Eight Best Places to See Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Part of the You Can Learn Travel series.
By Ken Brown
Editor, You Can Learn Series
Updated:
October 27, 2007

Do You Want to See Half Dome?

You are planning a trip to Yosemite National Park in the near future. All your friends tell you that you must see Half Dome. If you have never been to Yosemite your first question is, "What is Half Dome?" Half Dome is a single piece of Granite with a height of 8,842 feet above sea level. It stands like a monument rising majestically above the floor of Yosemite Valley.

You quickly agree that you must see this masterpiece natural creation. But where can you go to get the best views and camera shots? What time of day produces the most dramatic photos? Can you climb this monster granite mountain? This article will answer those questions. I thought I would have some fun and list them in reverse order a la David Letterman.

Number 8 Best Place to View Half Dome - Olmstead Point on Tioga Pass

If you are driving over the mountains between the west side of Yosemite and the east side of Yosemite you are probably on the road known as Tioga Road. Stretching over 65 miles from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass entrance, Tioga Road meanders through the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. You begin at an elevation of over 6,000 feet and can reach an altitude as high as 10,000 feet as you drive. So dress warmly it will be significantly cooler as you ascend.

When you reach Olmstead Point pull into the parking lot. There is a huge chunk of granite with large cracks sliced across it. And scattered all around are giant boulders that were left by glaciers more than 12,000 years ago. Some of these boulders, known as erratics, are up to 7 feet tall and they weigh many tons. If you look from this vantage point down into Tenaya Canyon you see the back of Half Dome stretching to touch the sky. The picture I have included here is actually a close up of the dome.

Number 7 Best Place to View Half Dome - Tunnel View

The next best place to view Half Dome is the location known as Tunnel View. This classic view of Yosemite Valley is a great location to see all the well known landmarks in Yosemite Valley. You get a great look of El Capitan, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall. The reason it is called tunnel view is because of the long tunnel through the mountain that was created for traffic. As you come out of the tunnel there is a parking lot. Be sure to stop and take in this great site.
Click on Half Dome from Olmstead Point photo.
Olmstead Point offers a view of Tenaya Canyon and the back of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
You can view Half Dome from the back at Olmstead Point in Yosemite National Park.
Click to see larger photo of Half Dome from Tunnel View.
A far off view of Half Dome can be seen from Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park
Tunnel View offers a far off View of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
I chose this as the number 7 best viewpoint because Half Dome is very far away at the end of the valley at Mirror Lake. On a cloudy day you don't see much of Half Dome from this location. But, the view is so wonderful you don't want to miss it on your visit to Yosemite.

Number 6 Best Place to View Half Dome - Walk Behind It

Now another great place to see Half Dome is to actually walk up to it and even climb Half Dome. This isn't as difficult as it seems. It is about a 17 mile round trip hike to the base of the rock from Happy Isles. You will actually ascend a mile from the valley floor. You can see the Mist Trail, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall and then you can camp out or continue on to the summit of Half Dome. If you choose to camp you can camp in Little Yosemite Valley campground. Get permits early as this is a very popular location.

If you want to ascend to the top of Half Dome, you will be challenged by a 45 degree climb. You don't have to be a rock climber to reach the top. The Park District places cables you can use to help get to the top. On the summit of Half Dome there is up to 5 acres of space for you to wander around and enjoy the panoramic view of Yosemite National Park.

Number 5 Best Place to View Half Dome - Ahwahnee Meadow

If you are in Yosemite Valley find the Ahwahnee Meadow and you will get a good look at Half Dome. If you have the time to just walk around the valley floor one day, you will see an amazing number of things. You can see mule deer, birds, El Capitan, the little church, and some great views of the surrounding peaks.
Click on Half Dome from Valley Floor photo.
Yosemite Valley floor offers a view of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
You can view Half Dome from the Valley floor

Number 4 Best Place to View Half Dome - Sentinel Dome

If you don't mind doing a little climbing you can see Half Dome from Sentinel Dome. As you drive on Glacier Point Road heading toward Glacier Point be sure and stop at the Sentinel Point and Taft Point trailhead. There is a little parking lot right off the road. You will have to hike a little over a mile with an elevation gain of 370 feet. Then a short climb up Sentinel Dome.

The climb up Sentinel Dome is the easiest of any of the granite domes in the park. You will get a great view being able to see the park with a 360 degree view. Here you can see Half Dome as you stand above the pines. You look right up Tenaya Canyon. El Capitan stands tall in the valley. And the Sierra Mountain tops rise above the landscape. The Clouds Rest Ridge can be easily seen just behind Half Dome. I highly recommend you take this hike if you are physically able to get to the top. The peak of Sentinel Dome is 8,122 feet above sea level.

Number 3 Best Place to View Half Dome - Mirror Lake

Are you looking for a face on view of Half Dome? The best place to see it face on is at Mirror Lake. Just a short hike from the Valley, 1 mile from the trailhead, you reach the beauty of Mirror Lake. The day we were there many people were playing in the water. There is a small stream flowing. But, as you look up at the surroundings you can see Half Dome full on! A teenage bear even crossed our path on the walk back to the valley.
Click on Half Dome from Sentinel Dome photo.
Get a 360 degree view of Yosemite National Park and a view of Half Dome from Sentinel Dome
A hike up Sentinel Dome offers views of Half Dome and the surrounding Sierra Mountain Landscape.
Click to see larger photo of Half Dome from Mirror Lake.
A face on view of Half Dome can be seen from Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park
Mirror Lake offers the face on view of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Number 2 Best Place to View Half Dome - Washburn Point

The first view I ever had of Half Dome was from Washburn Point. Mary and I had entered Yosemite from the south entrance and were making our way to the valley. We were going to stop at Glacier Point first. A mile or two before you get to Glacier Point there is a stop off at Washburn Point. We stopped and were glad we did. You are treated to a wonderful view of Half Dome and the Giant's Staircase, Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls and Happy Isles. A magnificient panorama.

I remember thinking that Half Dome was so close I could reach out and touch it. It filled the sky. Washburn Point is a great place to view the mountain peaks rising up above the Sierras. There are many parking places and I never found it crowded when we visited. Glacier Point was packed, but there were only a handful of people at Washburn Point.

Number 1 Best Place to View Half Dome - Glacier Point

Drum roll, please. The best place to see Half Dome is at Glacier Point. If you want to get photos this is the place to go. Many people will go to Glacier Point an hour before sunset and begin taking pictures of Half Dome. As the sun sets in the west the western face of half dome begins to glow. You can get some great photos.
Click on Half Dome from Washburn Point photo.
Washburn Point is a great site to see Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
You think you can touch Half Dome from Washburn Point.
Click to see larger photo of Half Dome from Glacier Point.
The BEST view of Half Dome can be seen from Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park
Glacier Point view of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
At Glacier Point you also get some wonderful views of Yosemite Valley. You can see the top of the Ahwahnee hotel and the Merced River meandering through the valley floor. The Tenaya Canyon opens up into Yosemite Valley at Mirror Lake. You can take photos of Yosemite Falls, during the spring and early summer when snow melt keeps it active. The Royal Arches are just across the valley floor from Glacier Point.

Whether you are looking for photo opportunities during the day or at dusk, Half Dome is always ready to pose for you. What are the disadvantages of seeing Half Dome from Glacier Point? It can be crowded at times. Go early in the season, early June when the crowds aren't as bad. Also, it can be cold. It is 3000 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley. If it is 65 degrees Fahrenheit on the valley floor then it can be 45 degrees or lower at Glacier Point. So, be sure and dress warmly. If it is raining or near rain, then low clouds may prevent you from getting a good look at the rock. The day we were there it was actually snowing. That was the first week of June.

This is my list of favorite places to see Half Dome. As you travel through the valley and Yosemite National Park, it stands as a monument to John Muir for fighting so hard to keep the land a National Park. You can always know your position because of all the different places in the park to see this national treasure. We hope you enjoy your trip as much as we enjoyed our recent vacation.

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