, 3,200 feet above Yosemite Valley, a stupendous vista stretches out for many miles north and east, over the forests and meadows around the Merced river, the enclosing cliffs and lofty domes, and across the countless higher mountains in the distant wilderness areas of the national park. In one direction, Vernal and Nevada falls are clearly visible, along the course of
. A little way north is the steep canyon of Tenaya Creek, the two separated by the distinctive shape of Half Dome. Opposite the viewpoint, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls cascade 2,400 feet down the sheer cliffs, and far beneath cars and even people can be seen, moving slowly along.
Glacier Point is probably the best easily-accessed, high-elevation viewpoint in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and is reached by a paved, 16 mile road that forks west from CA 41 at Chinquapin Junction
, 8 miles south of the Wawona Tunnel entrance to Yosemite Valley, and 18 miles north of the southern entrance to the national park at Mariposa Grove
. The surrounding land is generally quite densely forested with ponderosa pine but also has scattered grassy meadows, small lakes, streams and granite outcrops.
The Glacier Point road is fully open from June to October but with limited access for skiers during winter, most of whom head for the Badger Pass Ski Area
, 4.7 miles from the junction. The drive is busy during summer, but peaceful scenery is only a few minutes walk away along one of the trails
, such as the steep Four Mile Trail that links Glacier Point with Southside Drive in the valley, 3,240 feet below. The other most popular paths are to Taft Point
for great views of middle Yosemite Valley, Sentinel Dome
for a 360° view over the surrounding mountains, and the Panorama Trail
to Illilouette Fall and beyond; this has the best views of all.
The road passes one very good official campground, at Bridalveil Creek
, which is also the starting point for two of the main trails into the southern wilderness areas of the park. All 110 sites are well separated from each other, with fire grills, benches and tables; the camp is bordered by the clear, slow moving creek which, 10 miles downstream, falls spectacularly into Yosemite Valley and joins the Merced River. One hundred meters into the surrounding, boulder-strewn forest there is perfect silence with no sign of civilization, just trees and shadows in all directions; it is easy to imagine a bear or mountain lion emerging from the undergrowth. I did not see any, but there were some deer, pikas and squirrels. Bears are reported every week or so in the Bridalveil Creek campsite. For some reason the NPS close the campground a month or so before the actual road shuts, so then the nearest places for camping are at Wawona or Yosemite Valley.
For many years it was a weekly occurrence for a large bonfire to be lit at the top of the cliffs at Glacier Point and then tipped over the edge when in full blaze. The burning mass, known as a 'firefall', fell 3,000 feet onto the forests and meadows of Yosemite Valley below, a practice that was ended in 1968. There used to be a large hotel as well, but this has been removed, although there is still quite a cluster of buildings at the viewpoint.