Begin from the Yosemite entrance station at Tioga Pass. Detailed instructions are on the main page for Mount Dana.
Click here for a route map.
This is a technically easy and relatively short day hike to the summit of a high sierra peak. Despite the technical ease and minimal commitment required, beginners should not underestimate this hike. The route is very steep at times and can leave you extremely short of breath. If you consider that the route from trailhead to summit is only about 2.8 miles and that it rises over 3,100 vertical feet, the route has an average grade of about 23%.
The route is not signed, but it is very obvious. Beginning at the turnout near the Yosemite park entrance at the pass, follow a very good use trail east into the many small ponds of Dana Meadows. Please stay on the trail during this portion of the hike, as it travels through very a fragile ecosystem that is very prone to erosion. The use trail angles southeast, and winds through the meadows, eventually climbing up a steep slope at the eastern end of the meadows. This steep slope is the bottom of the northwest slope of Mount Dana.
As the trail climbs higher, trees give way to bushes, which ultimately give way to rocks and snow patches. The use trail -- dusty by this point -- climbs steeply up this slope, switchbacking in places, until reaching a broad plateau at around 11,400'. From this point, the views open up considerably to the south and especially the west. Standing atop the plateau, the jagged peaks of the Cathedral Group -- including Cathedral Peak, Cockscomb, Unicorn Peak and Matthes Cres -- are plainly visible above Tuolumne Meadows. Further south, up the Parker Pass Creek drainage, the views take in the Kuna Crest and, beyond it, Mount Lyell and its huge glacier.
From the plateau, the "trail" becomes more difficult to follow as the terrain turns to rock and larger talus. Don't be concerned if you lose the "trail", as there's really no way to get lost on this peak -- just keep climbing higher towards the obvious summit and don't stop until you're on top.
Once there, the views are stupendous. To the east are Mono Lake, the Owens Valley. Scanning to the right, the panorama takes in the White Mountains, the high peaks near Mammoth, the Kuna Crest, and behind it, Mount Lyell and the Cathedral Range. Continuing to the right, the views take in the Cathedral Group above Tuolumme Meadows, the Tuolumne Domes, Mount Hoffman. North of Mount Dana, you can easily pick out the summits of Mount Conness, North Peak, Excelsior Mountain and Dunderberg Peak. If there is any downside to this summit, it is that the view of Banner Peak and Mount Ritter (15 miles away) is almost completely blocked by Kuna Peak. The summits barely poke their heads above the foreground peaks.
This is a basic hike that can be done in tennis shoes and T-shirt if necessary. That said, use common sense and bring wind/rain gear and lots of water. Storms can sneak up on you very quickly.
A quick note on altitude sickness. For many people, a day hike of Mount Dana is an opportunity to hike "higher than they've ever been." Many people "break 13,000 feet" for the first time on Mount Dana. Finally, many people do so after driving four hours from the Bay Area without properly acclimatizing.
Ordinarily, I would not lecture about altitude sickness, but having been on Mount Dana countless times, I have seen my share of neophyte hikers turning blue, getting headaches and leaving their lunch on the NW ridge. Although it is a quick three mile hike, resist the temptation to run up and down. Take your time, enjoy the view, and drink lots of water.