“The longer way to see Taft Point and Sentinel Dome, arguably the best way (without having to kill your knees).”
— Dylan Payne
Birding · Fall Colors · River/Creek · Spring · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
A good way to experience what the Pohono Trail has to offer without 13 miles of strenuous hiking.
This is maybe the best easy hike in Yosemite, which would make this route easily one of the best easy hikes anywhere in the world. What starts off as a perfectly lovely route through the boulder strewn woods and meadows turns to several iconic viewpoints. For those of us who aren't up to extra strenuous hiking, this loop lets your car do most of the work getting to the trailhead. Only open from late-April to November, you can still expect some new experience on the trail any month you come. I'd be hard pressed to say there's any better time than May, though. Yosemite Falls
is at it's peak, snow still lingers in the shadows, wildflowers are beginning to bloom, everything is green, and the path is set by streams that only present a small but edifying challenge.
You could take both the Taft Point
Trail and the Sentinel Dome Trail
separately as out-and-backs and save yourself a mile, I'm sure you're busy and it's not my place to say you're enjoying your park wrong. Everyone else gets twice the jaw-dropping majesty but you do you.
Need to Know
There are many cliff faces with no railings that you can get right over should you choose. You're 2,000 feet in the air so please exercise caution and restraint. Being this exposed at Taft Point
, Sentinel Dome
, and a handful of points on the trail do not attempt this hike when lighting is in the forecast.
If you're planning to take the trail you'll have to cross Sentinel Creek which swells quite large in the spring. For this and several other smaller streams waterproof footwear is best but ultimately unnecessary as you can usually find a path if you're spry.
When Glacier Point
Road first opens this trail may be full of deep snow or mud, possibly until late-May.
It would be tempting to call this loop the road less travelled but in Yosemite there's no such thing. The in-and-outs are quicker and still have the most popular Instagram spots but that's not why we're here, right? Like everywhere in this park get to the parking lot early (between 7-10 depending on what day and month) so you don't add more onto this hike than necessary.
From the parking lot head down past the restrooms and take the left fork. It quickly heads off into the woods along a soft dirt path. After most of a mile, you'll reach the Pohono Trail
and some huge boulders, stay to the left at this three-way junction. In April and May the remaining portion will have several small streams blocking your way. They'll be shallow (2 to 6 inches at their deepest) but can be sprawling and wide. If you can't see a way across follow the footsteps of those who came before you.
The trail is pretty even but you crest a small hill before seeing Taft Point
. As you get closer the view gets wider showing Yosemite Falls
to your far right, Valley View below to your left, and El Capitan
right in the middle. The clearing is huge and has numerous vantage points so even on a busy day you can get a picture that looks like you're alone. If you're not crazy about heights there's one, and only one, spot with railing.
The Fissures, large cracks in the south rim that drop all the way to the valley floor, are a part of the experience. They provide multiple spots for unique views and breathtaking danger. Be careful. If you're lucky you can find slackliners or other extreme sports enthusiasts here doing their thing.
Head back the way you came and stay left again at the rocky trail juncture when you reach it. The Pohono Trail
trail turns down a hill through a wonderful meadow full of flowers and lichens, in front of you now is your first sight of Sentinel Dome
. The path leads you then through the trees along the edge of the south rim. The turn onto Roosevelt Point Trail
is right after Sentinel Creek. Of all the creek crossings this is the most difficult. While not really dangerous despite it's proximity to the falls the water can easily get thigh high in the spring and ruin your outing. It's narrow though so getting from one side to the other just needs patience, teamwork, and a little ingenuity.
Veering left after the creek puts you at Roosevelt Point, directly across from Yosemite Falls
. If you're trying to catch the falls in full light, between noon and 3 is the time to be here. People who don't like heights should turn back and take Pohono to Sentinel Dome
. This singletrack trail is cut into the hillside and while one false move probably won't send you to your doom the mind does wander. While the views are why you take this trail even a cloudy day is a spellbinding experience with the whole world seemingly melting away feet from the edge.
After this 0.5 mile diversion you rejoin the Pohono Trail
and it's time to head upwards. From the end of Roosevelt Point Trail
to the top of Sentinel Dome
represents the bulk of elevation gain on this hike. The two right turns to the dome are well marked so it's just the 1,000 ft climb over a mile that's the challenge. It's a worthy challenge rewarded with a granite dome-top 360° panorama of Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point
When you're done take the easy stroll back along Sentinel Dome Trail
and pat yourself on the back for completing such a nice hike.
History & Background
The Pohono Trail
and Roosevelt Point were part of the famous three day trip to Yosemite by President Roosevelt and John Muir, Taft point was christened when President Taft picniced their (allegedly because his horse couldn't carry him), and Ansel Adams took some of his most iconic shots along this route. Sentinel Dome
still has the worn, twisted, remnants of his Jeffery Pine.