Dominating the valley’s rock formations at a whopping 3,214 feet (980 meters) above the Valley floor, Glacier Point is the premiere lookout spot from which to view Yosemite Valley. Its height affords visitors a majestic view of the many cliffs, domes, and “hanging valleys,” the outcroppings that create Yosemite’s many majestic waterfalls.
On one side of Glacier Point, the vista gives visitors a spectacular view of Nevada, Vernal, and Yosemite waterfalls clinging to the side of Little Yosemite Valley. High above these, and perhaps the most notable feature of the view from Glacier Point, sits the famed Half Dome. This sheer rock face with a humped back is featured in many of Yosemite’s most famous depictions, like those by romantic painter Albert Bierstadt and photographer Ansel Adams. Directly across the valley lies North Dome and, farther in the distance, panoramic views of Cloud’s Rest and the High Sierra mountain range can be seen with snow capping the highest peaks of the latter year-round.
For many years, Glacier Point was the venue for one of Yosemite National Park’s most spectacular attractions — the infamous “firefall.” After dark, tourists stood on the valley floor to behold the 88-year tradition of pushing a large bonfire over the edge of Glacier Point’s sheer cliff, creating the appearance of a giant waterfall of fire. Unfortunately, the practice was discontinued in 1968 as part of a push to singularly promote the park’s natural attractions, leaving the artificial firefall and other such novelties in the past.
Many advanced hiking trails begin at Glacier Point, leading backpackers out past the nearby Merced and Washburn Lakes for various five to seven-day trips. But for the less adventurous hiker, Glacier Point also serves as the start and end point for more manageable single-day hikes. The winding Four Mile Trail (7.75 kilometers) leads hikers toward Glacier Point from the valley floor near the base of Sentinel Rock, affording those willing to take the challenge incomparable views of the waterfalls and Half Dome along the way. Visitors should be advised that the National Park Service rates this trail ‘strenuous,’ however, so those who still wish to experience the trail without a significant physical challenge should consider purchasing a bus ticket up to the Point from the valley floor and hiking down, a substantially easier feat. The Panorama Trail, an 8.5-mile (13.7 kilometer) hike, is another popular throughway that connects the valley floor and Glacier Point.
Be advised that although hiking is a popular way to access the Glacier Point vista, visitors can also take advantage of the 30 to 45-minute drive up Glacier Point Road. This route is a paved, 16-mile stretch that connects the valley to the Point via State Highway 41 and Wawona Road. Although this winding stretch does lead cars around turns next to several sheer drops, there are many turn-off areas along the road’s entirety in case drivers feel pressured by cars behind them or need to stop for any reason.
Additionally, both hiking and driving to the point is advisable only in warmer months, as snow and ice make both the climb and the drive extremely treacherous. The road is officially open, weather permitting, from June to October, giving only limited access to cross-country skiers in the winter months.
However visitors decide to reach the peak, amenities at the top include a hut that serves as a meeting place for ranger talks, campfire programs as well as a gift shop allows hungry and thirsty hikers a place to refuel. Additionally, many photographers gather at Glacier Point at sundown on summer evenings to catch the sun casting its famed red-orange tinge across the rocks as it softly sets over the Valley, causing the granite to glow with iridescent light. The sun sets behind visitors as they look down at the Valley, allowing them to fully appreciate the beauty of this natural wonder. The Point can be busy at times such as this, but both the parking lot and viewpoint are capable of accommodating large crowds due to the spot’s extreme popularity.