Monday, November 4, 2013

Hike to Yosemite's spectacular Artist Point

Tunnel View. Photo courtesy of Yosemite NPS.

Route includes
famous vista
at Tunnel View

Families can enjoy one of the most photographed vistas at Yosemite National Park with a day hike on the Artist Point Trail.

Located at the western end of Yosemite Valley, most of the 3-mile round trip trail follows the Old Stagecoach Road that used to run through the area.

Stunning panorama
To reach Artist Point, start at the parking lot for Bridalveil Fall on Wawona Road. The trailhead is on lot’s south side.

Running southwest through a forested area, the trail roughly parallels Wawona Road. The stagecoach route was constructed as a toll road during the early 1882s by the Washburn Brothers, who ran a nearby hotel. Cars later would use the route, and the rough road kept local auto mechanics busy.

In 1.5 miles, you’ll reach Artist Point. The panorama is breathtaking, rivaled only by the nearby Tunnel View vista. Sitting at 4900 feet elevation, looking northeast you’ll see such venerable Yosemite Valley features as Half Dome, North Dome, Sentinel Rock, Royal Arches, Clouds Rest, Bridalveil Meadow, Ribbon Fall, and the Merced River.

The vista gained its name because according to legend it’s the spot where Thomas Ayres drew the first ever picture of Yosemite Valley in June 1855. In all likelihood, however, Ayres made his drawing near Inspiration Point, which is slightly farther west; his picture shows Sentinel Dome but not North Dome and the Royal Arches.

Tunnel View
As an out-and-back trail, return the way you came. However, if you have the energy, continue hiking for another mile (2 additional miles round trip) to Tunnel View. Simply keep heading west on the old stagecoach trail.

The trail drops a couple of hundred feet and requires negotiating around some fallen trees. In about a half mile, you’ll reach the Pohono Trail junction; go right/east down about 500 feet of switchbacks over a half-mile to the Tunnel Point parking lot and vista.

This gives you the same view as vehicles entering Yosemite Valley through the Wawona tunnel – except you don't have to keep your eyes on the car in front of you or have your views blocked by a tall minivan. The view is very similar to that at Artist Point, with El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls all in one frame.

The Wawona tunnel that the vista sits next to is on the National Register of Historic Places. At 4,233 feet, it’s California’s longest highway tunnel, opening in 1933 after workers spent 29 months boring through solid granite.

Bridalveil Fall
A number of guidebooks call the route from Tunnel View to Artist Point the Artist Point Trail; it is a viable alternative, but there’s actually no official route with the name of Artist Point Trail on National Park Service maps or brochures. The route from Bridalveil Falls, while a mile longer round trip, is more level. One matter that most guidebooks – including this one – agree upon, is that the vista from Artist Point is more spectacular than that of Tunnel View (which is darn impressive in its own right).

Alternately, rather than head to Tunnel View, consider doing instead doing the Bridalveil Fall Trail upon your return to the parking lot. A trail is only a half-mile round trip walk to the 617-foot high waterfall.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.