Yosemite National Park: Sentinel Dome

Savor can't-miss Yosemite panoramas from the Valley's second-highest vantage point on this easy hike to the legendary Sentinel Dome.
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Savor can't-miss Yosemite panoramas from the Valley's second-highest vantage point on this easy hike to the legendary Sentinel Dome.

Adorned by the solitary Jeffrey Pine immortalized in many Ansel Adams photographs, the unmistakable Sentinel Dome is deservedly mentioned alongside stalwarts like Half Dome and El Capitan as a Yosemite icon. Make a pilgrimage to the legend on this short, scenery-blasted stroll starting at Glacier Point Road. From the trailhead, Sentinel’s bald summit sits 1.2 miles due north, while Glacier Point is perched over the Valley floor just 1.4 miles further east. Snag views from both vantage points by completing a 5.3-mile out-and-back, or leave a second car at the Glacier Point trailhead to turn this trip into a shuttle hike.
Begin by strolling through a high-country landscape dotted by hardy lodgepole, Jeffrey and western white pines. The clearly marked, well-used trail wanders over patches of dirt and slabs of granite before leading to a junction with the Glacier Point spur. Fork left to climb Sentinel’s polished northern face. After the trees thin out and Half Dome creeps into view over your shoulder, reach the fallen Jeffrey pine marking the top of the Dome.
From high above the South Rim on Sentinel’s bald summit, Yosemite’s granite-walled, tree-blanketed valley sprawls majestically to horizons lined by white-capped peaks and toothy, cloud-veiled crags. The Cathedral Range, dusted by a snowy crown into mid summer, borders the northern panorama. Mounts Clark and Starr King punctuate the rugged Clark Range to the southeast. Directly across the Valley, Yosemite Falls plunge down 2,425 feet of granite, while Nevada and Vernal Fall spill from the Merced River to the east. Complete the view by admiring Valley regulars like Half Dome, El Capitan, Clouds Rest and Basket Dome.
Glacier Point, 1.4 miles further down the trail, offers a fresh perspective on Sentinel Dome’s birds-eye Valley vistas. Retrace your steps to the trail junction (Waypoint 4) and fork left to hit Glacier, or bear right to return to the trailhead. 

PLAN IT
GUIDEBOOK AND MAP The Complete Guidebook to Yosemite National Park, 6th Edition ($12.95, yosemitegifts.com). Consult the time-tested authority on Yosemite, or plan other trips in the park using BACKPACKER’s Destination’s page (backpacker.com/destinations/category/206). Get around the park using Yosemite’s free shuttle service (nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/valleyshuttle.pdf).

FEES/PERMITS To enter park: $20 per car, $10 per pedestrian/ bicyclist. Pass is valid for seven days. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight stays from May through October. Reservations for a permit can be obtained no earlier than 24 weeks before the first night of your stay. Permits cost $5 per reservation and $5 per person in the party. Depending on availability, permits can also be obtained at the wilderness center on the day of your trip.

CONTACT Call the Wilderness Permit Office at (209) 372-0740; nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm

CONDITIONS Tioga Pass Road (Highway 120) is closed between October and May. Water is available along the trail at mile 2.8, mile 3.8, mile 5.4 (seasonal), mile 7.9, mile 11.7, mile 13, and mile 14.4.

GPS DATA Download tracks and waypoints, print or order custom topos, from the menu on the left.

LOCAL LINKS
GAS
LEE VINING: CHEVRON
51557 Highway 395
Lee Vining, CA 93541
(760) 647-6330
GROVELAND: CLAIM JUMPER OUTPOST
17586 Highway 120
Groveland-Big Oak Flat, CA 95305
(209) 962-7153

GEAR
MAMMOTH MOUNTAINEERING SUPPLY
3189 Main St.
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
(888) 395-3951

GROCERIES
EL PORTAL: EL PORTAL MARKET
10913 Highway 140
El Portal, CA 95318
(209) 379-2700
MAMMOTH LAKES: VONS
481 Old Mammoth Rd.
Mammoth Lakes, CA
(760) 934-4536

RESTAURANTS
MAMMOTH LAKES: ANGEL’S RESTAURANT
20 Sierra Blvd.
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
(760) 934-7427

CURRY VILLAGE: DEGNAN’S DELI
9015 Village Dr.
Curry Village, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389
(290) 372-8454
LEE VINING: NICELY’S RESTAURANT
Highway 395 and 4th St.
Lee Vining, CA 93541
(760) 647-6477

-Text: Brian Beer. Map and photographs: Jeff Chow

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 4.3

Waypoints

SDM001

Location: 37.7126, -119.584867

From the Sentinel Dome/ Taft Point Trailhead, cross Glacier Point Road and head north.

SDM002

Location: 37.71285, -119.586117

At the Y-junction, turn right and cross a small footbridge onto slick granite. Follow the well-marked path over a varying landscape of rock and dirt.

SDM003

Location: 37.721781, -119.58322

As you approach Sentinel's base, join an old paved road and veer to the right.

SDM004

Location: 37.724133, -119.583

At the Y-junction, turn left. The right fork leads to Glacier Point. Follow the trail as it curves up Sentinel's granite-topped northern face. Half Dome comes into view on the way up.

SDM005

Location: 37.7231, -119.584333

Grab some of the park's best views from the exposed summit of Sentinel Dome. The second highest point in the Valley (behind Half Dome), Sentinel clocks in at 8,117 feet and is home to the gnarled Jeffrey Pine immortalized in Ansel Adams' in several Ansel Adams photographs. Along with views of the Valley's usual suspects -- El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks and Clouds Rest -- Sentinel offers vistas of the far-off Cathedral and Clark ranges,as well as glimpses of Vernal and Nevada Falls. After feasting on the scenery, retrace your steps to the Glacier Point spur. Turn left to continue to Glacier Point, right to return to the trailhead.

SDM006

Location: 37.724276, -119.583156

Return to the junction between the Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome trails. The left fork leads to Glacier Point (1.4 miles) while the right fork returns to the trailhead.

SDM007

Location: 37.72655, -119.58245

At Y-junction, fork right to head toward Glacier Point.

SDM008

Location: 37.724104, -119.57624

Follow signs to Glacier Point.

SDM009

Location: 37.7258, -119.5747

Cross Glacier Point Road and continue straight to Glacier Point.

SDM010

Location: 37.728, -119.573283

Though packed with tourists, Glacier Point's superb high-country panoramas render it a must-see. Grab jaw-dropping views, comparable to those from Sentinel Dome, while wandering through an interpretive area toward Glacier Point's cliff-edged northern terminus.

SDM011

Location: 37.730717, -119.573583

Reach world-class vistas from Glacier Point, perched precipitously atop Yosemite Valley's sky-scraping South Wall. Half Dome looms majestically to the northeast, while Nevada and Vernal Falls can be seen above the confluence of the Illilouette Gorge and Merced River to the east. Curry Village is carved into the valley floor directly north, Yosemite Falls plunge from the valley's North Wall, and the Clarke Range spans the southeast horizon. After soaking in the views, turn around to return to your car in the Glacier Point parking lot, or complete the 2.7-mile return trip to the Sentinel Dome Trailhead.

SDM012

Location: 37.727557, -119.574364

Glacier Point parking lot. Retrace your steps to the trailhead, or use

Jeffrey Pine

Location: 37.723083, -119.584317

The subject of many Ansel Adams photos, this Jeffrey Pine remained standing until the summer of 2003.

Trailhead

Location: 37.713133, -119.586

From the trailhead off Glacier Point Road, follow signs to Sentinel Dome.

High-Country Trees

Location: 37.721083, -119.583317

Hardy lodgepole pines, Jeffrey pines and western white pines cling for life in the thin soil under Sentinel Dome.

Cathedral Range

Location: 37.723817, -119.583883

As you near Sentinel's peak, the snowy Cathedral Range spans the northeastern horizon.

USGS Marker

Location: 37.723083, -119.584317

Sentinel Dome (8,122 feet) is the second tallest vantage point in the Valley, behind Half Dome.

Down Valley

Location: 37.728017, -119.581233

Half Dome punctuates a northeastern panorama of Yosemite Valley.