To get to Artists Point and Inspiration Point in Yosemite National Park, you’re going to have to first deal with one of the most-visited attractions in this marquee park.
If you’ve ever driven into Yosemite Valley from the park’s south entrance at Wawona, you will be familiar with Tunnel View. This world-famous spot showcases one of most recognizable and iconic views of Yosemite Valley visible anywhere, and it’s an essential stopping point for just about every Yosemite visitor passing that way.
And therein lies the problem. Yes, you can and should stop to enjoy Tunnel View, along with at least a hundred of your closest friends who are there to do the same thing. I’m not knocking anybody’s right to enjoy the view, as it really is a great spot. However, if you want to enjoy similar views without as many crowds, and especially if you like to hike, I’ve got a great pair of options for you: Artists Point and Inspiration Point.
Early in Yosemite’s history, the routes into the park were quite different from those today. The two primary routes, Old Big Oak Flat Road and Old Wawona Road, took higher paths with a steeper descent into the valley. These dusty stagecoach roads sufficed for sporadic, slow-moving horse-drawn carriages, but they never would have managed today’s automobile traffic – many sections of Old Big Oak Flat Road have vanished under rock slides, so there’s that too.
But like today, those roads featured turnouts that allowed stunning “welcome to Yosemite” views that incoming travelers enjoyed the same way people today enjoy Tunnel View. However, when the park service completed the “new” Wawona Road in 1933, the old road, along with its popular viewpoints, quietly sank into obscurity, leaving its once-popular viewpoints abandoned.
Tunnel View assumed the mantle of “quintessential Yosemite Valley viewpoint” as Inspiration and Artists Points were relegated primarily to hikers. And today, you can reap the benefits of the relative obscurity of both spots to enjoy views that are, in some ways, superior to Tunnel View all while also basking in relative silence and solitude.
Artists Point is the easier of the two points to reach, but it’s still no walk in the park. To reach the point, locate the Pohono Trailhead on the south side of the southern parking area for Tunnel View. Once you find the trailhead, join the trail and commence a no-nonsense uphill climb that gains 500 feet in the space of 0.5 mile. Along the way, occasional breaks in the dense forest of canyon live oak, Douglas fir, incense cedar, and ponderosa pine will reveal views up Yosemite Valley that are just as good, if not a little better than Tunnel View.
At 0.5 mile, the Pohono Trail reaches Old Wawona Road – note that the trail is not signed as such, but you’ll have a hard time missing it. Turn left onto Old Wawona Road, and begin a gentle downhill walk along the old road bed. The roadbed receives scant traffic and little maintenance, so you can expect some downed trees along the way.
After descending for 0.45 mile and losing about 200′ of elevation, the roadbed rounds a bend before arriving at an open spot revealing a spectacular vista across Yosemite Valley. Artists Point is unmarked and unheralded, but the view is so obvious that you’ll have little trouble finding it. This perspective is about 300 feet higher than Tunnel View, and most of the same features are visible, including El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Cathedral Rocks, etc. The primary difference is that Half Dome is somewhat obscured by the Glacier Point massif. However, you get a clearer view of pyramidal Clouds Rest.
For an added treat, you can visit a spot where Artists Creek cascades over a series of granite slabs about 30-40 yards down Old Wawona Road from Artists Point. The creek flows best through winter and spring. During summer it dwindles to a trickle.
Return by the way you came for a 1.9 mile hike gaining and losing 700 feet of elevation.
This hike starts from the same spot, but when you reach Old Wawona Road at 0.5 mile, continue straight on the Pohono Trail. For the next 0.5 mile, you will continue climbing on switchbacking trail through dense forest with occasional clearings that allow you to enjoy views up-valley. With the extra 0.5 mile of hiking up to Inspiration Point, you also pick up another 500 feet of elevation. This 1,000 feet per mile ratio is a strenuous grade, making Inspiration Point a more challenging endeavor than Artists Point.
At the 1 mile mark, you reach another segment of Old Wawona Road. If you look to the right, you will notice a stone structure that still contains a placard and a benchmark marking this spot as Inspiration Point. The only problem is that this Inspiration Point offers little in the way of inspiration, as a copse of incense cedars now obscures the view. To reach the current Inspiration Point (this is the third iteration, as there’s another Inspiration Point in Yosemite farther up the Pohono Trail), follow an unmarked, informal trail downhill for about 50 yards to a clearing to observe the view.
From 1,000 feet up, this iteration of the view of Yosemite Valley is more spectacular than Tunnel View, and its more dramatic than Artists Point. It’s unlikely that you will see many people here, and so the silence and solitude should be a fitting complement to the stunning scene.
Return by the way you came for a 2.1 mile hike gaining and losing 1,050 feet of elevation.
Sure! It’s a more intense workout, but the hike statistics above reflect the overall distance and elevation gain. Both points are worth a visit, so if you have the time and energy, make a stop at both — and be sure to check conditions with rangers before you go.
The Pohono Trail can get a bit rocky in some spots, but it's easy to follow. Old Wawona Road to Artists Point is also easy to follow, but there may be downed trees along the way.
The nearest camping areas are within Yosemite Valley, including Upper Pines, Lower Pines, and North Pines.
From Yosemite's South Entrance near Wawona, head north on Wawona Road for 24.7 miles to Tunnel View. Park on the south side of the road if you can, as it allows you to avoid the crowds at Tunnel View. The trailhead lies on the south side of the road.
With wildifres, smoke conditions, COVID-19, and National Forest and other public land closures rampant, please reach out to the land management agency in charge before you head out for a hike to make sure the trail is open and safe to be on.