Cathedral Beach is the first of three places to picnic or swim that I recommend as you enter the Yosemite Valley. Like the Sentinel Beach Picnic area located just up the road, Cathedral Beach tends to be less crowded than most other locations in the valley offering similar ambiance and possibilities.
Named for the two rocky spires nearby, Cathedral Spires, that resemble the twin towers of a Gothic cathedral, Cathedral Beach is easy to miss as it it is only marked by a small sign and an unremarkable dirt road leading off the Yosemite Valley loop road.
Cathedral Beach Offers Relative Seclusion
The relative difficulty of spotting Cathedral Beach helps keep it less crowded than other popular spots for picnics, children’s play and swimming. The area has had little development so just park where you can under the trees and try to grab one of the tables. The slow moving Merced River is nearby and a sandy beach invites you to spend some time enjoying nature.
Because the area is heavily shaded by ponderosa and cedars you probably won’t be able to see the namesake rocks rising 1,900 feet above the valley that are responsible for its name. Directly above you is El Capitan across the river and you may spot the Three Brothers behind you and next to the Cathedral Spires.[sam id=1 codes=’false’]
Cathedral Beach History
The Native American inhabitants of the valley called the Three Brothers Kom-po-pai-sez. An early explorer discretely translated this as “mountains playing leapfrog” but a more accurate translation would be of a human couple playing a more amorous game than leapfrog.
In 1987 1.5 million tons of granite broke off of the Three Brothers, tumbling into the valley, smashing trees and leaving boulders here in the Merced River many hundreds of yards away. Such incidents are very rare but always a reminder that Yosemite is a wilderness.
- Will Climate Change Make Yosemite More Dangerous? (yosemite.lodgingandthingstodo.com)