complete guide to visiting Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park
!!!!! NOTE THAT THE GLACIER POINT ROAD IS SCHEDULED TO BE CLOSED FOR THE ENTIRETY OF THE 2021 SEASON !!!!!
With its height of 3,200 feet over Half Dome Village, Glacier Point holds some of the most spectacular views of Yosemite Valley.
The dramatic profile of Half Dome is front and center. You can see straight down to the valley floor, across to Yosemite Falls, and up the Tenaya and Little Yosemite Valleys to the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
You cannot see El Capitan from Glacier Point, but you can get a great view of it from the Tunnel View Overlook. You can also see El Capitan from Taft Point, which is one of the hikes you can do from Glacier Point.
Open in Summer, Closed in Winter
Note that road access to Glacier Point is only open in the summer months, and that the facilities are closed in the winter.
The official opening and closing dates of the road will vary each year, dependent upon seasonal weather conditions. The dates usually fall in the range of opening in mid-May and closing in mid-November, but every year is different.
For more information, the National Park Service publishes a record of each year’s opening and closing dates that stretches back to 1995. The record also includes data for the seasonal Tioga Pass Road and Mariposa Grove.
Leashed dogs are allowed on all of the paved trails at Glacier Point. This includes the one-mile round trip hike out to the railings at the lookout. Dogs are generally allowed on all paved trails throughout the National Park, as well as within the car campgrounds.
Sunrise vs Sunset at Glacier Point
The scene is spectacular at any time of day, but sunrise and sunset are especially dramatic with the added contrast for photography.
Regarding sunrise vs sunset at Glacier Point, I feel that sunset is best with the late afternoon sun shining on Half Dome.
Though you can see the sun come over a wilderness horizon from here, the only reason to go at sunrise is if you are especially averse to the crowding that occurs at other times of day. The best views to the east are otherwise backlit and washed out at sunrise.
Sunset will highlight the extraordinary scenes that Glacier Point is most known for – just be prepared to have some trouble parking, and to share the experience with a lot of other people.
Stargazers will certainly not be disappointed. Glacier Point has wonderful dark skies – at night you can definitely see the Milky Way and much more. Throughout the summer months (June, July, August), it’s not uncommon to see astronomers out there with their telescopes set up on Saturday nights.
Sometimes rangers will do dedicated star programs that highlight Yosemite’s night skies, but these most often take place in Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, and Wawona.
Stars Over Yosemite
Stars Over Yosemite is a special annual “star party” event that takes place each year at Glacier Point. Unfortunately the 2020 and 2021 events have been cancelled (because of covid and then road construction, respectively). However, you can get a great taste of what you’re missing in the middle segment of this wonderful video about Yosemite’s night skies.
How to Get There
You can drive your own car here, take a bus, or hoof it on foot.
Driving Your Car to Glacier Point
The road from Yosemite Valley Lodge (in the heart of Yosemite Valley) to Glacier Point is 30 miles.
It takes about one hour of driving to get there (one way). This is due to traffic and the steep, winding nature of the mountainous road.
Passengers that are prone to getting carsick may want to sit this one out, as the twists and turns can induce nausea on the ascent to 7,200ft in elevation.
Likewise, those passengers that tend to get nervous on mountain roads without guardrails may also want to stay behind in the valley. There’s one spot called Darwin’s Curve that gets some attention, but overall most people will not consider the Glacier Point road to be scary. By comparison it’s no worse than other local roads like route 120 (Tioga Pass, Tuolumne Meadows) or route 41 (Wawona, Mariposa Grove).
Regarding driving directions, Google Maps (gps address) will get you to Glacier Point just fine. From Yosemite Valley Lodge you’ll begin by driving west on Northside Road for 5 miles. Turn left on Southside Road and follow it east for almost a mile until you can merge right onto the Wawona Road (CA 41). Follow the Wawona Road south for 9 miles and turn left on the Glacier Point Road at Chinquapin. The road dead-ends at your destination after an additional 16 miles.
Driving an RV
Restrictions are in place for all vehicles on the Glacier Point Road beyond the Taft Point Trailhead. No trailers are allowed, and the maximum vehicle length is 30 feet.
Points of Interest Along the Road
mile 0 – restroom located at the junction of the Wawona Road and Glacier Point Road (Chingquapin)
mile 5 – Badger Pass Ski Area 7,100ft
mile 7.5 – McGurk Meadow Trailhead – 1.8 mile trail leads north (one-way) and connects with the Pohono Trail. An old track also leads south to Westfall Meadow. Area is marked with a “McGurk Meadow” sign – parking is on the wide shoulder of the road here. 6,900ft
mile 7.8 – turnoff for Bridalveil Creek Campground and Bridalveil Creek Trail. 7,000ft
mile 9 – Ostrander Lake Trailhead – 12.5 mile round trip hike to Ostrander Lake – 7,000ft
mile 10 – Mono Meadows Trailhead – after a curve to the north – 7,250ft
mile 13.5 – Taft Point (Sentinel Dome) Trailhead – short trail connects with Pohono Trail . This is the most efficient access to Taft Point (2 miles round trip) and this trail also accesses Sentinel Dome. 7,750ft
mile 15 – Washburn Point – After some winding bends in the road, the view at Washburn Point suddenly presents itself from within your vehicle. You can park and take a very short walk to the overlook. The view is similar in most regards to Glacier Point itself, but with a more southerly perspective.
mile 16 – end of the road at the large parking area for Glacier Point
Riding the Shuttle Bus to Glacier Point
The so-called shuttle bus is actually a bus tour that begins and ends at Yosemite Lodge. Here’s the basics about it.
- only operates in-season, May through October
- 4-hour round trip
- departs from the lodge twice daily at 8:30am and 1:30pm
- can be reserved in advance, one-way to Glacier Point for $28.50 per person
- one-way tickets are allow you to hike back to Yosemite Valley
Dealing with driving, parking, and crowding in Yosemite can certainly be a headache, so this day tour isn’t a bad option. The tour guides know their stuff about the park. They generally give you about an hour to explore at the main destination (Glacier Point), and will stop at Tunnel View if there’s time permitting on the return trip.
Go here to make a reservation and see the current schedule (Bus tours are not operating again until 2022).
There is no campground at Glacier Point, nor is sleeping in your car permitted. The nearest campground is located partway up the road at Bridalveil Creek.
Numerous backpacking options exist along the Glacier Point Road, as well as beginning or ending your hike at Glacier Point itself. There’s plenty of options for backpacking in the area, such as along the Pohono Trail or up to Ostrander Lake.
In winter (and maybe even in the summer of 2021) it is possible for backpackers to camp at Glacier Point. Though literally camping on the guardrail-lined point itself is still prohibited, in winter you may be allowed to camp in the near vicinity.
It’s a special treat to have this often crowded and bustling place all to yourself, especially in the quiet of winter. Backcountry permits are given for backpacking to Glacier Point at the Yosemite’s ranger’s discretion. Generally it has to be at a time in winter when there’s little or no snow, when the 4-Mile Trail and/or the Panorama Trail are open.
In wet years the road as far as Badger Pass Ski area remains open, and I suppose a hardy adventurer could get there in winter via cross-country skis or snowshoes.
There’s no longer any accommodations at Glacier Point, but the area once held a beautiful historic lodge that operated from 1917 through 1969. It tragically burned down in a fire that started from an electrical problem (Why does this happen to all the National Park lodges?).
The hotel was located on the site of today’s modern amphitheater. It could accommodate about 200 guests and was considered a modern, state of the art facility at the time of its construction.
The term “firefall” has taken on a new meaning in Yosemite, but its origin is intertwined with the history of Glacier Point. Pioneer James McCauley was the first to develop access to Glacier Point via a toll road in the 1870s (the Four Mile Trail). The new “road” inspired Charles Peregoy to soon build The Mountain House, the Point’s first hotel.
The story has a few variations, but the thread that’s agreed upon is that one night McCauley pushed the burning ashes of campfire into the valley below. The spectacle of the falling embers caught the eye of the valley’s visitors, and a Yosemite tradition was born. Thereafter a nightly “Firefall” was staged as bit of theater for the guests in Curry Village.
The tradition continued until the late 1960s.
For those of you that love your National Park History, the explanation of the historic Firefall in the video below is definitely worth a look.
Today, the term Firefall refers to a play of light that occurs at Yosemite’s Horsetail Falls for a brief period in February of each year. The way the sun hits the waterfall at sunset each evening casts a deep, burning glow on the cascade.
The firefall for 2021 is expected to peak around the dates of February 17, 18, or 19, though the effect may be seen on any day of the week that’s centered around these dates.
It’s sadly fitting that the modern equivalent of such a storied tradition is now little more than a photo-op circus.
The “new” firefall can be seen in the video below.
Glacier Point Trail Map
Here’s a map that shows the hiking trails in the vicinity of Glacier Point, including several more features in the area.
The next map is a general schematic of the Glacier Point complex, highlighting its individual points of interest like the amphitheater, gift shop, restrooms, trailheads, and more.
You can right-click on either of the maps to view a larger version or download them.
The 5 Best Hikes at Glacier Point
Here’s a run-down of the best easy day hikes you can do at Glacier Point.
1) The Glacier Point Trail
DISTANCE: 1 mile round trip
This one may barely qualify as a true “hike,” but by the time you work your way out of the parking lot and walk to Glacier Point’s proper overlook (and back), you’ll put in a solid mile at an elevation of 7,000 feet.
2) Sentinel Dome
DISTANCE: 2.7 miles round trip from Glacier Point (2 mile round trip from Taft Point trailhead)
Sentinel Dome is like a younger brother of the famed Half Dome, so here you can get a good taste of hiking on Yosemite’s classic solid granite. There’s also reportedly a “famous” fallen Jeffrey Pine tree on its summit (which is still exceptionally photogenic), but I didn’t know to look for it on the day of my visit.
The summit of Sentinel Dome tops out at an elevation of about 8,130ft. You’ll gain almost 1,000 feet up it from Glacier Point, whereas from the Taft Point Trailhead it’s a gain of only about 400ft.
It’s also possible to do loop hike around Sentinel Dome that begins and ends at Glacier Point, passing the Taft Point Trailhead along the way. The total distance for this hike is 6 miles, with a jaunt to the summit of the dome included.
Refer to the trail map above to see how it works out.
3) Hike to Taft Point
DISTANCE: 7 miles round trip from Glacier Point (2.2 miles from Taft Point Trailhead)
For more information about hiking to Taft Point (and the newly engaged-to-be-married couple that fell to their deaths there), check out this post about the Pohono Trail.
4) Little Yosemite Valley Trail
DISTANCE: 8.5 miles
The trail from Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley is called the Panorama Trail. The mileage listed above is the one-way complete distance to finish at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, but it’s certainly possible to do a shorter out-and-back hike. An example of this is a day hike to Illilouette Falls, which is about 5 miles round trip.
For more about continuing through to Little Yosemite Valley (and the waterfalls that may be seen along the way), check out this post about the Panorama Trail.
5) The Four Mile Trail
DISTANCE: 4.7 miles one way
The 4 Mile Trail is the original toll access “road” that led from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point.
If you’re looking for a day hike that packs a punch (in both challenge and views), then the Four Mile Trail is the way to go. Along the way you’ll see varying perspectives of most of Yosemite’s famous rock formations, as well as changing views of Yosemite Falls (when it’s flowing in Spring).
One-way elevation gain is 3,200 feet.
My Photos & Trip Notes
Here’s a few more images taken at Glacier Point from my visit to Yosemite in September of 2009.