Thursday, July 21, 2016

Yosemite National Park: Glacier Point (Blog Hike #592)

Trail: Glacier Point Trail
Hike Location: Yosemite National Park
Geographic Location: Glacier Point, CA
Length: 0.5 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2016
Overview: An asphalt lollipop loop to possibly the best view in California.

Directions to the trailhead: To get to Glacier Point from Yosemite Valley, drive SR 41 south out of the valley.  Turn left on Glacier Point Road, and follow Glacier Point Rd. to its end.  The drive to Glacier Point takes just under an hour under normal conditions.  Glacier Point is a popular destination, but the parking lot is large and features fairly quick turnover among its vehicle occupants.

The hike: For my general comments on Yosemite National Park, see my first hike in Yosemite Valley.  This hike is a short trip around Glacier Point, which many people claim provides the best view in Yosemite and maybe all of California.  The first half of the loop is handicapped accessible, and the entire loop offers an easy enjoyable hike for most people.
Sign at Glacier Point Trailhead
            From the information board at the trailhead, ignore the Panorama Trail and the trail to the amphitheater on the right in favor of the asphalt trail that heads slightly downhill past the Glacier Point Snack Stand on the left.  (Aside: as goofy as it sounds, Glacier Point Snack Stand is in fact the park’s official name for this building, which contains a gift shop and a concession area with limited hot food offerings.)  The first viewpoint is located across the trail from the snack stand.  This vista faces east, causing Half Dome and Nevada Fall to take center stage with the Cathedral Range’s higher mountains in the background.  When I came here in late June, the highest peaks were still snow-capped although most points below 10,000 feet were snow free.
View across from snack stand
            Just past this first view, the trail splits to form its loop around Glacier Point.  This description turns left to hike out on the handicapped-accessible trail and hike back on the slightly steeper asphalt trail going right.  After descending some switchbacks that make this trail navigable in a wheelchair, the dirt Four Mile Trail exits the asphalt to the left at a signed intersection.  As its name suggests, the Four Mile Trail descends 4.6 rocky miles and 3200 vertical feet to Yosemite Valley.  Although this hike stays right to head for Glacier Point, an interesting journey could be formed by parking in Yosemite Valley, riding a bus to Glacier Point, and hiking back down on either the Four Mile Trail here or the longer and somewhat more gradual 8.5 mile Panorama Trail mentioned above.
            The trail climbs gradually using a couple of switchbacks to reach Glacier Point proper at 0.25 miles.  This viewpoint looks north and east directly across and into Yosemite ValleyYosemite Falls framed by taller mountains further away grabs your attention when you look north.  The view to the east features Half Dome, the Merced River gorge, which contains Nevada and Vernal Falls, and the Tenaya Creek gorge, which contains Mirror Lake.  This viewpoint is the one that makes Glacier Point famous, so take some time to enjoy the views.
Looking into Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Falls, as seen from Glacier Point

Half Dome and Nevada Fall
            To begin heading back to the parking lot, choose the non-handicapped accessible asphalt trail on the left.  The trail climbs slightly to reach a signed spur trail to the geology exhibit.  For a lesson on the formation of Yosemite Valley, turn left to climb some stone steps and reach a shelter that contains numerous interpretive signs.
Nevada and Vernal Falls
The geology exhibit talks about the glaciers that crept their way down the valley many millennia ago.  The glaciers’ ice ground the area’s weak rocks to powder, thus scouring the valley and leaving only the strong, towering, granite cliffs you see today.  In addition to the education, the area in front of the geology exhibit gives a nice view of Vernal and Nevada Falls far below.  A short downhill walk remains to return to the parking area and complete the hike.

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