Whenever Yosemite National Park is mentioned, visions of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and El Capitan usually pop to mind. And although these iconic Yosemite attractions are definitely worth a visit, the park also boasts some equally interesting, if not somewhat quirky, lesser known landmarks. The good news is, not only are many of these offbeat sites usually less crowded, but all of them are wheelchair-accessible.
Galen Clark Covered Bridge
Although a covered bridge in Yosemite may seem out of place, it makes perfect sense when you understand the history of the Wawona area. The first toll road to Yosemite Valley carried stagecoach traffic along what’s now Wawona Road, so in 1857 Galen Clark built a bridge over the Merced River to accommodate the traffic. The structure was later covered by the Washburn brothers — who built the Historic Wawona Lodge — as was the custom in their native Vermont. It’s rumored that they did this because they were homesick, but truth-be-told nobody knows for sure. Today visitors can walk or roll across this historic bridge, which is located at the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, between the Wawona area visitor center and Chilnualna Falls Road. And while you’re there, take some time to browse through the other historic structures that were relocated from throughout Yosemite in the 1950s and 1960s.
California Tunnel Tree
Although the famous Wawona Tunnel Tree toppled to the ground in 1969, there’s still one drive-through tree left in the Mariposa Grove — the California Tunnel Tree. It’s located a short walk from the Grizzly Giant on a wheelchair-accessible trail. Visitors with an accessible parking placard can drive to the Grizzly Giant lot, and take the .20-mile hard-packed dirt trail over to this novelty tree, which was carved out in 1895 for stagecoach traffic. It’s a fun photo op, and you can walk or roll through the tree today. The trail continues on through the grove for about another 425 feet before it loses its access. All in all it’s a fun 2/3-mile out-and-back hike.
Even though the historic Yosemite Cemetery is located near the popular Yosemite Museum in Yosemite Valley, many visitors completely pass by this historic attraction. The hard-packed dirt paths through the cemetery are level, and although there are a few bumps near the entrance, the route is navigable for most wheelchair-users and slow walkers. There are also benches to sit and rest along the way. Many of the tombstones, which are still readable, tell the sad stories of the interred. There’s Sadie Schaeffer who drowned in 1901, John C. Anderson who was killed by a horse in 1867, and George Anderson — the first person to summit Half Done — who met his end nine years after his initial ascent. A guide to the cemetery is available at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. And don’t miss the special ranger program and campfire at the cemetery on Halloween.
Glacier Point offers one of the most commanding views of Yosemite Valley; but don’t miss out on Washburn Point which is located just below Glacier Point. Accessible parking is located near curb-cut access to an accessible hard-packed dirt path over to the lower viewpoint. After that the ground gets a little rocky, but some folks may be able to dodge the obstacles and make their way to the interpretive plaque at the second viewpoint. Either way, there are good views of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall at both viewpoints. As an added bonus, this overlook is not as crowded as iconic Glacier Point.
Cascade Falls Picnic Area
Although visitors flock to some of the more popular picnic areas — like Swinging Bridge — in Yosemite Valley, most folks zip right past this pleasant lunchtime stop on El Portal Road. Cascade Falls Picnic Area is located midway between the Arch Rock Entrance and Pohono Bridge. Accessible parking is available in a paved lot, and there’s level access over to the nearby accessible vault toilets. There’s also curb-cut access up to a level hard-packed dirt trail that leads over to a shaded grove filled with accessible picnic tables. And if you visit when the falls are running, you’ll get a nice view from the adjacent beach. It’s makes a pleasant lunch — or even a breakfast — stop for folks who use the Arch Rock Entrance.
Last but not least, no visit to Yosemite is complete without a drive on Tioga Road. That said, it’s something that many visitors either don’t have time to do, or completely overlook. One of the best places to stop along the route is at the east end of Tenaya Lake. There are a few accessible picnic tables near the parking area; however if you can manage a short .1-mile walk, there’s a much nicer picnic choice down the trail. The accessible asphalt and boardwalk path begins near the accessible vault toilets and winds through the forest, crosses a bridge and ends on the lakeshore. There are several picnic tables near the alpine lake, but the accessible one is set on an asphalt pad, while the others are in sand. It’s a pleasant spot to enjoy the lake view, even if you don’t stop for lunch. And at 8,150 feet it’s usually considerably cooler at Tenaya Lake than in Yosemite Valley.
And if you happen to use the South Entrance to enter or exit the park, consider this side trip along the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway emerginghorizons.com/a-mile-high-sierra-view/.