For many Santa Barbarans, summer is synonymous with one place: Yosemite. The legendary valley has raised countless area families and friends in its ancient glacial cradle, inspiring millions of avid adventurers and casual hikers from here and elsewhere to visit year after year. In 2017, the valley enjoyed renewed exposure as a testament to both the power of Mother Nature and humankind alike when Alex Honnold climbed the 3,000-foot face of El Capitan sans rope.
While most of us are likely not quite as ambitious as Honnold, we nonetheless would love to explore the valley sometime this summer, but face permit problems and crowd woes.
Thankfully, there’s the Pohono Trail. With not much luck needed, you can secure an advance or walk-up permit for this extraordinarily beautiful hike along the south rim as an overnight backpack or more leisurely multi-night trip. At 13-16 miles long (conflicting reports), it’s also totally doable as a big and strenuous day hike.
The Pohono Trail is a thru-hike beginning at either Glacier Point or Tunnel View parking lots; having a car at each end will make things easiest. Beginning at Glacier Point is almost entirely downhill, and for that reason, preferable to most, unless you love ascending several thousand feet in a day.
The trail begins with some of the most breathtaking views on the planet and simply doesn’t stop. After leaving behind the bustling Glacier Point viewpoint, you come to your own private peek of Yosemite Falls, just under a mile in, its thundering music playing loudly across the way. What a sound! Not much farther, you come to a Sentinel Dome juncture you absolutely must take. With 360-degree views of the park, views don’t get much better than this.
After Taft Point, where slackliners balance dizzyingly thousands of feet above the valley floor, the number of day hikers plummets. The next two and a half miles go quietly through mossy forests, near-silent but for many beautiful birdsongs. It’s hard to believe you’re still in the same crowded national park. On this quiet stretch, you’ll come to your first camping option at Bridalveil Creek Bridge, a peaceful place along the banks of the water that spills into one of Yosemite’s most iconic falls.
But it’s Dewey Point, just two miles farther, that’s the real stunner. With a few spacious sites situated at one of the most spectacular views in a park full of them, it’s hard not to feel downright undeserving of such a sleep spot. Watch the sunrise, watch the sunset, and watch the headlamps glinting on El Capitan’s face. It’s a place to feel unparalleled joy and magic, a summer memory you’ll never forget.