On a road where outstanding viewpoints and amazing sights are the norm, Olmsted Point still manages to stand out. It’s the place where many park visitors get their first view of stately Half Dome. And you’re not just looking up at it, you’re looking directly over to it, almost from the backside. And while Half Dome will be the main attraction here, there’s more to do than just stop, stare, and drive on.
Olmsted Point is located on Tioga Road, about halfway between Yosemite Valley and US 395 on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. You can only get here when Tioga Road is open, usually between May and October. If you’re driving towards Yosemite Valley, Olmsted Point will be the last really great viewpoint before you plunge into the forest and drop down towards the valley. It’s right after Tenaya Lake. You can’t miss it.
While I was walking around Olmsted Point, admiring the view, I watched as another guy arrived. He had a couple of teenage kids with him, and he was positively freaking out over the view. He kept telling the kids, “Can you believe this!?! That’s Half Dome, right there! This is unbelievable! I can’t believe we’re seeing it from this angle!” Naturally, the teenage kids were not quite as mind-blown by the site, but dad persisted.
I’ve been to Olmsted Point once before, so I wasn’t quite as awestruck as that guy. Even so, when you round the curve on Tioga Road and see a natural skyline that’s unlike anything else on earth, it’s a special moment.
The parking lot for Olmsted Point is on the outside of that sweeping curve. People come and go pretty quickly, so if the spots are full, just drive down the road a bit, u-turn, and try again.
In front of those cars, you can see a rounded granite hillside. Go ahead and climb up it.
You’ll find some boulders and a few photogenic trees here, as well as a great view across to half dome.
You’ll also have a nice view of Tioga Road, as it heads on towards Yosemite Valley from here.
All of that can take just five minutes, or maybe 15 if you really stop and stare. But this place is too great to rush your visit. So here’s my suggestion. On the other side of the road, that rounded granite dome continues. Climb down from this side, carefully cross the road, and climb up the other side. Then, hike away from Half Dome and the road for a few minutes.
The reward? More scenic scattered boulders…
… a beautiful view to the northeast…
… looking towards Tenaya Lake. Once you’ve spent a few minutes walking away from the road, and from Half Dome, turn around…
… and you’ll discover that you’ve gained some elevation — enough to make Half Dome even more visible, even if it is a bit further away. Go ahead and Ansel-Adams-it-up with some black-and-white.
You may even find this same rock cairn. It’s probably not going anywhere.
There are plenty of options for freestyle, trail-free hiking on this side of the road. I don’t know if there’s any limit to where you could go. I stayed on the side of the hill that sloped down towards the road, but if you found the right path, you could get all the way up to the top. I’m sure the view is even better up there.
If you’re fortunate enough to visit Yosemite during the time of year when Tioga Road is open, you will stop at Olmsted Point. Allow for some extra time here, and do some exploring. Don’t be afraid to leave the big crowd at the viewpoint behind, and head the other direction. You’ll find even more special places.
Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the drive from Tioga Pass (entrance station) to Olmsted Point: