Thursday, January 9, 2014

See wildlife, magnificent Sierra vista on trail

Yosemite route runs beneath Illilouette Ridge high in mountains

Day hikers on the Mono Meadow Trail can spot an array of wildlife – and if willing to walk a bit farther can enjoy a great Sierra Mountains vista that most other visitors to Yosemite National Park never see.

The trail makes for a 1.2-miles round trip to Mono Meadow. After reaching the open area, many continue on to the Mount Starr King overlook for a 3.5-miles round trip.

Early autumn marks the best time to hike the trail. The road to the trailhead typically is closed during winter due to snow at the high elevation, while during summer the meadow will be wet and so mosquito infested (Still bring the repellent in autumn to be on the safe side.).

To reach the trailhead, from Wawona Road/Calif. Hwy. 41, turn right/east onto Glacier Point Road. The marked trailhead is in about 10.5 miles on the right/east side of the road, or about 2.5 miles past the Bridalveil Creek Campground turnoff. A small parking lot is at the trailhead.

As the road climbs toward Glacier Point, you’re at a high altitude. The trailhead sits at 7300 feet above sea level.

Mono Meadow
The trail heads north, descending about 300 feet. Once it curves east, you’ve arrived in Mono Meadow.

A dirt trail runs through the pretty meadow; expect the pathway to be muddy through summer and to cross a tributary of the Illilouette Creek. The Illilouette Ridge peaks at about 8220 feet immediately north of the meadow.

Because the trail doesn’t make the must-do list for first-time visitors to Yosemite, it’s lightly traveled, and that means you’ll probably see some wildlife on it. Most common are grouse, deer and black bear.

Upon reaching the meadow’s east end, you’ve got two options – continue onward or turn back. If the latter, the most strenuous part of the trail awaits, as you’ve got climb the 300-foot slope back to up to the parking late.

Mount Starr King overlook
If continuing on, you’re about 1.2 miles from the overlook. You’ll first cross Illilouette Creek, which has no bridge but a log for fording. The trail then gradually climbs through an area that burned in a forest fire a few years ago.

Though the Mount Starr King overlook isn’t marked, you can’t miss it. Look for a wide granite shelf to the trail’s left. If you start descending a switchback, you’re heading into the Illilouette Creek canyon and have gone too far.

Among the sights at the vista are the Clark Range directly to the east on the canyon’s far side, the granite dome Mount Starr King between you and the range on the canyon’s north side, and the back side of Half Dome slightly northwest of Mount Starr King.

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