunny sky. High 62F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph.
Wed Sep 27
Sunny. High 66F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph.
Thu Sep 28
Generally sunny despite a few afternoon clouds. High 69F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph.
Fri Sep 29
Sunny, along with a few afternoon clouds. High around 70F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.