Yosemite National Park is one of those must-see places in California, and on a recent trip I was able to experience the many wonders that this treasure holds. From its lush meadows, glorious waterfalls, high peaks, and 750 miles of hiking trails, Yosemite has something for everyone.
You can go rustic and camp in a tent, rent one of their many (and popular) tent cabins, or stay in the historic and grand Ahwahnee Hotel. But no matter your sleeping arrangements, Half Dome is an itinerary absolute. This well-known and popular granite dome rises more than 4,700 feet from the valley floor and has a sheer cliff that has challenged many a climber (and been the cause of death for some).
The popular Mist Trail allows you to climb Half Dome, but its 8.2 miles is difficult given its steep ascent and has become an overly popular attraction, with up to 800 people a day walking its length. The downside, other than the crowds and the calf-aching climb, is that you can’t actually see the beauty of Half Dome while on it.
That’s where Glacier Point comes in…
About Glacier Point
Glacier Point affords the very best view of Half Dome within Yosemite National Park, as well as panoramic views of most of the valley floor. Located 3,200 feet above Curry Village and at an elevation of 7,200 feet, it is accessible via hiking trails and by car or bus.
For those hearty enough to hike up to Glacier Point, there is Four Mile Trail (eight miles round trip) that ascends 3,000 feet over its course. You can also opt to take a bus up and then hike down for less of a workout. Another option is to take a bus up and then hike a six-hour route that follows the Panorama Trail to the Nevada Trail and then connects to the Mist Trail down Half Dome. This puts you in back in the valley. There are also multiple day hikes that shoot off of Glacier Point Road if you want some variety. With all of these hikes you are assured some wonderful sights and photo opportunities, from flora and fauna to waterfalls and geologic marvels.
To access Glacier Point in a vehicle, you’ll travel up a 30-mile road, which will take you about an hour. There is parking available, and then you’ll walk on a short, paved trail to the overlook. Please be aware that the parking lot fills quickly. If you arrive at Badger Pass prior to 10 a.m. or after 4:30 p.m., you should have no trouble driving all the way up, but in between you take your chances. The rangers may require you to park at Badger Pass and take the shuttle the rest of the way up. (This isn’t such a bad thing, as you can stop at Washburn Point for additional photo ops!)
These photos were taken at Yosemite’s peak busy season, summer! I visited Yosemite with my family on my birthday. This was how I wanted to spend my day, in the great outdoors away from a computer and bright screens.
We didn’t do the long hike because we arrived at Glacier Point toward the end of our day. We were planning on Glacier Point being our first stop but the parking was full and the rangers were not allowing any cars up so we went down to the valley and returned later in the day to drive up to Glacier Point.
We parked in the last parking lot and hiked around for a couple of hours and took tons of photos. We waited to see the sunset on Half Dome then called it a day.
Best Places for Photos
Yosemite in general is an inspiring location for photographs, with its diverse and magnificent natural wonders. (You can check out the photos from our recent trip here to get an idea of what I’m talking about.) Glacier Point, with its commanding views of not only Half Dome, but Yosemite, Vernal and Nevada falls and a 270-degree view of the valley floor, is one spectacular vantage point. It is considered second only to the Tunnel View for photographers.
From the parking lot, walk the short trail to the overlook. This is where you will get a good full view of Half Dome in all its glory, framed by the sky and the adjacent rocky landscape. No other spot in Yosemite will yield a view like this. Take it in, with your eyes as well as your camera lens.
The east rim of Glacier Point is the place to set up your tripod to capture Vernal and Nevada falls. These magnificent falls will look pretty small without a telephoto lens, but the geologic landscape will provide ample backdrop for these natural water features.
Additionally, there is an overlook you can stop at about a mile from the top of Glacier Point that is also a good candidate for photographs and you can capture both Vernal and Nevada Falls from here as well.
And don’t be in a hurry to leave. You’ll get some of your best shots here at sunset. The sun will be at your back and can illuminate Half Dome in such a way that most everything else is in shadow. Truly a remarkable scene to behold, camera or not.
What to Know Before Visiting
Glacier Point is only open from late Spring to mid-Fall, depending on the snowfall. Wintertime access by vehicle is unavailable. During the summer, the crowds can be thick, and as mentioned above and from our experience, you might not be able to drive directly to the point. Be prepared and make sure you have your camera equipment in a bag that is easily transportable in case you are required to take the shuttle.
If you intend to stay at Yosemite for more than the day, you’ll need to make reservations well in advance, as campsites, tent cabins, and in-park hotels are always fully booked. There are accommodations just outside the park if you don’t mind driving in each day ($30 for a one-week car access pass). I tried to book a place to stay in Yosemite a month and advance for my birthday and everything was sold out. So make sure to plan early.
Check in advance for weather conditions. Typically there are Summer rains, although with the California drought it’s unlikely you’ll have to deal with a downpour and its resulting mud. Spring and Fall temperatures range from the high 30s at night to low 60s and 70s during the day, while Summer is a bit warmer, with balmy mid-50s at night and sweltering high 80s during the day.
Besides snapping photographs at Glacier Point there are myriad things to do within Yosemite, including hiking, water sports, cycling, rock climbing, birdwatching, and fishing. Additionally, there are ranger-led programs and a variety of classes (including photography) to choose from. For some ideas, take a look at our day trip itinerary or head over to the official Yosemite website and view their detailed guidebook with activities by date.