Picture this: you’re heading to Yosemite National Park, and a friend tells you that there is a hike that zigzags through crystal-clear streams and colorful meadows. Then the trail opens up to a massive granite dome that provides a panoramic view directly into the flat face of North Dome. And that view also looks out over the massive granite structures of Clouds Rest, Quarter Domes, Starr King, Glacier Point and the Yosemite Valley. And the hike has the largest natural arch in the national park. Oh yeah, and it’s not crowded at the parking lot or along the trail.
There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of such a description. You can’t find all of that in one hike, right? Well, while it sounds too good to be true, this magical hike exists, and it is the North Dome Trail from Porcupine Creek.
Because this hike is located off of Tioga Road, you’re saved from the crowds of the Yosemite Valley. With less congestion both at the parking lot for the trailhead and along the trial itself, this hike to North Dome can make for a much more pleasurable day than fighting the common crowds in other areas of the park. For the hike itself, the trailhead is actually the highest point of elevation for the there-and-back adventure. Over approximately 5 miles from the trailhead onto the top of North Dome, you’ll drop more than 1,000 feet. The first few miles of the trek start off surrounded by mixed-conifer forest dotted with meadows and then crisscrossed by numerous mountain streams. This start (and finish) to the hike is in the shade, which is a nice benefit since a summer day fully exposed out on North Dome can get pretty toasty. Once you’re through the first few miles of the hike, the forest will start to open with fewer trees and much more exposed granite. When you’re out of the trees, the views along the trail could complete with any other area of Yosemite, and the panoramic view from North Dome looks over many of the top destinations of the park. No other destination in the park is as close as North Dome for looking directly into the face of Half Dome.
To add a quick side trip to the largest natural arch in Yosemite, watch for the well-marked trail to Indian Rock. In total, the up-and-back hike off of North Dome Trail is 0.6-miles. The additional miles are certainly worth the effort in order to see the 15-foot tall natural granite arch
Aside from one of the best views of North Dome within the entire Park, this panoramic overlook covers Cloud's Rest, Quarter Domes, Half Dome, Starr King, Glacier Point and the Yosemite Valley. Signage along this route is clearly posted, and you will never question a turn or feel lost.
Parking is relatively great. Compared to trying to find a parking spot in the valley, parking at the Porcupine Creek Trailhead is a breeze. And there are two toilets right at the trailhead, which are well maintained by park rangers.
There are options for additional hikes, as well. Once you’re a few miles into the hike, you can fork left and head directly for North Dome or head for the Yosemite Valley via Mirror Lake, or if you were to fork right you would be able to hike to Yosemite Falls (the largest waterfall drop in North America) and then on down to the Yosemite Valley. If you want to hike from the Porcupine Creek Trailhead down into the valley, you’ll want to have a shuttle set up or be ready for an 18-mile round-trip hike with about 4,000 feet of elevation gain on your way back.