Yosemite National Park is known for its iconic granite rock formations from the towering El Capitan that attracts world-class rock climbers to the infamous curved tooth of Half Dome that tempts day hikers with its vertigo-inducing cable system to the summit. If you want the same feeling of standing on a hunk of granite overlooking what feels like the entire world, but don’t want to work up that much adrenaline, head to Sentinel Dome.
Sentinel Dome is the easiest of Yosemite’s granite domes to hike to. You’ll still get expansive views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, El Capitan and various waterfalls, but the hike is fairly short and easy, giving you the option to hike it during the day, or time your trek with sunset and scramble down with the help of a headlamp.
How Long Is Sentinel Dome Hike?
The hike to Sentinel Dome is 2.2-miles roundtrip. From the Taft Point Trailhead on Glacier Point Road, follow signs for the Sentinel Dome Trail, heading right. The trail winds through the forest and over exposed sections of granite. During the heat of the day there is little shade, so be prepared with a sun hat and sunscreen.
You’ll see the imposing mound of Sentinel Dome peeking through the trees. It may look impossible to summit, but you’re headed right for the top. There are several desirable paths along the way. Be sure to stick to the most well-trodden dirt trail to avoid getting lost. When you reach an exposed section of granite, keep your eye out for small stacks of rocks called cairns that are there to guide you the right direction.
When you pass the sign for Sentinel Dome, follow it to the right. From here, you’re headed for the final climb up the side of the granite dome. Stick towards the middle and take your time ascending.
The summit of Sentinel Dome is wide and flat and it shouldn’t be daunting even for those with a fear of heights. Take in the expansive view in every direction before heading back.
Or, if you want to extend your hike, head back down the dome and instead of coming back the way you came, follow the trail around the dome, crossing Sentinel Creek until it intersects with the Pohono Trail. Head right to access another stunning viewpoint: Taft Point. You can return to your car on the Taft Point Trail. This loop is just over 5 miles and increases the elevation gain to 1,288 feet.
Sentinel Dome is stunning any time of the day, but it is truly magical to take in a sunset or a full moon from its summit. If you choose to do either of these adventures, be sure to bring a headlamp or a flashlight for everyone in your group so you can see on your way down. Temperatures drop quickly as soon as the sun sets, so also pack warm layers to put on for the return hike. While the trail is very straightforward, things always look different in the dark. We suggest downloading the trail map from GAIA GPS to reference if you get confused heading back to the car.
How Hard is Sentinel Dome?
The hike to Sentinel Dome is easy to moderate. It’s only 2.2-miles roundtrip, but the trail does cross lots of uneven ground so it’s not well suited to children or visitors who might have trouble on the final ascent up the uneven granite.
You’ll gain 400 feet in elevation, most of it up the final ascent of the dome. Beware, the trail ends at 8,100 feet in elevation, so if you live near sea level, you might find the hike more challenging than you’re used to.
Bring and drink plenty of water along the hike as the high elevation mixed with the lack of shade can quickly make you feel the effects of altitude sickness. Staying properly hydrated will help combat symptoms.
Where Do You Park to Hike Sentinel Dome?
To hike to Sentinel Dome, park at the Taft Point Trailhead along Glacier Point Road. The trailhead is located on the left side of the road when you’re headed up, approximately six miles in. If you reach Glacier Point, you’ve gone too far.
In 2022, the Glacier Point Road will be closed for construction. Part of the project to improve the roads in this area of the park includes paving extra parking at the Taft Point Trailhead, which will be a welcome addition to the original tiny lot. In 2022, the only way to access Glacier Point Road will be hiking up (and back down) the strenuous Four Mile, Panorama or Pohono Trails. It’s probably better to save hiking Sentinel Dome for 2023 or after.
Is Sentinel Dome Half Dome?
Sentinel Dome is not Half Dome. Yosemite has a plethora of granite domes, which can make identifying them confusing. Half Dome is probably the park’s most famous dome. It’s the imposing face you see towering over Curry Village at the end of Yosemite Valley. Half Dome requires permits to hike to and is a long, strenuous, 14-plus-mile hike which involves climbing up a set of steep cables at the end.
Sentinel Dome is a much tamer experience. The hike is fairly easy and doesn’t require permits or any adrenaline-inducing exposure. It’s a great choice for families or less-experienced hikers who still want epic views and a satisfying hike.