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Sierra Point Hike

Ansel Adams took some of his first pictures at Sierra Point. The trail was wiped out by a rockslide in the 1970s and is no longer an official trail. It is a special place where you can see 4 of Yosemite’s 5 major waterfalls: Vernal and Nevada Falls, Ililouette Fall, and Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls at the same time. This trail is not for the beginner hiker but I can take you along with me through my pictures!

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 4 Miles
Difficulty: Difficult
Elevation Range: 3,970′ – 5,002′
Date: April 17, 2013

Highlights: You can see 4 of Yosemite’s 5 major waterfalls: Vernal and Nevada Falls, Ililouette Fall, and Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls at the same time plus the John Muir trail, Merced river, Liberty Cap, North Dome, Glacier point, and much more.

Sierra Point is viewpoint on the eastern end of Yosemite Valley from which you can see four waterfalls: Yosemite Falls, Ililouette Falls, Vernal Falls, and Nevada Falls. The trail has been closed since the 1970s due to rock slides. It can be difficult to scramble over the rocks, finding handholds where you can and sliding in the loose soil, occasionally kicking rocks loose. There are ledges that you have to climb along where there are straight drop-offs and mistakes can be deadly. I do not recommend this hike but thought you might enjoy seeing what the area is like.

Ted’s Outdoor World gave the following background. “According to the Guide to Yosemite (Ansel F. Hall, 1920), there had been an ongoing quest to find a point in Yosemite from which the four major waterfalls could be seen. Finally, in 1897, Charles A. Bailey (a notable rock climber of the era) and a friend felt that they had determined such a location by triangulation. The first ascent on June 14, 1897, proved the calculation correct. The crag, which surprisingly turned out not to be one of the dominating summits, was named in honor of the Sierra Club. Bailey subsequently publicized his find in The Vantage Point of Yosemite, Sunset Magazine, April, 1899. The name appeared on the second map of Yosemite Valley in 1918.”

Sierra Point 2As we drove into Yosemite Valley the day after a wild storm, we just had to stop and take pictures of Yosemite Falls, with ice and snow still covering the cliffs.

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We parked at the Backpacker parking lot, just a little east of Curry Village and walked along the road, up the trail up to Happy Isles, then a scramble up over boulders, loose soil and rocks, until we followed the remains of the old trail. We didn’t take our trekking poles on this trip in order that our hands could be free to climb. As soon as we started up the hill, we could smell that wonderful aroma of the Bay Trees.

Sierra Point 4You can see many different “trails” where people have headed up. We tried to pick out way up the easiest way we could see. As we moved up the hill through some of the slide areas, the ground was loose and rocks could easily be dislodged, so we kept our distance between us to make sure we didn’t kick a rock loose on one of us.

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Once we hit the old trail, the going was somewhat easier, but there were still parts where we had to climb up some step parts, using handholds.

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Along our way up, there were places where we could look across the valley and see Yosemite Falls.

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As we made our way up to Sierra Point, we saw a great view of Ililouette Falls. Although the sun was not cooperating with us this morning for great pictures of this area, we took a bunch anyway.

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I did some experimenting with a 3D photo.

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And look the other way and you can see Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.

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Zoomed look at Nevada Falls.

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Zoomed look at Vernal Falls.

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Teeny, tiny Douglas Fir cones were just beginning to start their cycle up at Sierra Point.

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We sat out on the rocks for a while, had a snack and took in the beauty of this wonderful place. We then headed back down.

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We made it down safely but still had some energy so decided to walk up to the bridge below Vernal Falls to check out the water level in the Merced River.

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We met some critters along the way that were looking for a handout. It is obvious that humans had been feeding them and kind of sad that they had adapted to living off of the visitors, which makes them unable to fend for themselves without those visitors. No matter how cute or cuddly these critters look, they are wild animal. Here is what Yosemite National Park says about feeding the animals in the Park:

• “DO NOT feed the animals! The animals in Yosemite are wild: please keep them that way. By feeding them, you are spoiling them. The animals will lose their ability to feed themselves. They will rely on you to feed them. When you aren’t there, they will starve. If animals become too aggressive because humans are feeding them, they may have to be killed. In addition, human food is bad for, and may kill, wildlife. Think of it this way: if you feed an animal, you are killing it.

These animals MAY BE DANGEROUS! By feeding them you risk serious injury or death! And if you are injured, the animal will be killed as a result of your irresponsibility. There is always a risk of transmission of often-fatal diseases, such as black plague or Hanta virus. Store your food properly. In campgrounds, Curry Village tent cabins, and Housekeeping Camp, Sierra Point 19ALWAYS use food storage lockers (“bear boxes”); in the backcountry use bear canisters.”

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As we headed up the trail, we looked back up to try and spot Sierra Point.

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The Merced River was slowing a lot of water. You can also see Vernal Falls in the middle of the picture below, and then zoomed in on the next one.

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We saw a few groups of people who ignored the no dogs signs on the trail. I can only imagine that they thought it didn’t apply to them. This is one of my pet peeves if you haven’t guessed. . .

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We took our time walking back to the car, catching interesting things to take pictures of.

We saw a tree covered with weird looking fungus.

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Big Leaf Maples were leafing out and flowering.

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Gooseberries were blooming.

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We saw our first dogwood bloom of the season.

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After we got back to the car, we decided that we really needed to stop by Curry Village, check out the dogwoods to see if they had started blooming and get a treat. Well, we did get a treat when we saw the very beginnings of the dogwood show! Brand new blooms of the dogwoods are a yellow tone. Isn’t it gorgeous?

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As we headed back to the car, I would like to think that this little guy was saying “see you next time”, but I suspect he was looking for a free meal.

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Sierra Point 42I think the best time to do this hike is in the spring when the waterfalls are at their peak and it is always an added bonus to have snow dusting the mountains. The trail to Sierra Point can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. It is difficult to locate at the bottom part because many people have created paths that go nowhere in that area. You can easily slide in the steep and loose soils, kicking rocks loose and if you get off of the trail, you can find yourself on steep ledges that go nowhere. I have heard that the park does not recommend this trail. There are several online descriptions of the trail to Sierra Point that give more specific examples of how to get there if you are interested in trying it.


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  1. Great article and pictures Candace. Thanks for the history of the Sierra Point area.

  2. Another one is the Wawona Tunnel to Crocker Point above the valley on the Pohono Trail…not quite as steep and epic!! I did it yesterday.

  3. Beautiful hike…but as someone who has been going up there before hardly anyone knew about it, this is a VERY dangerous trail…and much more so if a lot of people start using it…loose rocks the size of 20″ tv sets routinely fall and can wipeout parties below. Enjoy the photos taken by the intrepid few that go…and hike to Yosemite Point instead!

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