Granite spires of the Cathedral Range tower of the Tuolumne River.
I love all the trails in Yosemite (except the climb out of Pate Valley. I do not like that trail.) but it turns out that my two favorite spots in the park are not located on official trails. There are some use trails and unofficial paths but both spots are off the main flow of hikers in Yosemite. While that is certainly a positive feature, that is not the main reason I cherish these two places. It is because they capture the essence and best qualities of the two best parts of Yosemite. One is a staggering view of Yosemite Valley while the other is along a less traveled part of the Tuolumne River, where the water flows over granite slabs and troughs. These two spots are probably my most favorite places on earth.
If I had to pick one of the two, my favorite would be a special vantage point of Yosemite Valley. Accessed from the valley floor and located at the base of a beautiful waterfall, there are no trails to this area but it is easy to access nonetheless. The view, however, is immense, taking in all the northern cliffs from Eagle Peak to Washington Column. Yosemite Falls (my personal favorite) is prominently visible from here. Beyond Washington Column the view continues, penetrating deep into Tenaya Canyon, past Mount Watkins and all the way to Clouds Rest. Above this scene presides Half Dome, the monarch of the Valley. This can all be enjoyed while listening to the crash of the waterfall and enjoying the mist as the water hits the rocks. From here, all the roads and buildings of the valley disappear in the trees and it is like being transported back in time, seeing the valley as it might have appeared to John Muir.
My other favorite spot is in the Yosemite high country, near Tuolumne Meadows. This area is not accessed by any official trails but a pleasant use trail leads easily to it. This area is a like a delightful fountain (I know this is a ludicrous comparison, but it sometimes reminds me of the Forth Worth Water Gardens!) where the water flows this way and that, from one channel to another, falling over beautiful cataracts along the way. Some of the water cascades, some free falls, on other areas it spreads out like a then veneer over a granite slab. It is a distilled version of all the best parts of the Tuolumne, especially the river’s spectacular passage into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, from above Glen Aulin down to Waterwheel Falls. Over all of this, towers of the Cathedral Range, including Johnson Peak, Unicorn Peak, the Cockscomb and Cathedral Peak are all prominently visible. It is a glorious slice of Tuolumne High Sierra.