Hell for Sure Pass. Gorge of Despair. Lake Lola Montez. Wonderful place names are scattered across Sierra Nevada maps colorfully depicting the difficulty of passage or honoring everything from the Devil to wayward Gold Rush dance hall girls. When a friend sent me a list of possible day trip destinations near Yosemite Valley, the Devil’s Dance Floor caught my eye.
For two reasons. First of all, what a terrific name! Who wouldn’t want to visit a place where the Devil throws a party? Secondly, I was surprised that I had never heard of a place near Yosemite Valley with such an intriguing name. The pull was irresistible.
Among several ways to get to the Devil’s Dance Floor, the short and easy route won out. From the beginning of Tioga Road at Crane Flat, we drove 3-1/2 miles to the Old Big Oak Flat Road, the road to that leads to Tamarack Campground. The gate was closed for the season, so what would have been a three-mile drive to the campground in summer, instead added three miles to our walk.
But what great walking! There was nothing but solitude and silence along the paved road that descended gently through an open forest of grand ponderosa and sugar pines. From the campground, we turned into the forest and held a steady cross country course due south. Like giant stairs, a succession of round hillocks lifted us higher, each step with more bare granite and fewer trees.
Glaciers have sculpted most of the world’s mountain ranges, but immense stretches of glacially polished granite are a signature characteristic of the Sierra. As we rose to the top of the last and highest hill, we laid eyes on a perfect example. The Devil’s dances must be wild events because his dance floor is huge. We crossed acres of bare granite dotted sparsely with contorted pines squeezing a living out of narrow cracks in the rock.
At the far edge of the dance floor, the granite dome tumbled toward distant horizons. Immediately below us, a forest of black tree snags, remnants of the 2009 Big Meadow Fire, stretched across Big Oak Flat Road toward the community of Foresta. Valley falls and landmarks were round the bend and out of sight, but beyond and above the valley’s southern rim, we recognized key peaks in the Yosemite backcountry. The visibility was so clear that we could see Pacheco Peak in the Coast Range, a three hour drive away.
Devil’s Dance Floor offers a taste of the alpine high country at a modest elevation (6,836 feet). In winter, Tioga Road is closed at Crane Flat making it a long cross country adventure to the dance floor, but come summertime when the road to Tamarack Campground is open, it is an easy one-mile ramble away.
Visiting a special place in Yosemite usually means you will have plenty of company. Devil’s Dance Floor hits a rare sweet spot: beautiful place, great views, easy to reach, and lightly visited.