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Milky Way Above Bass Lake's Goat Mountain viewed from Rattlesake Rock
Stargazing
in Yosemite and its Southern Gateway
Steve Montalto/HighMountain Images
Blog 10 Best Stargazing Spots in Yosemite and Madera County
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| 07/28/2020 | Hiking, Photography |   

10 Best Stargazing Spots in Yosemite and Madera County

Just off of Forest Hwy 81, this stop offers one of the most spectacular views along the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway. We suggest you arrive early enough to catch the impressive panorama view of Minarets, Mt. Ritter (13,157'), Mammoth Mountain, and at least fifteen other named peaks over 10,000 feet in elevation. Bring a few fold up chairs and enjoy the scene as stars light up the sky. This is a great place to stop for a picnic lunch. You will find picnic tables and handicap accessible restrooms available. For a map and to learn more about the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway.

Star Trails over the Sierra Vista Scenic BywayStar Trails viewed from the Mile High Vista above Mammoth Pool Reservoir - Photo by Steve Montalto/HighMountain Images

 Sierra Vista Scenic Byway Map - North Fork to Mile High Vista

One of the Sierra Nevada's most visited rock domes outside of Yosemite National Park, and well known for its excellent rock climbing, Fresno Dome is a short walk from the parking area and offers fantastic 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape. This is a great location for sunset and sunrise views in addition to stargazing and full-moon outings. The easiest way to access Fresno Dome is to head up Sky Ranch Road and follow signs to Fresno Dome once you have reached the dirt section. 

For a map and to learn more about the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway.  

This popular picnic site is set overlooking the San Joaquin River Gorge.

Head out of North Fork along Minarets Road (4281) towards Mammoth Pool, keep your eyes open for a beautiful picnic area on the right with table and bench, an impressive oak tree hanging over the steep ridge line and a breathtaking view of the river canyon below. 

For a map and to learn more about the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway

Nestled among the tall pines of the Sierra National Forest, Bass Lake is a great day-time playground but also a pretty nice place to sit back and enjoy a beautiful natural light show as the star strewn sky marches by overhead. There are many good night sky viewing places around the lake with the some of the prime locations on along South Shore Drive between The Forks Resort and Recreation Point (the entrance to latter located across from the Sierra Recreation office). Bring a few fold-up chairs, or a picnic blanket and set up along the shoreline of Bass Lake. One option for a warm summer night... bring a raft and star-gaze while floating on the water.  Star-gazing on an empty stomach is never a good thing and the good news is that there are many good options to sate your appetite while at the lake. You can explore them all here.

Learn more about Bass Lake.

Located on the south shore of Bass Lake near the dam, you’ll have a beautiful view looking out over the lake and an unobscured view of the sky. Come early and watch the sun set at this location. You’ll be just a few turns in the road from Miller’s Landing Resort. We suggest stopping for a tasty meal here before setting up for an evening of stargazing. 

To get there, you’ll take Road 222 all the way around the lake. Drive past Miller’s Landing Resort and Wishon Point Campground. Look to your left and you will see a boat launch area. You can also drive little further and set up at the dam. 

Learn more about Bass Lake

2020 UPDATE: Access to Yosemite National Park has new temporary restrictions due to COVID-19. 

Day-use pass visitors must exit Yosemite National Park between the hours of 11 p.m. - 5 a.m.

The new hours do leave time for stargazing; however, day-use visitors should plan ahead and be aware of current regulations.

Called To-tock-ah-noo-lah by the Southern Miwook and interpreted by members of the Mariposa Battalion as "The Captain", El Capitan is one of the most well known landmarks in Yosemite Valley.  Rising up 3000 feet above valley floor, the massive granite monolith dominates the view from places like Tunnel View, 2 1/3 miles away. But to get an even more awe inspiring view of it - a stop at El Capitan meadow should not be missed.  From here, from less than a 1/4 mile away, the towering face stretching up overhead more than 2.5 times the height of the Empire State Building and spans the view from side-to-side. A highlight during the climbing season (typically late summer, fall and even into winter) is to stop by and spend a few minutes with Yosemite Climbing Rangers who set up a temporary station here to talk about climbing and climbing history in Yosemite.  Their set up includes climbing gear, information boards (including maps showing the roughly 100 climbing routes up El Cap), and spotting telescopes that allow you to see climbers close up as they scale El Cap's shear face.

As impressive at it is during the day, just imagine all that exposed granite juxtaposed against the brilliant tapestry of stars that fills the space above Yosemite Valley at night. It is a sight to behold (one that is sometimes punctuated with the dots of light from climbers getting themselves set up for a night high up on the rock.  

This meadow viewing location delivers in multiple ways. If you shift your nighttime gaze towards the southwest during the summer months, the Milky Way can be viewed above Cathedral Rocks and with the right timing and positioning it will align with Gunsight, the well known V-groove made by the notch between Middle and Lower Cathedral Rocks.   

Important note - Yosemite's meadows are delicate ecosystems. Please heed signs and fencing and stay on marked/boardwalked trails. 

Star Trails Atop El Capitan

The stars and aircraft trace their paths above El Capitan in this long exposure image by Steve Montalto/HighMountain Images 

A short hike from your car (2.2 mile or 3.5 km round trip) from the trail head on Glacier Point Road, you’ll find yourself thousands of feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley with amazing views with some truly stunning views. This is one of two south rim hot spots for stargazing. Sentinel Dome with its elevated 360 degree views is the other one, especially for full-moon viewing (check local tour company Discovery Yosemite Tours for their special seasonal guided Full Moon Tours). Definitely come early to watch the sunset as the day's last rays paint the sculpted granitic walls in golden hues. Be sure to come prepared with headlamps for the trek back to your car. Keep up-to-date on key celestial happenings.  You never know when a once in a lifetime event may happen like the recent visitation by Comet NEOWISE.  Brittany Colt, a Photography Educator and Guide in Yosemite with the Ansel Adams Gallery, beautifully captured NEOWISE lighting up the night sky above El Capitan.  Look closely and you can spot the light of a climber's headlamp on the face of the granite monolith.    

For details on the hike visit YosemiteHikes.com.


A long exposure image by Photographer Darvin Atkeson captures the movement of the stars with Clouds Rest and Half Dome in the foreground.  A streaking meteor can also be seen. 

This is a great location to drive up to and enjoy and it is wheelchair accessible. Glacier Point features stunning views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Yosemite’s high country in both the day and the night. With clear views to the East, Glacier Point is also known as one of the best sunrise spots in Yosemite. 

Learn More

Park the car along the road near Yosemite Falls or at the Yosemite Falls day use parking area and make the short trek out to Cooks Meadow. Bring a fold up chair and set up along the wood boardwalk. Take in the sound so of crickets and enjoy the view as Yosemite’s famous granite monoliths create a natural frame around a starlit sky. A special treat can be observed on full moon nights during the late spring and early summer months when water flow in Yosemite Creek is still strong; the mist created diffracts the strong moonlight and you can experience Moonbows on Yosemite Falls!  Tip for future planning - Yosemite Conservancy typically conducts Moonbow photography programs in April, May and June, conditions permitting. 

There are two great things about summer nights in Yosemite; the core of the Milky Way moves back into the night sky and you access Yosemite's High Country to view it, and the park, from unique perspectives.  One place in particular that we highly recommend a night time viewing session is Olmsted Point. It's a bit of a drive, roughly 40 miles (about and hour depending on traffic and how many stop you make along the way) from the Pohono Bridge in Yosemite Valley.  The drive is worth it though especially when you can soak in the views of the center of our galaxy, over 27,000 light years away gliding across the night sky above Clouds Rest and the back side of Half Dome. The views can view quite a bit through the season: early on the Milky Way arches across the sky while later in the summer has a more upright orientation through much of the night. Either way it is a special sight and well worth the trip.

Milk Way viewed from Olmsted Point in Yosemites High CountryThe Milky Way Rising above Clouds Rest.  The yellow-orange light on the horizon is light pollution from the city of Fresno, approximately 70 miles away.  Photo by Steve Montalto/HighMountain Images

One of the most photographed locations in the world, Tunnel View offers a beautiful panoramic view of El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall. Many thousands of visitors take in the views from here but a much smaller number experience the unique magic of night at Tunnel View.  Head in from the southern side of Yosemite along Hwy 41 and make your way through the impressive and lengthy tunnel that opens to the awe-inspiring view known as Tunnel View. Here you will park and find a nice spot to enjoy the nights show and at night, you may just have this magical space largely to yourself.

Geminid Meteor Shower viewed from Yosemites Tunnel ViewComposite image of Geminid Meteor Shower viewed from Tunnel View - photo by Steve Montalto/HighMountain Images

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