|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
From Tioga Pass Road, take the North Dome Trail and climb through exposed chaparral on a sandy path before taking a spur trail to Indian Rock—Yosemite's only natural arch standing at 8,500 feet. Continue onto Indian Ridge and follow cairns along the granite as you descend toward North Dome ahead. Keep heading down a granite slope as the trail gets steeper. Here, more features come into view. Look for Clouds Rest, Basket Dome and North Dome ahead. If you want to pull up and set up camp, there are a few exposed trail campsites on the granite.
At a three-way junction, turn left toward North Dome. Watch closely: It's not obvious that you have to turn left here (many people turn right and miss the trail altogether). The trail drops quickly, descending a ledge of granite, then levels out to a dirt trail flanked by pine forest. A gradual ascent ends on 7,542-foot North Dome. From this vantage, you'll get a unique view of Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Glacier Point, Sierra Point, Sentinel Dome, Sentinel Rock, and Yosemite Valley. North Dome can get windy, but is a perfect place to view the valley. Although it's a popular destination, it doesn't draw the crowds like some of the other valley destinations. Many trail camps with existing fire rings are among the trees at the base of North Dome. Note: There is no water within 1.5 miles of North Dome. Anyone planning on an overnight here needs to plan accordingly.
After the detour, return to the three-way junction on the ridge. At the next trail junction, follow the Yosemite Falls trail marker on the ridge above North Dome. Take in views of Half Dome and Clouds Rest and the South Rim of the Valley from this ridge. Descend a rocky trail back into a forest dominated by majestic red fir trees. The trail widens a bit into a dirt trail as it descends to Royal Arch Creek, passing a campsite with prime stargazing and sunset and sunrise views.
Next, cross Lehamite Creek, the only source of water as the summer wanes. (Ferns and wildflowers flourish here.) Past this point, the route leaves the Yosemite Falls Trail and heads northeast toward the Porcupine Creek trailhead and Tioga Road. The trail marker for the Lehamite Creek Trail can be easily missed if you are not paying attention. Pass through a small but strikingly lush meadow near Lehamite Creek. Wildflowers, ferns and corn lilies flank the trail. From here, the trail ascends, sometimes very steeply, to a four-way junction ahead. Turn left at the four-way for a gradual ascent back to trailhead.
-Mapped by Dave Miller
GUIDEBOOK AND MAP: The Complete Guidebook to Yosemite National Park, 6th Edition ($12.95, yosemitegifts.com). Plan other trips in the park using BACKPACKER's Yosemite National Park page.
CONDITIONS: For current conditions and updates, go to nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/conditions.htm.
PERMIT: The park requires a permit to hike the cables on Half Dome. A maximum of 400 permits will be issued each of these days (300 of these permits are available to dayhikers). For details, go to nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hdpermits.htm.
Overnight camping in Yosemite National Park requires a backcountry permit. Check out the latest fees and more details at nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/permits.htm.
MORE PARK INFO: Yosemite National Park, (209) 372-020; nps.gov/yose
FREE TRIP PLANNERS Get news on vacation deals and lodging at myyosemitepark.com