There are several locations where hikers can access the Sentinel Meadow & Cook's Meadow Loop. We chose to begin our hike from the Sentinel Bridge parking area, located just behind bus stop 11 on Sentinel Drive.
Hikers will also have the option of hiking the loop in either direction. In general, hiking the loop in a clockwise direction is a little bit easier to navigate. However, if you’re starting in the early morning and wish to avoid the crowds at the Lower Yosemite Fall viewpoint, I would definitely recommend hiking in a counter-clockwise direction. This hike description follows the loop in a counter-clockwise direction.
The absolute best time to hike this easy loop is during the spring and early summer months when the meadows are lush green, Yosemite Falls is thundering down the valley wall, and the wildflowers are blooming. As you walk through the meadows keep an eye out for shooting stars, western azalea, pine violets, evening primrose, baby blue eyes, larkspur, goldenrod and woolly mule-ears, among many other varieties.
Just before reaching bus stop 6 you’ll arrive at the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail junction. Take a right here to visit one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. Yosemite Falls drops 2425 feet in three separate sections, and depending on which source you want to believe, is anywhere between the 5th tallest and the 20th tallest waterfall in the world.
During our visit the waterfall was completely dry. Because it’s fed by snowmelt, peak flow usually occurs in late May, and usually stops flowing altogether by late August.
After leaving the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail you’ll cross over Northside Drive and begin heading over towards the Yosemite Lodge. When you get into the village there will be a residential area for employees on the left. Look for a bike path that veers off to the left before you get to the lodge. There won’t be a sign indicating that it’s a bike path, but it’s the only such trail in the residential area. From here the paved path traverses along the southern edge of the lodging area, before taking you into the heart of Leidig Meadow where you’ll have some outstanding views of the western end of the valley, including Sentinel Rock and El Capitan. Sentinel Falls, at 2000 feet and among the world’s tallest waterfalls, is also visible from this meadow. Despite its height it has a relatively low flow, and is usually dry by July.
The prominent view to the west is known as the Gates of the Valley. On the left are the Cathedral Spires, and to the right is El Capitan, the largest exposed granite monolith in the world. Climbers from all over the world come to scale this vertical rock that towers 3593 feet above the valley floor.
Once you cross over the bridge the trail begins heading east along Southside Drive. This section of the loop also provides outstanding views of Yosemite Falls during the spring and early summer months. The meadow to the north of the road here is known as Sentinel Meadow.
From Cook’s Meadow you’ll have some great views of Half Dome towards the east. This iconic granite monolith rises almost 5000 feet above the valley floor. In his Report of the Geological Survey of California, Josiah D. Whitney said that Half Dome "presents an aspect of the most imposing grandeur; it strikes even the most casual observer as a new revelation in mountain forms; its existence would be considered an impossibility if it were not there before us in all its reality..."
John Muir described the granite monolith in his own unique way: "The great Tissiack, or Half-Dome, rising at the upper end of the valley to a height of nearly a mile, is nobly proportioned and life-like, the most impressive of all the rocks, holding the eye in devout admiration, calling it back again and again from falls or meadows, or even the mountains beyond..."
Trail: Sentinel Meadow & Cook's Meadow Loop
RT Distance: 2.55 Miles
Elevation Gain: 40 feet
Max Elevation: 4000 feet
TH Location: Yosemite Valley
Map: Yosemite National Park Trails Illustrated Map
Top Trails: Yosemite features 46 “must-do” hikes in Yosemite National Park, from scenic strolls, to full-day adventures, to spectacular backpacking trips. With at-a-glance information for each hike visitors can determine which hikes are most suitable to their skills, schedules and preferences. The book also provides elevation profiles, detailed maps, as well as information on which trails are child-friendly; where to see giant sequoias, waterfalls, lakes, wildflowers, autumn colors; the best photo opportunities; and which have camping, running or biking opportunities.