A Shorter Path to Sentinel Dome

Yosemite Falls from the slopes of Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls from the slopes of Sentinel Dome

Sentinel Dome is one of my favorite places in Yosemite to view Yosemite Falls.  You’re above the falls, but across the valley, so it’s easy to see, and the hike isn’t exactly arduous – if you use the real parking area, it’s 2.2 miles RT on mostly flat terrain, if you use an alternate parking area like I did this time, it’s only 1.35 miles RT with all the elevation gain you’d be walking anyway (well, maybe a little more, but it’s negligible).  Plus, the view to El Capitan, Half Dome, and Nevada Falls, not to mention other peaks and valleys around Yosemite, is excellent!

 

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 1.35 miles Trail Type: Lollipop loop Elevation Change: 467ft. Fees: $35/vehicle

 



 

Half Dome and Nevada Falls (bottom right) from Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park, California

Half Dome and Nevada Falls (bottom right)

I actually visited the first time using the traditional trail, back in 2010, and I really should have blogged about it, but somehow never got there.  The problem on that trip – and probably why I never blogged about the trail – was that I hiked the trail in September, and at that time of year, Yosemite Falls is, as we say, “Yosemite Fell” – in other words, there isn’t any water going over the falls.  It’s just a big stain on the valley wall showing where the waterfall would be in the spring.  So while the other views are just as nice, the main feature is lacking at any time of year except spring and early summer.

Wildflowers are another reason to visit Sentinel Dome in early summer, Yosemite National Park, California

Wildflowers are another reason to visit in early summer

This time, it was early July after an extremely prolific snow year (about 200% snowpack), and the falls, while not at full-force, were quite a sight to behold!

Close up of Upper Yosemite Falls. It's not as full as it would be in May, but there was still water in early July. Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park, California

Close up of Upper Yosemite Falls. It’s not as full as it would be in May, but there was still water in early July.

Most people begin at the parking area for Taft Point (and since both destinations are extremely popular, the parking area will probably be full, so you might have to park on the shoulder of the road or take the park shuttle – I found a spot without a lot of difficulty on the September afternoon, but would have had to park elsewhere in the early morning (~7am) in July).  If you want trail directions to Sentinel Dome from there, see this link (to my favorite site about hiking in Yosemite National Park).

The view up the fire road from the Glacier Point Road, en route to Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

The view up the fire road from the Glacier Point Road

But this time I had done my research, and so we started a mile or so down the road at a little parking area almost directly across the road from a fire road (“Fire Motorway”) with a gate across it.  You’ll want to walk up this fire road for 0.3 miles to the official trail (a sign at this point proclaims the path you’ve been following is a “service road”) and then turn right.  At all of the next junctions (including one at mile 0.4 and another at mile 0.5), follow the signs for Sentinel Dome.

Walking up the fire road to Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park, California

Walking up the fire road

At last the trail hits the dome itself.  The way from here is marked with rocks, so while you shouldn’t get lost, you can always keep heading upward if you do.  The pathway up the dome is fairly steep across what would be called slickrock in Utah, but is actually made of granite instead of Utah’s sandstone.

Looking back down the last part of the trail up Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Looking back down the last part of the trail up Sentinel Dome

On the way up, there are a few viewpoints.  My favorite was a group of pines that framed Yosemite Falls (he photo at the top of this post).

Close up of Lower Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Close up of Lower Yosemite Falls

Arrive at the top of Sentinel Dome just before mile 0.7.  While the views are good here, most people don’t actually hang around the summit because the views are simply better on the edges of the dome than at the top.

Mount Starr King and the High Sierras from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Mount Starr King and the High Sierras

There’s quite a bit of room around the dome, so while you certainly won’t be alone, there are places to see the view without being in the middle of the crowd.  Because it was early morning (so early Yosemite Falls didn’t even come out of the shadow of the valley until we had been there 20 or 30 minutes), the best view was down into the valley toward El Capitan.  Later in the day, the views are better to the east, toward Half Dome and Nevada Falls and the High Sierras.

El Capitan. Views from Sentinel Dome are better in this direction in the morning. Yosemite National Park, California

El Capitan. Views are better in this direction in the morning.

You can also walk across the top of the dome to what has been called “the most famous dead tree in the world” – a Jeffery pine made famous by a 1940 Ansel Adam photo.  The pine died of drought in 1977 but did not fall until 2003.

Close up of Nevada Falls from Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park, California

Close up of Nevada Falls – this view would be better in the afternoon

Return the way you came.  It’s not a long hike, but the views from the dome are spectacular, and it’s highly worth the visit!

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls

Round Trip Trail Length: 1.35 miles

Net elevation change: 467ft. (7,650ft. at the parking area to 8,117ft. on Sentinel Dome)

Facilities: None.  There is a primitive restroom at the Taft Point Trailhead.

Fees: $35/vehicle, valid 7 days.  National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Passes and Yosemite Annual Passes also accepted.

Trail Notes: While this is a widely-accepted ‘family hike’, there are no railings and the dome does slope away into steep cliffs.  Children under control will not have an issue, but parents might be happier to take the kids elsewhere.  Do not block the fire road, and do not try to enter the fire road with your vehicle.

The sign at the beginning of the fire road, i.e., the

The sign at the beginning of the fire road, i.e., the “Fire Motorway”

Trail ★

Road ★

Signs ★

Scenery ★

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★

Overall Rating: ★

Close up of Half Dome. Clouds Rest is just to Half Dome's left. Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Close up of Half Dome. Clouds Rest is just to Half Dome’s left.

Key GPS Coordinates

Parking: 37.7191028°N, -119.5807389°W (37°43’8.77″N, -119°34’50.66″W / 37°43.14617’N, -119°34.84433’W) (7,650ft.)

Trail beginning: 37.7189333°N, -119.5804806°W (37°43’8.16″N, -119°34’49.73″W / 37°43.13600’N, -119°34.82883’W) (7,811ft.) (0.0; ended 1.77)

Hit official trail: 37.7217083°N, -119.5832417°W (37°43’18.15″N, -119°34’59.67″W / 37°43.30250’N, -119°34.99450’W) (7,898ft.) (0.3)

North Dome (center) and Basket Dome (just to the right) from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

North Dome (center) and Basket Dome (just to the right)

Glacier Point Trail Junction: 37.7234944°N, -119.5826417°W (37°43’24.58″N, -119°34’57.51″W / 37°43.40967’N, -119°34.95850’W) (7,955ft.) (0.46)

Trail Junction (Glacier Point, Taft Point, Sentinel Dome):  37.7243333°N, -119.5829750°W (37°43’27.60″N, -119°34’58.71″W / 37°43.46000’N, -119°34.97850’W) (8,003ft.) (0.52)

Top of Sentinel Dome: 37.7232694°N, -119.5842361°W (37°43’23.77″N, -119°35’3.25″W / 37°43.39617’N, -119°35.05417’W) (8,117ft.) (Arrived 0.69; left 1.1)

Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite Valley from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite Valley from Sentinel Dome

The gpx file for hiking to Sentinel Dome via the fire road 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: 24.4 KB Downloaded 27 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!)

Yosemite Falls from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls

Getting to Sentinel Dome

Coordinates: 37.7191028°N, -119.5807389°W

 

From the Wawona Road, turn onto the Glacier Point Road.  Drive 14.1 miles to a place where a fire road (paved) goes off on the left (this is 0.7 miles beyond the parking area for Taft Point and Sentinel Dome and about 1.8 miles before Glacier Point).  Almost directly across from this, on the right, is a small, dirt area where you can park off the road.  Note that this parking area isn’t necessarily used by people going to Sentinel Dome; most of the other people who parked there were in the woods looking for owls.

Zoom map out to browse nearby hikes & places of interest

 

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My personal favorite book about hiking in Yosemite, the book covers short strolls to multi-day backpacking trips.  But with so many trails to choose from, there is something for everyone in this guide.

 

 




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