North Dome is an often overlooked feature of Yosemite National Park. While it may not be quite as impressive looking as some of its iconic neighbors, North Dome offers a very interesting day hike and one of the best views of the face of Half Dome you will ever see. It is one of the few places where you can really appreciate how enormous Half Dome really is.
The trail begins off of route 120. Follow what is left of an old road to the Porcupine Creek campground (long out of use) and continue past Porcupine Creek. This area, known as Porcupine Flats is mostly made up of lodgepole pines which the spiny creatures love for food. I have never seen one here, but others have reported sightings very early in the morning and later in the evening. From here it’s about 3 miles of very pleasant hiking to the junction with the Tenaya Lake trail. Just a few feet beyond there, look for a second junction. The trail to North Dome is to the right, but a brief side trip to the left will bring you to a very thin arch on Indian Ridge. It is worth the detour as this feature seems to defy gravity, thinning to not much more than a foot at the narrowest part.
Once you have exhausted the entertainment possibilities offered by the arch, return to the junction and take the right hand fork to North Dome. As you get closer to the dome, the trees will begin to thin out offering glimpses of North Dome and Half Dome beyond. The footing can be loose and there are steep drops on either side that could prove very dangerous so be careful. It is easy walking as long as you pay attention.
As you approach the summit of North Dome, the trees fade away and you get a wide open panoramic view of many of the most popular features of Yosemite. To the east, the narrow Tenaya Canyon stands out in contrast to the relatively wide Yosemite Valley before you. Clouds rest and Half Dome, located directly across the valley from your vantage point dominate the view. Further to the west you can see Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome and a bit of El Capitan to complete the circuit. Of course there are many other features in view, far to many to list here.
All total, the round trip is between 9 and 10 miles but they are not nearly as difficult as many of the hikes originating in the valley. Reasonably fit hikers can do it as a brisk half day hike (3 to 4 hours) if time is short. However, I suggest taking a full day to explore the area as there are many small surprises to be found. The forest here has a very peaceful feel and you are likely to find a level of solitude that is hard to come by so close to the valley. Plus, you will seldom find a better place for a scenic lunch than on the top of North Dome – if you can take your eyes off the view long enough to eat.
As always, keep an eye on the weather and leave the dome at the first hint of thunderstorms. Lightning could be a risk on the dome and the footing could get slippery when wet. However, once you leave the dome proper the risks diminish quickly so you are not nearly as exposed here as on many other Yosemite hikes.
When hiking in California, it can be difficult to find solitude and outstanding views in one place. North Dome is definitely worth an addition to your outdoor adventure wish list if that is what you seek.