Apart from its grand waterfalls, Yosemite National Park is best known for its towering granite rock formations and epic Sierra Nevada mountain peaks, a couple of which rise above a breathtaking 14,000 feet. But to enjoy these natural wonders, you don't have to be an accomplished alpinist or an expert rock climber. Road trippers and nature walkers can still get excellent views of these famous rocks and peaks from the national park's roads and hiking trails.
In Yosemite Valley
The Yosemite Valley is a wonderland of rocks, carved up, polished, and strewn across the valley floor by ancient glaciers. Crane your neck up in awe at the sheer face of El Capitan (elevation 7,569 feet), a big wall that rises straight up from the valley floor.
If you take a picnic lunch out to El Capitan Meadow and bring a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope, you can spy rock climbers inching their way up the face. Farther back in the valley, the curved tooth of Half Dome (elevation 8,836 feet) dominates the scenery. To capture a photo of these astonishing natural feature together, stop at Tunnel View, a roadside pullout at the western entrance to Yosemite Valley.
As you explore the valley, look out for Cathedral Rocks and Spires, just past Bridalveil Fall on the valley's south side. East of El Capitan, the triple-headed Three Brothers is another easily recognized rock formation, with the tallest being Eagle Peak (elevation 7,779 feet).
On the opposite side of the valley from Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Rock is a noble sight, especially when its dusted with snow in winter; the best viewpoint is from gentle trails through Cook's Meadow.
Glacier Point Road
A short drive up from the valley floor, Glacier Point (elevation 7,214 feet) is the park's most spectacular viewpoint. From here you can see iconic Half Dome jutting out above the clouds and also the valley's waterfalls tumbling down the cliffs. From this famous vista point, you can also look out across waves of peaks rolling throughout the Sierra Nevada high country.
Before reaching the point, Glacier Point Road passes the trailhead to Sentinel Dome (elevation 8,122 feet), which offers a 360-degree panorama of the park, including the valley. This 2.2-mile round-trip hike is family-friendly – try to go in July, when the meadows are filled with wildflowers.
Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows
Tioga Road, which is usually open only from early June through mid-October, is a head-spinning drive through the park's Sierra Nevada high country. Almost every bend in the road reveals more incredible view of Sierra Nevada peaks, some of which are snow-covered even into July.
East of Porcupine Flat Campground, Mount Hoffman (elevation 10,850 feet) makes a massive backdrop to pretty alpine May Lake. Near Tuolumne Meadows, some granite domes have trails leading to their easily achieved summits, from where you'll get sweeping views of the meadows and the high country; Lembert Dome and Pothole Dome are among the most popular hikes.