A Popular Overlook in Yosemite Gets a Makeover

View from Tunnel View overlook.

This classic Yosemite view from Tunnel View Overlook has been enjoyed by generations of visitors. Photo by Richard E. Ellis via Wikimedia.

For the past 75 years, one of the most popular scenic overlooks in Yosemite National Park has lured visitors with its memory-making views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome. During the height of the visitor season, an estimated 5,000-7,000 people stop at Tunnel View Overlook each day. The view hasn't changed, but the overlook itself has received a makeover.

A ceremony on October 24, 2008, marked the completion of the Tunnel View Overlook Rehabilitation Project. The work corrected a number of issues the park had identified at the site.

In the years since the Wawona Tunnel was completed in 1933, the NPS has responded to vehicle and pedestrian accidents and near-misses. Drivers traveling east through the tunnel often speed, are blinded by light as they exit the tunnel, encounter ice-patches at the east portal, and are faced with crowds of pedestrians and slow-moving vehicles moving in and out of the roadway from the Tunnel View parking areas.

The combination clearly created a serious safety problem. Solutions include rumble strips and signs in Wawona Tunnel to slow traffic, and new vehicle and pedestrian circulation patterns to decrease conflicts.

Storm-water and melting snow drained from the tunnel directly onto the north parking lot, and in winter the water often froze, creating hazardous conditions for both pedestrians and vehicles. New drainage structures will redirect and clean this water.

The viewing area in the north parking lot consisted of a 5-foot wide sidewalk, and crowds 3-5 people deep often formed to get a view of Yosemite Valley. Over the years, ponderosa pine, incense cedar and other vegetation had grown and obscured much of the historic view, causing visitors to cluster into viewing areas that were even smaller that those that existed when the overlook was initially constructed. The viewing terrace has been expanded to accommodate more visitors and selective tree removal has reopened vistas.

The trailhead to Inspiration Point was excessively steep, located dangerously close to fast-moving traffic, and was suffering from erosion due to drainage problems. The trailhead has been relocated to a safer spot at the edge of the south lot that is less steep than the previous location.

This was the first project to be completed under the National Park Service Centennial Initiative. Part of the funding for the $3.3 million restoration came from the nonprofit Yosemite Fund, which contributed $1.8 million collected from over 2,000 donors.

"Tunnel View is 75 years old this year and it has never looked better. We’re proud to be able to partner with organizations like The Yosemite Fund to rehabilitate this iconic view to the benefit of all park visitors," said Yosemite National Park Superintendent Mike Tollefson. "It’s a fitting way to celebrate the approaching 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the 20th anniversary of The Yosemite Fund."

The Tunnel View Overlook, also known as Discovery View, is located adjacent to the Wawona Road at the east portal of the Wawona Tunnel. The park website has information on Tunnel View and other popular viewpoints in Yosemite.