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Glacial erratics and polished granite at Yosemite's Olmstead Point
Steve Montalto/HighMountain Images
Blog The ‘Hidden’ Side of Yosemite
Alex Silgalis | 02/01/2021Hiking, Photography, Seasons, Wildflowers, Wildlife |   

Explore the Secret Sides of Yosemite

We’ve talked in past articles about the classic destinations to see in Yosemite, but when summer rolls around, the popularity of these places explodes. For most of us, the reason why we visit the National Parks is to see natural beauty but at the same time get away from it all. To hear the birds singing and furry critters playing. For those looking for that natural beauty that's a little more to themselves, these 5 attractions give you a bit of breathing room to still take in all the wonder.

Sentinel Dome

Although the road up to Glacier Point can get quite congested in the summer, there’s a hike right before it that many zip by without even noticing... and that’s to Sentinel Dome. It's home to arguably one of the best panoramic views in the park. You’ll get a birds eye view of El Capitan to the west, and Half Dome to the east, pretty much the entire valley. Consider starting the hike a bit earlier and combining it with a visit to Taft Point. From there, you could peer over the edge of a cliff overlooking the valley 3,500 feet below it.

Local’s tip: Head here for sunset. During typically busy summer months you’ll find the drive less stressful and parking at the trail head more accessible, and the scenes you'll see as the waning sunlight paints the granite valley walls in shifting shades of warming light will leave you awed. Don’t forget to bring a headlamp!

Note - Glacier Point Road will be closed of all of the 2022 season while the park implements a major road improvement project. The area can still accessed from Yosemite Valley by a hiking trails such as the Four Mile Trail (4.8 miles), Pohono Trail 13.8 miles to Tunnel View), the Panorama Trail (8 miles). Distances are one-way so double those for roundtrip adventures.

Hetch Hetchy Waterfalls

In the peaceful northwest corner of the park lies the glaciated valley of Hetch Hetchy. Considered by John Muir to be almost equal to Yosemite Valley in beauty, there you’ll find stunning peaks, hidden canyons, remote lakes, and water falls. Right along the reservoir are the easily accessible and well known cascades of Wapama Falls and Tueeulala Falls but if you explore little further, about 2.5 miles out the trail more-or-less along Rancheria Creek, you'll find Rancheria Falls. While they aren’t a massive thundering drop all at once, they more than make up for it in the length and series of cascades that happen within a tightly winding canyon. While spring is when the falls are roaring at their fullest and wildflowers are blooming, summer is still a great time to visit (Hetch Hetchy is known to have one of the longest hiking seasons of any area of the park).  For more insights into exploring Hetch Hetchy, checkout our Judi's Jaunts story here.

Local’s tip: It can get a little warm in Hetch Hetchy in the summer, so be sure to plan accordingly and visit earlier in the day. 

Olmsted Point

Glacial erratics and polished granite at Yosemites Olmstead PointExperience views of Yosemite from a whole different perspective at Olmsted Point - phot by Steve Montalto/Highmountain Images

For those looking to get away from the heat of summer and still get amazing views of the region, head to the high country and make sure to stop along the way at Olmsted Point. Named after the man who is considered the father of American landscape architecture Frederick Law Olmsted. He was one of the important early leaders that were instrumental in the initial establishment and protection of Yosemite. For more about Olmsted Point and other locations, check out our article: Yosemite Place Names: The Origin And History Of Names In Yosemite National Park. Olmsted Point is located ~29 miles to the east of the Crane Flat Gas Station on Tioga Road (HWY 120). In addition to the large parking and viewing area adjacent to the road, there is a short ½ mile round-trip hike nearby that allows you to explore close-up how the rivers carved and the ancient glaciers scraped, scoured and polished the surrounding granite landscape.  Tenaya Canyon, Clouds Rest, and off in the distance - Half Dome are landmarks you get to see from a unique angle from this location. If you are on Tioga Road heading up to see other unique attractions of Yosemite's High Country, this is a must! It typically opens around June and closes sometime in November (dependent on snowfall).

Valley Floor Loop Trail

The bulk of visitors descend upon Yosemite Valley and rightly so. It's where jaw-dropping views of iconic El Capitan and the roaring Yosemite Falls are found. Tucked within this relatively small area (it is less than 10% of the park's almost 760,000 acres) is an old bridle path previously used for horses called the Valley Floor Loop Trail. This trail offers a somewhat unique opportunity to hikers in Yosemite: a lengthy moderate hike (11.5 miles - full loop, 7.2 miles - half loop) on fairly level ground. While some segments of the trail do take you near roads, the vast majority of it allows you to stroll through meadows, get up close to the talus slopes at the base of the towering granite cliffs surrounding the valley, and even wander along the Merced River.  It's a great way to spend a wonderful day seeing a lot of the valley, at your own pace, and in solitude.

Nelder Grove

Although technically not IN Yosemite National Park, for those that want to see giant Sequoias in relative seclusion even in the busiest times, a trip to Nelder Grove is in order. Just south of the southern gate in the Sierra National Forest, it features a stand of around 100 mature sequoias including a couple that are among the 50 largest specimens in existence.  Two of note are the Bull Buck (246 feet tall, 100 feet around and with a  volume of 27,383 cubic feet) and the largest tree in the grove, the Nelder Tree.   It's numbers are pretty impressive; 266 feet tall and whopping 34,993 cu. ft. in volume which puts it currently as the 23rd largest Giant Sequoia in the world! For more about the grove and other off the beaten path attractions just outside of the park, check out our article: Four Hidden Gems in Madera County.

If you’ve been to Yosemite or need more elbow room, these attractions just off the beaten path will make sure that you do. And for those that love waterfalls, don’t forget to check out the 5 Lesser Known Waterfalls To See In Or Near Yosemite. Happy trails to you!


Like what you see? Save any of these pins to your travel planning board(s) to give you an easy way to find your way back here!  Also check out our other itineraries as well as blog posts for more ideas and pins!

Alex Silgalis

Alex founded localfreshies.com® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
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