YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — Arguably, the most stunning vista in the 209 won’t be accessible for most people for 16 months after snow returns in November to Yosemite National Park.
That’s because Glacier Point Road will be closed during 2022 for road work sandwiched between the usual winter snow closures.
You can still reach via a 21-mile round trip cross-country ski excursion from Badger Pass Ski Resort in winter or by round-trip hikes ranging from 9.4 miles to 26 miles in the spring, summer, and fall.
So why visit Glacier Point? From its vantage point at 7,200 feet, some 3,200 feet above the valley floor, you can take in the ultimate commanding Yosemite National Park view. You get the world-famous Yosemite Falls, the iconic Half Dome, Nevada and Vernal falls, North Dome, Cloud’s Rest and the best high country vista accessible heading out of the valley floor short of trekking to the top of Half Dome or Cloud’s Rest.
Now is the ideal time to travel there as the crowds aren’t large enough to trigger staging for cars at the ski resort parking lot where rangers release vehicles to cover the 10.5 miles to Glacier Point as parking pace is freed up.
There are ample places to enjoy a picnic or just to soak in the glacier carved wonders of three California ice ages.
It goes without saying my favorite way to get there is by hiking.
And the best way to go is the Four Mile Trail which is a misnomer as it is 4.7 miles from the trail head near the valley loop road parking area to gaze upward at Sentinel Dome to Glacier Point.
It is the absolute best trail heading out of the valley to the rim when it comes to the quality of the seamless views. No others come close. Not the Yosemite Falls Trail, Snow Creek Trail, the Panorama Trail or even the Pohono Trail that is 10.5 miles one way.
Once you’ve hiked Four Mile Trail you’ll understand why Yosemite National Park arranged for President Obama and his family to hike part of the upper reaches of the trail in June 2016 when he became the first sitting president in 50 years to visit the iconic park. The visit was part of a trip to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the national park system.
There’s little doubt the athletic Obama could have tackled the entire trail that is rated as strenuous and is considered the third toughest hike out of Yosemite Valley after Snow Creek at No. 1 and Yosemite Falls at No.2.
Snow Creek Trail covers the 3,200 feet from valley floor to rim in 1.7 miles. Yosemite Falls in 3.2 miles and Four Mile Trail in 4.7 miles.
While it is considered strenuous it isn’t as rough as Yosemite Falls. That’s due not just to the slower gain in elevation but the fact it is on the southern rim that keeps sun exposure to a minimum.
Two weeks earlier I downed more than 2 liters of water on the Snow Creek Trail that was part of a 10 mile hike of which two thirds of it was spent on steep switchbacks in the sun compared to a liter on the Four Mile Trail hike that by the time I hiked to the trail head, did the trail and got back to my car I had to park at Swinging Bridge I ended up covering the same distance on Sunday.
It was my third hike up Four Mile Trail and by far the best. That’s because the other hikes were in late June and early August when the temperatures aren’t all that much cooler than in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
The best part about the hike is the ever changing view of Yosemite Falls and the rest of the valley on the way up. I shot enough photos with my iPhone that if I had used an old-school 35mm camera using slide or color negative film I’d be writing Kodak a check right now for $100.
And to be honest, pausing for even just a minute or so every once in a while to take photos makes the hike a tad more enjoyable.
You don’t have to do the entire trail to enjoy some of the best views in the 209. The bottom part you can take in rewarding views of El Capitan, Sentinel Dome, Yosemite Falls, Three Sisters, and the valley floor in the first 1¾ miles. But to be honest it is the more strenuous segment.
It’s far better if you don’t want to do a full round-trip hike to start at the top. You will be rewarded with better views of North Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the valley as well as Basket Dome.
If you get down as far as 1.7 miles, there is a 200-foot trail that takes you to Union Point where you can see El Capitan and much of the western valley.
You still have to turn around and head back up but it isn’t a grind like the lower part of the trail.
There were still some parts of the trail covered with snow near the top along with four sizeable fallen trees across the path that you have to deal with.
The view from Glacier Point is by far better than the one from Tunnel View that Kodak back in its heyday when the closest thing to instantaneous photography was a Polaroid camera contended was the most photographed vista in the world.
Given Yosemite has roughly 4 million visitors annually with 95 percent of them only exploring the valley you can see why. Tunnel View is an extremely short drive off the valley loop road.
That compares to a 32-mile one-way drive from the valley to Glacier Point.
The Glacier Point vista is easily 50 times more impressive than the Tunnel View vantage that tourists from around the world “ooo” and “aah” at.
Besides, the actual drive there and back is lame on the Yosemite “stunning scale.” It is why if I have just a day giving visitors a quick tour of Yosemite’s charms Glacier Point is not on the list. It also doesn’t help that as spring turns into summer the queue is in place at the ski area parking lot that can add an hour or so to the trip.
That said you can’t go wrong by combining a trip to Glacier Point with an excursion to the Wawona Grove of giant sequoias. On the way there you can take in Tunnel View and see whether you agree Glacier Point is by far better.
While Yosemite is far from being a national park version of a ghost town, the crowds are incredibly light for this time of year. Instead of being packed up for over a half mile to get through the entrance as the case was in early May 2019, I only had to wait behind one car.
Parking is a breeze and for once there were no traffic jams.
All of that will change as more people start venturing out as the pandemic eases.
And to top that off reservations will be required starting May 21 to drive into the national park so COVID-19 social distancing protocols will be enforced.
In short, you have just a few more days to enjoy portions of what is one of the planet’s most iconic national park that is located in your own backyard with minimum crowds, waterfalls providing robust flows and minimum hassle.
The fee to enter Yosemite National Park is $35 per vehicle. That is good for seven days.