Off of the Glacier Point Road is a lesser-known gem of Yosemite hiking destinations: the top of Sentinel Dome. If you’ve seen the view from Glacier Point itself, then you know it’s one of the most astonishing landscape views on earth, with thousands of acres of bare granite and thousands of feet of vertical relief. As jaw-dropping as this view is, some people will tell you that Sentinel Dome has an even better view.
- Half Dome from 7200′
You can drive to Glacier Point; it’s at the end of the 16-mile-long Glacier Point Road, which is open to cars in the summertime (generally May-November). During most of the day the huge parking lot is all but full, there are a couple hundred people roaming around Glacier Point, buying hot dogs in the gift shop and taking turns crowding up to the overlook railing to get a picture of the view below. It truly is one of the best viewpoints in the whole national park system and attracts commensurate attention.
By contrast Sentinel Dome can only be reached by hiking; that weeds out most people right away. The hike to the top is only about a mile, but it is an uphill route and the final push to the summit is a moderately steep slope of open granite. Trailhead parking is well marked, and is about a mile short of Glacier Point. There’s a waterless toilet at the parking area. The smaller number of parking spots are usually all taken for much of the day – if this is the case, drive on another quarter mile to where the road starts to descend. Look for a gated road heading off to the left, with a broad dirt pullout on the right and park here to walk up the service road and join the main trail.
The main Sentinel Dome trailhead parking area serves as the start of another fine walk besides Sentinel Dome: the one-mile gradual descent to Taft Point
has even fewer people on it but is a very dramatic spot on the Valley’s rim. The cliff edge here has been riven by tremendous fractures that go down a vast distance.
From the top of Sentinel Dome you’ve got a 360-degree view of the Sierra Nevada. (Glacier Point gives you maybe 270 degrees.) You can see Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, the lower stretch of Yosemite Valley and the Merced River canyon, the Coast Range (if it’s clear), the Buena Vista Crest and Horse Ridge, the Clark Range, Lyell group, Cathedral Range, Nevada Fall, Half Dome, Tenaya Canyon and Mt. Hoffmann (which is another world-class 360-degree viewing platform).
Be sure to wear sunscreen, a hat for shade and UV sunglasses -the sun and pale granite are strong here at 8000′. Bring some water and a snack (don’t let the ground squirrels get any crumbs from you!) and plan to stay a while to soak in this immense stretch of the planet’s surface.