While most of the traffic and crowds stay in the beautiful Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, high above the valley is the hike to the Sentinel Dome. This moderately challenging hike climbs steadily before terminating on top of a granite “dome” with amazing views of El Capitan, Half Dome and multiple waterfalls. It also has a breathtaking view down into Yosemite Valley. If you’re like us, you’ll want to stay and take in the view for as long as you can.
While it takes a bit of driving (and waking up early if it’s in the summer) to get to the trailhead before the crowds arrive, it is well worth the effort. Plus, you can combine a trip to Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove while you are in this part of the park.
While the Sentinel Dome Hike isn’t for everybody, it comes highly recommended by us and we are quite certain that if you have the energy to make the final push to the top that you will truly love it!
SENTINEL DOME TRAIL DETAILS
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Distance: 2.2 miles (round-trip)
- Trail: Out-and-back
- Elevation gain: 455 feet
- Peak elevation reached: 8,122 feet
- Best time of year to hike: Late spring to fall
- To beat the crowds: Arrive before 7:30 am or after 5:00 pm
- Footwear: Hiking shoes or hiking boots
- Watch out for: Sun exposure
- Restrooms: Located at the trailhead, but not on the trail
- Pets: Not allowed
- Time needed: 60 minutes
We recommend downloading our itinerary for Yosemite National Park. This .pdf has all the best hikes and what to see and do in this amazing park.
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR THE SENTIEL DOME TRAIL
Sentinel Dome Trail parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service
The Sentinel Dome Trail is in the Glacier Point area of Yosemite National Park. To get to the trailhead, find your way to Glacier Point Road. Glacier Point Road is accessed from the Wawona Road, which connects Yosemite Valley (near Tunnel View) to Wawona and Fish Camp to the south. It is a long and windy road, and travel can be quite slow. Even without traffic, you need to make sure you plan on taking plenty of time.
After you turn east onto Glacier Point Road, you’ll have to travel 9.2 miles after the Bader Pass Ski area to find the Sentinel Dome Trailhead. The trailhead is shared with Taft Point.
- Directions from Fish Camp to the Sentinel Dome Trail (this will take about 55 minutes without traffic).
- Directions from Yosemite Valley to the Sentinel Dome Trail (this will take about 35 minutes without traffic).
For this being such a popular trail and also being shared with the Taft Trail, the parking area is surprisingly small. There are only 30 spots available in the parking lot. Seeing as though this is one of the most popular parks in the county (with around 5 million annual visitors), this is tiny.
There is limited parking along the road. If you arrive and there isn’t a spot, you could be waiting a while. Spots should open up about once every 2-3 minutes, but they will be in high demand. Your best bet is to arrive early in the day. If you come to Glacier Road in between the hours of 10:00 am and 4:30 pm, you’ll be forced to take the shuttle.
When we hiked this trail, we arrived at 6:30 AM. This was to beat the heat and the crowds. Spots were filling up shortly after our arrival, making us glad that we arrived when we did. When we got off the trail, the parking area and the nearby roads were packed.
Restrooms are available at the trailhead and there are no restrooms available on the trail.
SENTINEL DOME TRAIL: TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY
- Trail surface. The trail starts off as being packed dirt and sand. Eventually, the trail turns to granite as you start to climb the dome. It can be quite dusty for the first 0.5 mile of the trip in the heat of the summer.
- Accessibility. The trail is not even close to being wheelchair accessible. If you are using a cane, you can walk the first part of the trail without any issue. However, once you start going up the dome you may have some challenges if you are not sure on your feet.
PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE SENTINEL DOME TRAIL
The hike to the Sentinel Dome is not long. However, there are a few items that we recommend bringing along your trek up the dome:
- Water. It is generally dry in the Sierra Mountains. Also, the temperatures in the summer can top 100 degrees, so you’ll want to be sure you bring with you plenty of water. For years we have used the Platypus hydration pack and loved it.
- Sun Protection. The trail is almost completely exposed, so bringing sunscreen or a hat with you is a must.
- Trekking Poles. We don’t always recommend bringing trekking poles, but if you happen to benefit from a bit extra help in the balance area (like we do), you will want to bring them with you. As you head up (and especially down) the dome, they will come in handy.
HIKING THE SENTINEL DOME TRAIL
Sentinel Dome Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
After getting your pack together, the trail starts to the west of the parking lot. Within a few feet, you are faced with a choice. Turn right to head to the Sentinel Dome. To the left is Taft Point, which is also a hike worth doing if you have the time.
After turning right, you’ll pass over a small bridge. You’ll have some slight uphill work to do, followed by a brief downslope. The trail is relatively flat for the first 0.3 miles as it heads through a pine forest. While the views here aren’t as spectacular as what you’ll see from the Dome, the scenery is pretty and you really feel like you are in some place special.
As you start to head uphill, the trail continues to be immersed in the presence of both Ponderosa Pine and Jeffrey Pine.
The slope picks up at the 0.5-mile point as you start to approach the Sentinel Dome. It’s at this point that you’ll start to be able to actually see the Dome itself. At the 1.0-mile point, the trail takes a sharp left as it joins the trail that originates at Glacier Point.
The last 0.1-mile, the trail essentially disappears and you are left up to your own to figure out how to get up the dome. While not overly challenging, this is the hardest part of the trail. At an altitude of over 8,000 feet, you’ll likely to feel a bit tired as you make the final push to the summit.
Sentinel Dome sits high above Yosemite Valley and the views from the top are absolutely amazing. I you are looking for a place to propose to someone special, this is a fantastic candidate to do so!
From the top you can look all up and down Yosemite Valley with an amazing 360-degree panoramic view. El Capitan is just to the west. As you look to the right, you’ll get a terrific view of Yosemite Falls before being able to glimpse Half Dome and Nevada Falls in the distance. The views to the south are nothing to brag about, but knowing that you just hiked a short 1.1-mile trail to get to this is extremely satisfying.
If you have small kids with you (like we did when we hiked), you’ll want to keep a close eye on them as you approach the summit. While there is plenty of are to relax up here in safety, there are no guardrails, and any fall from the dome would be fatal.
Also, if there happens to be rain and or lightening in the area, this is not a great place to hang out for an extended period of time, as it is fully exposed!
HIKING BACK FROM THE SENTINEL DOME
There is nothing particular on the hike back to watch for, other than the initial descent down the Sentinel Dome. The rock has plenty of grip, but you’ll want to really watch your step to avoid slipping, especially if it’s wet.
The hike back goes quite quickly, and you can expect to shave off about 10 minutes from the time that it took you to hike up Sentinel Dome.
SENTINEL DOME TRAIL: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES
- Incredible Views. Few hikes give you views this amazing without much work. On a clear day, the views here are really tough to beat. You’ll also feel much more accomplished than if you just drive to Glacier Point (though you should do that too!).
- Pine Forest. Though it is nothing amazing, we loved hiking through the pines.
- Parking. Just make sure you get up early, and you’ll be fine. Even if you have to park on the road and hike a few hundred yards extra, the hike is worth it. But the stresses of finding a spot is something you could do without!
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE SENTINEL DOME TRAIL
Glacier Point Road is a great place to spend a half day or more. Some recommendations in the area include:
- Take in the view from Glacier Point. The overlook allows you to see the entire Yosemite Valley without having to do any work. You can even watch climbers heading up Half Dome from here (if you bring your binoculars). It is best in the afternoon or early evening around sunset, but don’t hesitate to come here any time of day.
- The hike to Taft Point is another good trail to take, right from the same parking lot as the Sentinel Dome Trail. This is a 2.4-mile (round-trip) hike that has a 600-foot elevation gain with vies of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. It is not difficult, but it does skirt the cliff, making it a bit hairy if you have small children.
OTHER INFORMATION ON YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK AND THE SURROUNDING AREA
- No matter how long you have to spend in Yosemite, you never have enough time! If you want a few tips on what to do with your limited time, Sveva has a great blog on What to See in Yosemite National Park in 2 Days.
FURTHER INFORMATION ON YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Make sure you download our Yosemite National Park Itinerary. We cover the best things to do all around the park and the .pdf comes in handy when there isn’t any cell reception!
- Across Yosemite Valley (on the opposite side of the Sentinel Dome Hike) is Tuolumne Meadows. We have two blogs on the area, including What to See and Do in Tuolumne Meadows and the Best Hikes in Tuolumne Meadows. This quiet area of the park is a great place to explore without the crowds. Also check out our extensive article on What to See and Do in Yosemite National Park.
- Be sure to look out our extensive collection of National Park posters, including our WPA Poster for Yosemite National Park.
- When you get back from any trip, send us a photo and we’ll create a vintage-style travel poster from one or more of your photos.