Yosemite and Beyond

Bejeweled with cliffs, domes, meadows, lakes, and waterfalls -- the legacy of bygone glaciers -- Yosemite National Park offers visitors a degree of beauty and variety that is truly mesmerizing.

  from The Most Scenic Drives in America

15. Valley View
A sister site to the Wawona Tunnel View to the south, Valley View (sometimes called Gates of the Valley) encompasses stunning panoramas of Yosemite’s great stone monuments, the Merced River, and Bridalveil Fall. Unless one stops at the turnout, it is also a good-bye view over the shoulder, because the drive now continues west out of Yosemite Valley. After passing through a tunnel, the route heads north on Big Oak Flat Road, winding through valleys and crossing creeks, until it approaches the Crane Flat area, where visitors are able to hike in to explore two groves of giant trees.

16. Tuolumne Grove
Although not as large as the Mariposa Grove, Yosemite’s other two groves of giant sequoias — the Tuolumne and nearby Merced — invoke in onlookers the same sense of reverence for the ancient trees, remnants of a lineage dating to the dinosaurs. In 1878 a vehicle tunnel was cut into the stump of one of the larger trees in the Tuolumne Grove. Dubbed the Dead Giant, the stump — tunnel and all — endures to this day, but is no longer drivable.

17. Tioga Road
Threading through an unpeopled expanse of wilderness — the “other” Yosemite — Tioga Road traverses some 45 miles and climbs almost 4,000 feet between the meadows of Crane Flat and lofty Tioga Pass to the east. As the road ascends, the dense forest gives way to stands dominated by handsome, 100-foot California red firs. At various spots along the way, such as the camping areas at White Wolf, Yosemite Creek, and Porcupine Flat, backpackers begin their treks through pristine forest, discovering hidden lakes, rocky chasms, and remote mountain peaks. Even those who stay close to the car will learn about the natural history of the area from numerous roadside exhibits. Keep in mind, though, that snows close Tioga Pass and the road during the winter. It usually opens in late June.

18. May Lake
About midway along Tioga Road’s meander across the park’s high country, a two-mile spur turns north toward May Lake. This side route winds past a meadow called Snow Flat, where deep snows accumulate in winter. The spur terminates at the May Lake Trail, where a mile-plus hike leads to the lake, one of Yosemite’s five High Sierra campsites. Here visitors will find backcountry trails that afford commanding views of nearby Mt. Hoffmann.

19. Olmsted Point
About two miles farther along Tioga Road, Olmsted Point provides some of the park’s most stunning panoramas. To the south is the glacier-polished granite expanse of Tenaya Canyon, 9,926- foot Clouds Rest (a rocky peak often wreathed in mist), and in the distance a relatively unfamiliar back view of Half Dome’s enormous rounded bulk. The view to the east encompasses beautiful Tenaya Lake and, looming above it, 9,800-foot Polly Dome.

20. Tenaya Lake
Its clear alpine waters surrounded by massive domes of polished granite, Tenaya Lake was named Pywiak — “lake of the shining rocks” — by the native Americans who once lived there. Lovely picnic spots dot the road along the lake’s northern shore, and fishermen angle for trout from motorless boats. Many visitors, lured by some of the finest rock climbing available anywhere in the country, scale nearby Pywiak Dome, Stately Pleasure Dome, and other rounded peaks.