I feel like I shouldn’t be writing about this hike. Hiking in California can be so crowded sometimes, especially in a place like Yosemite. It’s great that so many people can come see this natural wonder in our backyard, but sometimes it would be nice if the trails weren’t so busy. When you discover a trail with as much solitude as this one, it’s tempting to keep it to yourself. On the one hand, this trail isn’t a big secret – you can actually see it from the highway. And as far as my feelings on crowds go, I’m just lucky to have such easy access to an amazing place that many people travel halfway around the world to see.
The National Park Service does a great job of crowd management. Visitors are handed a map and a pamphlet with trail info when they enter the park. This funnels the majority of people to just a handful of sites around Yosemite Valley. As most hikers know, you don’t have to go more than a few miles away from these sites before the tourists disappear. For example, one could hike North Dome (stay tuned) or climb Liberty Cap to escape most crowds. Artist Point is another such destination. It’s very close to both Tunnel View and Bridalveil Fall, but it gets a fraction of the visitors. We’ve written about Artist Point before, but last time we reached it from the opposite direction via Inspiration Point and Tunnel View.
Directions to Trailhead: This hike is located near the western end of Yosemite Valley. The trail follows the Old Wawona Road, climbing up and away from the new Wawona Road (Highway 41) near Bridalveil Falls. The hike begins about a quarter mile from the Bridalveil Fall parking lot – it’s a short off-trail walk to the old road. There is also a small turnout with parking for a couple of cars on the north side of Highway 41, directly across from the old road. Google Map link to trailhead.
Trail Description: From the Bridalveil Fall parking lot, we began walking west along Highway 41. There’s a use trail for the first bit, but right before you get to the Old Wawona Road, there’s a sweeping blind turn. Stay safe through this section – walk in the dirt above the road. In total, it’s a quarter mile up the highway before you get to turn off onto the Old Wawona Road. The entrance to the road is somewhat obvious – it’s a flat, partially paved road cut climbing away from the main highway to the left (south). The gradient is continuously up and you will climb more than you think in the 1.5 mile section of the road – about 900 feet.
There are only a few trees to duck under on the way up the Old Wawona Road. I don’t suspect that you’ll have a map with you that shows the road. It’s not a maintained trail, so it’s left off most maps, but because it it was the original road into Yosemite it is shown on the old USGS topographic maps. You may still be wondering when you’ve actually arrived at the destination. It’s not completely obvious since the road continues on for miles. One hint that you’re coming up on Artist Point is when you cross over Artist Creek. There is a culvert going under the road and in the spring, the creek is likely a loud and lovely cascade above the road. When you see an expansive vista (to your right) of the whole valley, Bridalveil Fall and Half Dome in the background, then you’re likely there. (There aren’t too many wide-open breaks in the trees.) If you like a good treasure hunt, you can look for the old 1906 benchmark located about 5 feet above the trail in bedrock on the uphill side of the road.
Artist Point is really an amazing place. Maybe one of the most amazing things is that on a crowded weekend you can walk up there, take in the views and see no other people. This would make for a good morning jog if you’re into that kind of thing.
I think it would be really great if they turned the Old Wawona Road into a paved bicycle trail all the way up to Inspiration Point. Most of it is still paved anyway. Even long after the pavement completely disintegrates, the road cut will remain. Seems like many of the people biking around the valley would enjoy this topography. In the meantime, it’s definitely worth a visit – especially if you are looking for a quick, short hike on your last day in the park.