Olmsted Point

Yosemite National Park

This ‘honey, hit the brakes!’ viewpoint, midway between the May Lake turnoff and Tenaya Lake, is a lunar landscape of glaciated granite with a stunning view down Tenaya Canyon to the back side of Half Dome. Looming over the canyon’s eastern side is 9926ft Clouds Rest, a massive mountain comprising the largest exposed chunk of granite in Yosemite. (As its name implies, clouds often settle atop the peak.) Rising 4500ft above Tenaya Creek, it makes for a strenuous, but rewarding, day hike: it's 14-mile out-and-back with 1775ft of elevation gain.

Not surprisingly, the viewpoint and its parking lot are swamped with visitors. You'll have to clamber down some rocks to grab a tiny bit of solitude. To experience an even better view, and without the company of other awestruck visitors, stroll a quarter-mile down to the overlook, where you can get past the tree cover and see even deeper into the canyon. Because of extreme avalanche hazards, Olmsted Point is the last area of Hwy 120 to be plowed before the road opens.

The point was named for Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), who was appointed chairman of the first Board of Commissioners to manage the newly established Yosemite Grant in 1864. Olmsted also helped design Central Park in New York City and did some landscaping for the University of California and Stanford University.