Yosemite Point Hike
Upper Yosemite Falls & Yosemite Point (6936’)
Date: Jan 13, 2018
Duration: 5 hours
Distance: ~10.5 miles
Elevation Gain: ~3000 feet
Trailhead: Upper yosemite falls trailhead (Right opposite Camp 4 parking lot)
Trail: Upper Yosemite Falls trail -> Snow Creek Trail -> Yosemite Point
Points of interest: Upper Yosemite falls (bottom, top), valley overlook and Half Dome along with high sierra peaks in the backdrop
Switchbacks - Two sets of switch backs going up to the top to Upper Yosemite falls
Upper sections of the trail bound to be icy in winter. Recommended use of traction devices.
Links: Yosemite NPS, Yosemite Hikes, AllTrails, Topo (Upper, Lower), Yosemite Falls Trail Map
Have you lived in a city and never been to a place most visitors make it a point to see? Well this hike in Yosemite Valley National Park is like that for me. I’ve modestly hiked within Yosemite but never hiked up the Upper Yosemite Trail to the top of Upper Yosemite falls and beyond. I’ve always wanted to do this but whenever I’ve been to Yosemite, other hikes (“Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Sentinel Dome, Mt Dana, …”) have lured me away from this one. I decided that this would be my first hike in 2018 and it turned out to be a wonderful decision. Beauty of the Upper Yosemite falls and the hike up to Yosemite Point is featured in the NPS video on Yosemite. The trail rises to ~6500 feet to the top of Upper Yosemite falls and continues to join the snow creek trail leading up to El Capitan to the east and Tioga Rd to the west
This hike is pretty popular and sees a lot of foot traffic post 9 am. To get the trail to yourself and have a wholesome experience with nature, I recommend starting right around dawn (sunrise). We, Anshuman and I started the hike a little before 8am. This trail is bound to be magical on a winter day when Yosemite Valley is white but unfortunately this year the weather gods haven’t been forthcoming with the much needed snow. If not for a slight chill pre-sunrise and the short daylight hours it would have been a perfect summer day. Our plan was to get to Yosemite Point (~4.5miles from the Upper Yosemite Falls trailhead in the valley) and we kept to it. We did meet a fellow hiker who spoke about great views from North Dome and that is on my bucket list for another trip.
Yosemite valley is also pretty popular for bouldering and rock climbing. The initial section of Upper Yosemite falls meanders around a few huge boulders that are great candidates for the sport and so you might get to see some folks climbing up those boulders. The trail starts with a a long stretch of switchbacks gaining elevation quickly. More like a process for weeding out the weak and a testament to dedication, the trail does not provide any respite for a long time. An overlook (Columbia rock) marks the 3/4th way up the switchbacks. After the initial climb, the trail traverses around the mountain to the next chute. This traverse involves walking down-hill for a bit which confused me a little. I wondered if I had missed the main trail and wandered off on a different smaller one. Eventually the grandeur of Upper Yosemite falls comes into view. The veil created by the wind looked as gentle as snow.
The beauty of the falls fills you with new energy to hike closer and closer to it. The trail climbs and loses elevation graduation for a bit keeping it mostly flat after which the second set of switchbacks start. We now hike up the chute west of the falls through vegetation and trees. This climb due to the chute structure & vegetation, reminded me of the switchbacks on the way up to the South Rim from Indian Garden campground on the Bright Angel trail in Grand Canyon National Park. We slowly gain elevation and get to see the falls from varying angles. As soon as we top-out from the chute, we get to the intersection of the Upper Yosemite Falls trail and the Snow Creek trail. This is about 3.2 miles from the trailhead. The top-of-the-falls overlook is about 10 mins out continuing on the falls trail. Closer the overlook the terrain changes drastically with rock faces and hand railings guiding the hiker close to the edge of the falls. This is very similar to the upper section of the Angel’s landing hike in Zion National Park. After a quick pit-stop at the overlook and double-backing our steps to the intersection of the trails, we took snow creek trail towards North Dome & Tioga Rd. This is a high sierra trail and had some ice on the trail. Another couple hundred feet of climbing got us to our destination for the day - Yosemite Point. The view of the valley from here is pretty fabulous with Half Dome in the foreground and the high-sierra peaks in its background. The slog up is absolutely worth the view. Thanks to Anshuman for lugging his large, heavy binoculars, I got a glimpse of a close-up view of the all of the mountains that made up the landscape. I’d suggest continuing on the north dome trail for just a little bit (~2-3 minutes) to get un-obstructing views of Half Dome and the valley.
After a good 20-25 mins of relaxing at Yosemite Point, we started our descent at 11:15am which put us at ~2:30hrs for the ascent. My estimate of us getting down to the trailhead was about 1:15 pm and we indeed made it comfortably in-time after spending enough time for pictures and giving way for ascending folks. The hiker density on the trail was off-the-charts on our descent making me very happy about our decision to start our hike early. To complete the Yosemite falls experience, we quickly took a 1.2 mile round-trip hike to the Lower Yosemite Falls overlook.