Sierra Point is a short but difficult hike which involves a combination of hiking cross-country and following portions of a former trail in order to reach a spectacular lookout point where four major waterfalls are visible. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding to locate and follow portions of the old trail, climbing up one washed-out portion of the old trail which has now become a major obstacle, and not relying on the old railings in place at Sierra Point to support body weight. Route maps and GPS coordinates are not provided for safety reasons because this formerly official trail has not been maintained in many decades.
Sierra Point is a place which has become mostly forgotten by the current generation of visitors to Yosemite. The destination was once very popular, as it was the shortest hike which could be taken out of Happy Isles, with the Sierra Point Trail being marked on both park signs and maps. Now, almost nobody knows about it, yet it provides one of the most spectacular overlooks in all of Yosemite. From Sierra Point, it is possible to see majestic views of four major waterfalls at the same time -- Vernal, Nevada, Illilouette, and Yosemite Falls. And this is the established lookout point in Yosemite where such a feat is possible. The park service decided to stop promoting the trail in the 1970's, when a rockslide took out portions of the trail which were of great importance. It doesn't seem to be officially "closed", as there are no signs instructing wanderers or others who stumble across the trail to stay away from it. Yet, it can be hard to find initially and there is one part in the middle which has to be classified as a major obstacle which will stop many hikers. That portion of the trail has no bypass, so it must be climbed in one of two ways. The route goes either directly up a series of high slippery steps or around and across the top of a slope where you would not want to slip and fall. The best way to get through the major obstacle is to bring a skilled climber in your group and have them go up first, set up safety ropes, and drop them down to you. At the end of the Sierra Point Trail lies Sierra Point with its original railing intact and a view which few people in the world have ever seen. Yosemite Valley Place Names (1955) by Richard J. Hartesveldt says that: "SIERRA POINT was named in honor of the Sierra Club by Charles A. Bailey in 1897. He had searched for a point from which the five waterfalls (Upper and Lower Yosemite, Illilouette, Vernal and Nevada) could be seen. It was first plotted by triangulation. Impressed by the view, he thought it appropriate to name it in honor of the mountaineering club."
Our own quest to hike the Sierra Point Trail proved to be quite time consuming and frustrating. We were armed with photographs and general instructions obtained from various sources on the internet. Thus, we hiked up from the Happy Isles bridge to the Rock Piles sign and turned off the main trail, heading east into the wilderness. Somehow, we failed to located the bottom portions of the Sierra Point Trail and began wandering around portions of the forest in this area searching everywhere for it. A couple of hours passed by and we were growing more and more frustrated because it was really hot outside and we had no idea where the trail was. Finally, I conceded that I would have to buy a GPS unit and locate the trail by using coordinates which have been published online. We began hiking down, but decided to head back southwest, to cover a little bit of ground we had not checked. A few minutes later we had a breakthrough when we walked through some trees and came across what appeared to be an intact trail. Sure enough, this was the legendary Sierra Point Trail. We followed it up and soon came to the portion of the hike where it is necessary to scramble up the major obstacle. Dave looked over the obstacle and decided to stop his hike right there. And many other hikers will probably do the same thing, as it looks quite intimidating and is not a place to be taken lightly. I managed to find my way up past the obstacle and thus I continued the hike alone. About 15 minutes later I walked out onto Sierra Point. The views were absolutely incredible in all directions. I was extremely impressed. On the way back down, after meeting up with Dave below the major obstacle, we realized where we had gone wrong and ended up lost in the forest. The start of the Sierra Point Trail is actually not very far away from the Vernal Falls Trail. If you look carefully while hiking on that main trail, you can actually see all the way to the start of the Sierra Point Trail. But you have to know exactly where to look or you will miss it. On our way down we also noticed that cairns had been set up by others marking the way, but these may or may not be there for future visitors. One other word of caution involves the area where you make this initial connection between the Vernal Falls Trail and the Sierra Point Trail. Through this area of brush and boulders, there is a high concentration of rattlesnakes. We saw several of them. I came within 5 feet of one which was sleeping, and when the snake rose up and turned around to threaten me, I fell backwards to the ground in shock and fear. So be careful where you step. The elevation gain from Happy Isles to Sierra Point was about 800 feet. If you can find the start of the trail, the entire hike can be done in about 2 hours round-trip. If you can't find it, like we couldn't, then it turns into a 4 to 5 hour adventure. Our hike took place on July 15, 2008.
This hike contains sections of climbing, cross-country hiking in an area with a high concentration of rattlesnakes, and a challenging major obstacle in an area of washed-out trail which may require safety ropes and equipment in order to complete the entire hike. Those without the proper training, experience, and safety gear should not attempt this hike.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
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