Glacier Point, at 7,214 feet in elevation, is covered with deep snow and its access roads are closed late October-late May. This snowpack is cause for celebration at Badger Pass Ski Area, however, six miles east on Glacier Point Road. Temperatures at Glacier Point during the summer and fall months are generally mild, ranging 60-80°F during the day and 40-60°F at night. Thunderstorms occur occasionally, most often on July and August afternoons.
Often referred to as “the grandest view in all the West,” Glacier Point is a 7,214-foot overlook with a vista of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and all its granite neighbors, and the High Sierra. The overlook area features a beautiful amphitheater for evening ranger talks, an imposing log cabin housing a snack stand and gift shop (summer only), and a large and clean restroom, plus all the historical highlights of the point: the stone-constructed Geology Hut that faces Half Dome and the rock railings that look out over Vernal and Nevada Falls and the Merced River canyon. A big hotel once stood on top of Glacier Point, but it burned to the ground in 1969 and was never rebuilt.
To reach Glacier Point from Wawona, drive 12 miles north on Highway 41 and turn east onto Glacier Point Road. Continue 15 miles east on Glacier Point Road to the parking lot; it’s about a 400-foot walk to the overlook. (From Yosemite Valley, drive nine miles south on Wawona Road to reach the Glacier Point turnoff.)
Many visitors bypass this overlook in their hurry to get to Glacier Point, but Washburn Point is worth a stop in its own right. Washburn Point offers a dizzying perspective of Half Dome and the granite country of the High Sierra. Although you won’t see much of Yosemite Valley, it has the best possible view of Vernal and Nevada Falls. The overlook was named for the Washburn brothers, who owned the original Wawona Hotel and drove visitors by stagecoach to this spot in the 1870s.
Washburn Point is on Glacier Point Road, 0.75 mile south of Glacier Point; look for a parking area on the left.
Sentinel Dome and Taft Point
These two spectacular overlooks cannot be seen from the car, but if you have the time and energy either destination will round out your trip to Glacier Point. Sentinel Dome, a granite dome topping out at 8,122 feet, offers a breathtaking view of Yosemite Falls and a 360-degree panorama of granite peaks and domes. Taft Point’s view is completely different: a head-on look at El Capitan and a stomach-churning view of the Yosemite Valley floor, 3,000 feet below. Hold on to the railing while you peer over it.
The trailhead is on Wawona Road, about two miles south of Glacier Point. Both trails lead from the same parking lot but head in opposite directions; each requires a hike of 1.1 miles (one-way).
Badger Pass Ski Area
In the winter, the turnoff for Badger Pass Ski Area (Dec.-Mar.) is the most obvious (and only) destination on Glacier Point Road. The road is plowed for six miles, up to the ski area’s driveway; just a few feet beyond the ground is piled several feet high with snow. If you want to travel farther on Glacier Point Road, the ski area is your trailhead, and your mode of travel will be skis or snowshoes. But there is also plenty to do right at Badger Pass, which has the distinction of being the oldest ski resort in California. The resort offers downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, and “snow tubing,” or sledding on inner tubes. Even if you don’t feel like playing in the snow, Badger Pass is a fine place to go for lunch on a sunny winter’s day—buy a hamburger and a soda, sit outside on the deck, and watch the legions of skiers carve S turns through the white stuff.
Badger Pass Ski Area is located on Glacier Point Road, 5 miles from the turnoff from Wawona Road, and 10 miles south of Glacier Point.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon.