Points of Interest - Rock Formations & Cliffs

Points of Interest - Rock Formations & Cliffs

The Views of a Lifetime.

The Views of a Lifetime.

Millions of visitors come to California’s Yosemite National Park each year to see—and even climb—the Yosemite Valley’s awe-inspiring rock formations. Towering sheer cliffs striped with ribbons of flowing waterfalls rise from the valley’s floor, creating dazzling photo opportunities and thrilling nature lovers. In the summer months (or with an overnight ski trip in winter), visitors can view it all from high above, at Glacier Point.

While El Capitan is better known, Cathedral Rocks and Spires is considered by many to be the most beautiful rock formations in Yosemite National Park. Their unusually symmetrical balance—appearing to be a massive, triple-rock formation—is a testament to nature’s power. Towering 2,000 feet skyward, it’s a view not to be missed.

Best time to see Cathedral Rocks & Spires:

Because of their grandeur and their height (2,000 ft tall), they’re visible year-round. There is no hiking trail to the base of Cathedral Rocks but the rock formations are visible from Yosemite Valley.

Best view of Cathedral Rocks & Spires:

Opposite El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks & Spires can be seen from turnouts along Southside Drive, Tunnel View (pictured), and El Capitan Meadow.

Soaring over 3,590 feet skyward, El Capitan is a bucket list destination for elite rock climbers from around the globe. Those who are less brave can be awed at watching the climbers slowly and carefully ascend El Capitan.

Best time to see El Capitan:

El Capitan is always visible from Yosemite Valley—and the view is always changing with the light and with the seasons.

Best view of El Capitan:

El Capitan is opposite Bridalveil Fall and is best seen from the roads in western Yosemite Valley, including Tunnel View, Bridalveil Fall area, and El Capitan Meadow.

Glacier Point is one of the most awe-inspiring of all Yosemite views. Perched on an outcropping of granite 3,000 feet up on the rim of the Yosemite Valley, you’ll fill your eyes with one of the greatest sights on earth—mountain peaks, waterfalls and the pristine valley below. Best of all, visitors of all ages can make it to the top via a well-traveled road in the spring and summer.

Best time to see Glacier Point:

Glacier Point is best reached from Yosemite Valley via Glacier Point Road, which is open from approximately late May or early June through October or November. In winter, Glacier Point Road closes and the only way up to Glacier Point is by skis or snowshoes—a far more challenging way to summit, but undeniably rewarding.

Best view of Glacier Point:

Glacier Point Road provides easy access to Glacier Point, thus making the base of the rock a popular spot, attracting hundreds of visitors a day. While you won’t get the feeling of “escaping it all” it’s an excellent first stop at Yosemite, and is bound to get everyone’s heart racing with the anticipation of discovery and more beauty to come.

Half Dome, measuring 8,842 ft above sea-level, is one of the most iconic cliffs in Yosemite, known for its sheer magnitude—a smooth granite wall rising nearly a mile above the valley. In the mid 1860s, it was deemed “inaccessible” and thought to be impossible to climb. But a decade later, mountaineer George Anderson had summited the peak. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people—all fit and experienced—have reached the summit with a strenuous, challenging hike. Others reach the peak after an exhaustive climb up the cliff’s sheer face.

Best time to see Half Dome:

Because Half Dome is a massive slab of granite rising nearly a mile from the Valley floor, it's visible from many points in Yosemite, all year long. If you're thinking about hiking to the top (strong, experienced hikers can make the round-trip in 10-12 hours), it's best to do it when the climbing cables are in place—which is late May through early October.

NOTE: Learn more about viewing and hiking/climbing Half Dome by visiting the National Park Service website. Permit required. Trailhead to Half Dome is at shuttle stop 17.

Best view of Half Dome:

Because of its sheer height, Half Dome is visible nearly anywhere in eastern Yosemite Valley. Any drive along the road between Yosemite Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge and roads near Half Dome Village will afford you a terrific view of Half Dome.

Mirror Lake (which, despite its name isn’t really a lake) is an ideal place to get close and take in great views of Half Dome. It's a two-mile round-trip walk on a paved trail with a 6.6% to 10.6% grade.

Accessibility: Cars displaying an accessibility placard can drive to near Mirror Lake.

Accessibility Information

Mt. Dana is on the eastern edge of Yosemite, with its peak reaching over 13,060 feet. It is the second-highest mountain peak in the Park.

Best time to see Mt. Dana:

Best time to see Mt. Dana is when Tioga Road is open, which are typically late May/early June through late October/early November.

Best view of Mt. Dana:

Best view of Mt. Dana is from Tioga Road, west of Tioga Pass.

Mt. Gibbs (12,764 ft tall) is adjacent to Mt. Dana.

Best time to see Mt. Gibbs:

Best time to see Mt. Gibbs is when Tioga Road is open, which are typically late May/early June through late October/early November.

Best view of Mt. Gibbs:

Best view of Mt. Gibbs is from Tioga Road, west of Tioga Pass.

Located on the southeast boundary of Yosemite National Park, Mt. Lyell is the tallest peak in the Park (and all of Tuolumne County) at over at 13,100 feet. Mt. Lyell also holds the largest glacier/ice field in the park: the Lyell Glacier. Unfortunately, Lyell Glacier is no longer active due to a warming climate. 

Best time to see Mt. Lyell:

Best time to see Mt. Lyell is when Tioga Road is open, which is typically late May/early June through late October/early November, so this is the only time you’ll be able to have access to Mt. Lyell.

Best view of Mt. Lyell:

Best view of Mt. Lyell is from a distance - thus we recommend viewing Mt. Lyell from Glacier Point.

NOTE: To get to Mt. Lyell, park at the southeast end of the Cathedral Range. You can get there by traveling on Tioga Road, turning towards Tuolumne Lodge and parking just before the Lodge in the parking lot on the left side of the road.

Opposite Yosemite Falls, you’ll find Sentinel Rock—watching over the Park like a guard in a tower. It’s a stunning monolith of granite, is one of the most famous rock formations in Yosemite and a favorite of photographers and painters. In the spring, Sentinel Falls pours down next to Sentinel Rock.

Best time to see Sentinel Rock:

At 7,038 ft tall, Sentinel Rock is visible all year—though the view changes dramatically with the seasons and with the passing daylight.

Best view of Sentinel Rock:

One of the best views of Sentinel Rock is from Yosemite Valley Lodge. The turnout at Tunnel View also offers views, and is reached by entering the park via Wawona Road. Hikers can get great views from Yosemite Falls Trail.

Hikers wanting to climb Sentinel Dome, near Sentinel Rock, can take a ranger-led hike from Glacier Point for a really spectacular view. The hike begins from the Sentinel Dome trailhead on the Glacier Point Road.

To learn about all ranger-led programs, visit the National Park Service website.

Just east of El Capitan, you’ll find the Three Brothers: Eagle Peak (the highest "brother"), Middle Brother, and Lower Brother. Naturalist John Muir wrote considerably about the Three Brothers, and felt their view was the most spectacular in all of Yosemite. This is not one to be missed.

Best time to see Three Brothers:

If your goal is to take in the stunning views, you’ll be happy to discover Three Brothers (7,783 ft tall) is visible year-round. 

Best view of Three Brothers:

The Cathedral Beach Picnic Area offers some of the best views of the Tree Brothers. Cathedral Beach Picnic Area is on the left side of the road as you drive east on Southside Drive into Yosemite Valley.