Yosemite National Park Reveals a Secret Surprise

Yosemite National Park is full of must-see locations, and one secret spot that we will remember forever.

 “The experiences that mean the most to me do not need to be the furthest, fastest, or steepest. They can happen anytime, anywhere. They need only take me by surprise, lift me out of my “self,” and hint at how much more is out there.”

Todd Burritt, Author of Outside Ourselves, Landscape and Meaning in the Greater Yellowstone, from a review in the Mountain Journal by Todd Wilkinson. https://mountainjournal.org/a-book-every-outdoor-recreationist-should-read
Picture of Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park.

Visiting wild places, such as National Parks, offers endless adventure; but most of us are limited on how long we can stay. My wife and I could spend a year in Yellowstone or Yosemite or (name another National Park) and still not tire of the wonders they offer. On a recent trip to Yosemite, we were able to spend several days amongst towering granite walls, waterfalls, and ancient sequoia trees.

Our weeklong get-a-way plan included a list of sights to visit and trails to hike in Yosemite. After Yosemite, we spent time at Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park. We were able to visit with relatives in Bakersfield, CA before driving back to the San Francisco airport.

Typically, we budget extra time in our planned schedule. This reduces the stress of inevitable traffic jams and enables us to take detours as we find new places of interest. On this trip, we managed our days around the summer crowds and found a secret surprise waiting for us in an unexpected location.

A picture near Glacier Point at Yosemite with Half Dome in the background.
A trail near Glacier Point with Half Dome in the background.

Glacier Point Road

Glacier Point is a destination above Yosemite Valley that is a must-see sight in this National Park. Since Glacier Point is a one-of-a-kind location, it can get quite crowded in the summer, and the access road can back up with cars waiting for a parking spot. This winding drive offers excellent views and, what I call a Grand Canyon moment. When you arrive at Washburn Point and get your first glimpse of the valleys, waterfalls, and Half Dome, the view takes your breath away.

A picture from Washburn Point in Yosemite National Park
The view from Washburn Point off of Glacier Point Rd. – Yosemite National Park

Early and Late…our National Park Approach

Unless you enjoy sitting in your car, baking in the hot sun, and waiting for a parking spot, setting an early morning alarm pays immense dividends that include finding parking and avoiding the crowds in National Parks. In addition to arriving early, make sure you plan the middle of your day in a way that minimizes the need to find parking and avoids some of the most frequented destinations. Finally, when most folks are heading in for dinner, we visit the places that are recovering from the crowds. It’s incredible how scheduling around peak times can make summer trips to National Parks so much more enjoyable.

Arriving at Glacier Point

Because our internal clocks remained on east coast time, rising early in the morning was easier for us when visiting these west coast locations. Getting out of bed, eating a healthy breakfast, and stocking our daypacks with food and water set us up for a memorable visit to Glacier Point.

We took our time driving on Glacier Point Road, enjoying the preserved scenery along the way. I am surprised at how many people drive so fast on scenic roads in National Parks. We pulled over several times to let cars pass by and found Washburn Point around a bend in the road. The view at Washburn Point is amazing but we continued on to the Glacier Point parking area to ensure that we found a parking space. We arrived around 8 am and found many cars already parked, but plenty of spaces were still available.

The view from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park
The view from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park.

Although the walk to Glacier Point viewpoints is short, we knew the area would soon be filled with people, so we planned to explore this location first. Amazing, incredible, and awe-inspiring are just a few words that describe Glacier Point. I think one of us said, “It’s so perfect it’s surreal.” If you have visited Yosemite or similar places, you know the feeling. The scenery is so stunning that words can’t describe and pictures can’t capture the full experience.

Hiking up Sentinel Dome

After spending time at various viewpoints, we retrieved our packs from the car and started our planned hike up Sentinel Dome. This dome is a solid chunk of granite that, at its summit, provides a 360-degree view of Yosemite. After spending time at the summit, we made our way back down and arrived back at our car around noon. Perfect timing for an ideal outdoors lunch…peanut butter and jelly (PB&J) sandwiches.

A picture from the top of Sentinel Dome at Yosemite National Park.
The top of Sentinel Dome at Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite’s Rest

Next, came one of our most memorable times at Yosemite. We experienced the views at Glacier Point, and we had hiked up Sentinel Dome. As the temperature was warming and crowds were building, trying to find an available bench with a Glacier Point view seemed like an impossible task. We needed to find a place to eat. As we were walking towards the crowds, we veered to the right along a small path and decided that any shaded spot would work for us. After all, we had already experienced more incredible views than anyone deserves.

After a short walk down the trail, we discovered an incredible gift. A pine tree clung to the side of a steep hill; its roots were perfectly formed to provide a natural chaise lounge with an uninterrupted view of Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, endless granite, and Sierra Mountains. How could it be that this perfect spot was available? We reclined on the tree’s roots, which were softened by a bed of fallen pine needles, and ate our PB&J sandwiches.

A picture of our lunch spot at Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite’s Rest, our secret lunch spot.

I thought for sure that John Muir and President Roosevelt must have found this spot during their visit many years ago. I wondered if many people had ventured just a few steps off the trail to find the world’s perfect lunch spot. It turns out that the most extravagant meal out for us on this trip involved PB&J, La Croix sparkling water, and Cliff Bars! The food didn’t matter, although PB&J sure hit the spot. Rather, it was the location that provided the extravagance for us.

Picture of a sign in Yosemite commemorating the meeting between President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir.
The Yosemite Valley location where John Muir and President Roosevelt shared a campfire.

We did get a little pine sap on us, and we were visited by a small group of people that stopped near the tree for a few minutes. I’m not even sure that our visitors noticed us. But, it was as if the best spot at Glacier Point was reserved just for us that day. We ate, rested, took in the incredible views, and breathed in fresh Yosemite air.

A picture of the tree where we took at lunch break at Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park.
The tree that provided the best lunch spot ever.

Claude Monet said, “My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.” My wish is to always remember that secret spot in Yosemite that we named Yosemite’s Rest. We are thankful that God chose this location to showcase a work of art, for the visionaries that toiled to protect Yosemite for future generations, for this little quiet corner of nature, and for peanut butter and jelly!

When my wife asked if I was ready to get going, I responded that I was thinking of spending the rest of the day at the base of this tree. She commented that she would like to as well, but that we should probably make our parking spot available to another traveler. So, after one of the most relaxing and peaceful lunches ever, we departed and freed up a parking spot.

A picture of our feet at Glacier Point with Half Dome in the background.
Our quiet corner of nature.

“There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.”

Henry David Thoreau

By Charlie Anderson

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