Top Sights in Yosemite’s High Country
Did you know there is much more to Yosemite National Park than the often-visited Valley? Unfortunately, a good portion of the tourism community ignores everything in the park but the Valley.
Many tour companies and independent travelers cancelled their Yosemite trips in 2018 due to the Ferguson Fires, despite a lot of blue sky opportunities to explore the high country.
To skip the crowds and overloaded parking lots and be more true to the soul of Yosemite, go above the Valley to the high country, and check out these spots:
A good starting point for your first trip beyond the valley, Tuolumne Meadows is the center point of Yosemite’s high country. Standing at 8,600 feet, the area is one of the Sierra Nevada’s highest-elevation meadows. It is fed by three streams and, in 1984, the U.S. Congress designated the Tuolumne River a Wild and Scenic River. In addition to the beautiful scenery, Tuolumne Meadows is the only developed area in the high country, and travelers can enjoy a visitor’s center, gift shop, café, mountaineering shop and campground. Many multi-day hikes begin and end here, with a stop on the Pacific Crest Trail, and you can do novice hikes, too, such as to Soda Springs or Parson’s Lodge.
Arguably the most beautiful of all Yosemite’s lakes and with easy access, too, Tenaya Lake provides exceptional views. From the west end, the backdrop of granite promontories offers a stellar photo op. You can float your troubles away on the lake, use it as a starting point to hike to Clouds Rest or other interesting areas, or stroll around the perimeter. Or just relax on the beach with a cocktail while enjoying the view.
From the easily-accessed-by-car Olmsted Point, you can see Half Dome, Clouds Rest and the edge of the Valley, a unique viewpoint most travelers to the park never get to enjoy. Looking east, you can view Tenaya Lake and its granite domes. The erratic boulders at the site, deposited during the last glacial melt, provide an ideal place to pose for photos.
Google “Yosemite” and you’re likely to see a photo of Glacier Point, one of the most photogenic and iconic sites in the park. The overlook offers a stunning 200+-degree view of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and the high country that lets you know how small you really are.
Glacier Point is accessible by car typically from late May through at least October, although you may have to wait up to 45 minutes for a parking spot due to the crowds.
Depending on the time of year, Glacier Point also offers birdwatching, ranger and interpretive programs, stargazing and skiing and snowshoeing in addition to hiking. If you’re up for a 5-mile hike, you can reach the Valley from here on a mostly downhill trail.
Part of the Pacific Crest Trail and a High Sierra Camp location, Glen Aulin is a spot rarely seen by “day tourists.” Located about 5 miles from Tuolumne Meadows, the site attracts backcountry hikers and offers nearby views of Tuolumne Falls, Waterwheel Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. The elevation of Glen Aulin is 7,900 feet, providing a high elevation hike without a major challenge.
Located on the north end of Tuolumne Meadows, Lembert Dome is a granite structure that juts up 800 feet. Contrasting with the meadow, it’s a striking site, especially when viewed at night amongst the stars. The dome looks smaller than it is; you only appreciate its massiveness as you hike around or on it. On the other side is Dog Lake. Lembert Dome is another spot that provides wonderful views, but remember: You’re climbing a mountain. Be careful.
One of the tallest peaks in Yosemite’s high country and easily accessed by vehicle, Cathedral Peaks gets its name from its resemblance to a cathedral’s spires and turrets.
The area is almost 11,000 feet above sea level and offers some great moderate climbing.
Heading down from the summit can be a little frightening, though, but if naturalist and conservationist John Muir could do it in 1869, so can you. Just take care, whichever direction you’re climbing, and start early to avoid crowds.
Here is the spot to see a great view of the Valley from up above. It’s a short hike from the Sentinel Dome parking lot, if you can find a parking space. In essence, it’s Glacier Point without the guardrails, and the mile-high wall El Capitan will be directly in front of you. And closet geologists will enjoy studying the fissures.
The dramatic vistas of Yosemite Valley from Taft Point are guaranteed to help you answer the question: Am I afraid of heights?
So open your mind and feed your soul by avoiding some of the crowds and taking in new experiences and wonderful photos ops in the high country of Yosemite National Park. The roads are usually open from May until October.