Four Mile Trail

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Details

Quality: 

0

Scenery: 

3

Crowds: 

4

Distance Comments: 

One way distance, using the bus shuttle that leaves from the Lodge. 9.2 miles round trip.

Distance in Miles: 

4.60 miles

Trip Type: 

Bus Shuttle

Trailhead: 

Four Mile Trail (below Sentinel)

Trailhead Elevation: 

4000

Elevation Gain/Loss: 

3200/3200

Elevation Min/Max: 

4000/7200

Running: 

Steep, but not too rough and rocky (3 out of 5)

Highlights: 

The Four Mile Trail is perhaps the best trail for views of Yosemite Valley, offering great views down into the meadows and towards Sentinel Rock, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and, eventually, to Half Dome. It's much quieter than the Falls Trail or the Mist Trail and though many would differ with this opinion, I think it's more scenic than the Falls Trail with the exception of those weeks in the spring when the Falls Trail is breathtaking. Also, while the Falls Trail gets first sun and thus heats up quickly, even on a hot day hiking on the Four Mile Trail will be comfortable until 10:00. Furthermore, for the fit and fleet, it's perhaps the best running trail from the Valley to the Rim.

Details: 

The Four Mile Trail was originally a "toll trail" built as a commercial venture. The first hotel in Yosemite Valley sat near the trailhead, so you follow generations of visitors on this historic trail. There are a few ways you can do this hike. The least effort in terms of walking, is to go to Yosemite Lodge and pick up the hiker's shuttle and have it deposit you at Glacier Point. From there, it is a leisurely 4.6-mile descent into Yosemite Valley. If you don't mind walking, though, it's ultimately a lot less effort just to start in the Valley and do the round trip. Thsi description assumes that you will do that.

The Four Mile Trail has one of the more accessible trailheads in the Valley. When it's running, you can take the new (June 2006) El Capitan shuttle and simply get off at the Four Mile Trailhead stop. Otherwise, you can drive the Valley Loop Road and stop in the often-crowded pullout in the shadow of Sentinel Rock. More enjoyable, though, is to avoid a vehicle altogether and start at the Lodge and just cross the Swinging Bridge and walk a hundred yards or so against traffic to get to the trailhead.

Even better, though, you can take the hiker's shuttle from the Lodge and hike the trail one-way downhill. This would give you the chance to hike to Taft Point and Sentinel Dome and then down the Four Mile Trail for about the same mileage as a round trip tour on the Four Mile Trail.

The trail goes straight back from the road a bit and then takes a sharp right at a jumble of boulders. Notice the white chalk marks left on these boulders by generations of rock climbers. Shortly, the trail begins to rise as you switchback up to the foot of Sentinel Rock and then make a long traverse underneath it. Once clear of Sentinel, you'll start a long series of swithcbacks with improving views at each level looking across to Yosemite Falls and down to El Capitan.

When you pass the second winter closer gate (the first being near the start), you are roughly half way there. At this point, the trail gets a bit less steep and eventually you start getting views toward Half Dome. Always present is Sentinel Rock, which allows you to measure your progress. You must gain enough altitude so that you are about even with the south (higher) summit of Sentinel Rock. At times you may appear to be gaining on it rather slowly, but stick it out. Once you're lookign down on the main summit of Sentinel, you're pretty much there.

Finally the trail flattens and traverses through a nice red fir stand with a bit of a meadow and a small drainage which can run rather late in the year. If you were to follow that drainage you would end up down at the Le Conte Memorial near Housekeeping Camp and that gully makes one of Yosemite's finer ski descents in winter.

Shortly, you reach the junction with the handicap trail out to Glacier Point. Crowds or no, the view from the point is always worth a look. If the gift shop is open, you can buy a drink and an ice cream to enjoy while you gaze out at Half Dome.

Runner's Notes: 

The Four Mile Trail is 1.4 miles longer and about 600 more vertical feet than The Yosemite Falls trail, but it is a much nicer run. It's a smoother, softer surface and a more gradual and consistent slope. The main thing to keep in mind is that, unlike the Falls Trail, you won't get a break from the climbing, so pace yourself accordingly. The trail stays in the shade until 10:00am in the summer, so it's also considerably cooler than the Falls Trail.

22 Comments

I love the Four Mile Trail

I love the Four Mile trail. Long, gentle switchbacks are easy on my knees, and as Tom says, the views are stunning all the way up. In comparison, the Upper Yosemite Falls trail is rocky, with short switchbacks that will give your knees a beating. Further, there are less mosquitos on the 4 Mile.

About half-way up the trail you get a stunning view of Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon, too. Well worth the effort!

Cheers and Happy Trails,
Edie

hiking the trail in spring

Hi, I see from your pictures you've hiked this trail in spring. I'm planning to do this hike in early May (up only...I plan to go down via the Panorama/JM trail), and I'm curious to know just how treacherous this trail is in spring. I assume when you did this hike in April, the trail was still "officially" closed? I know that any fall can be disaster, but do I really have to worry about slip-sliding around the whole way? Any precautions I should take? I have some cheap "yak-trax" which I use for walking around icy roads in Tahoe, but I don't know if those are really trail rated.

Anyway, great pictures...those were exactly what I was looking for.
Charles

Always Bring a Willingness to Turn Around

That's the main thing you should bring on any hike of course. If you are willing to turn around, you don't need any special gear. If you are absolutely stuck on the idea of making it up somewhere, risk goes up dramatically. An ice axe is always good assurance, provided that you know how to use it.

That said, there were only a couple of brief sections of snow when the pictures you saw were taken. The snow avalanches (sloughs really) across the trail and builds up in a couple of spots and those melt out very late, especially because of the northern exposure of this trail. Most of the trail was dry at that time though. Only a couple of spots present real dangers in the sense that there is snow and steep drops.

For whatever reason, the dates on those photos are all messed up. You can always tell what the actual date is on one of my photos by the name which always starts with a six-digit code in the form: yymmdd, so a the photo with the filename 041025-06-valley-view.jpg begins with 041025 which means it was taken on October 25, 2004. The other one, was thus taken April 27, 2004.

If memory serves, that was after the fairly big snow year of 03-04, so I would guess that is more than average snow for that time of year and probably more than this year (though it's been a pretty good snow year).

As for whether or not the trail was closed, I don't generally go to closed areas and don't recommend it, but I can't say for sure that I never have. I guess in the case of one of those photos, I ducked around the second gate. In the case of the other, it was just after the first storm and my wife had to go up to GP to do maintenance on the composting toilet (yum) and I don't believe the trail was closed at that time.

I've also, by the way, climbed up and skied down Ashcan Alley (a.k.a Le Conte Gully, up behind Le Conte Memorial). I did this on something like April 2 one year and since it's never "open" it's never "closed" either. It might be icy, but it's likely to be just mushy. This is a very dangerous place though, as we found out in October of 2006. Bad juju. But it is also one of the most classic Yosemite ski descents.

So anyway, to the point, there are only a couple of spots where snow accumulates and makes for a trip into the abyss. If you aren't 100% certain of your ability to navigate that section, you should turn around. Just for perspective, I grew up in the snow, had a couple of steep icy sections just on the walk to school, have skied all my life, ice climbed since the late 1970s (though I've quit now). I'm not trying to sound like a know-it-all, but I've learned from taking friends out to do stuff, that snow is a really foreign medium to a lot of people, especially in California where there's lots of snow, but most people don't grow up walking in it every day.

Just remember, it's always better to turn around only to find out that it was really fine than to not turn around and die. Personal story: one day a friend and I went ice climbing. I got to the bottom of a pillar that would have been an easy climb for me, but just felt uneasy. I felt a bit foolish, but I just looked at my partner and said I wasn't up for it today (though I had regularly climbed things much harder). Feeling a bit stupid, I asked to turn around and we did. When we got down and were packing up, we heard a big crash. The whole pillar came down. Might have killed us both if we had climbed it. Didn't feel so much like a chicken after that.

Like the saying goes: Making the summit is optional. Making the basecamp is not.

Thank you!

Thanks a lot for the helpful reply and thoughtful advice. I became quite obsessed with hiking Half Dome for the first time last year, and it rained the weekend we went to Yosemite. (It was in September, and it was the only storm to come through for a month before and a month after.) I had seen the reports the week previous, and literally was reading NWS reports every hour or 2 for the entire week. It took a toll on my mentally and physically (not to mention a strain on my personal relationships) being fixated on making this hike. I don't know why I was like this, and we managed to make the hike (only after driving to Sonora the night before, getting to bed at 11 and waking up at 5:30 the next morning). Thankfully the weather was OK the day we went (it started raining that evening), but I don't know if I would have had the wisdom to turn around, even had it started raining.

I guess the point of this story is to relate to your advice. I always have to have the willingness to turn around if the situation is not one I am comfortable with. It didn't hurt me at Half Dome (although I did get sick for a couple of days afterward...probably from the stress of the week), but it can if I don't think clearly about the dangers presented on any hike. I'm not sure in the future I would have had the willingness to turn around or say "not today", but reading your advice and story helps me see perspective. The mountain will always be there, so I may as well challenge it at my skill level, and when it is safe to do so, for me.

Regards,
Charles

4 mile 6 mile trail

My wife & I took the hiker's bus to Glacier Point in July 2007 and walked the trail down to the valley and then over the swinging bridge where after approx 6 miles we slumped gratefully into our car seats! Also we are from Ireland where the highest mountain just about raises over 3500 feet. I would like to make a couple of comments on your description of the trail.
You describe the trail as easy "if you get the hikers bus up & only hike down." This may well be the case for the fit & young however my wife & I are in our fifties and with marginal fitness levels. We both love to walk alot but would not describe ourselves as athletes.
We actually found that the downhill sections - much steeper as you descend the switchbacks - very tiring on the knees, also there is quite a bit of loose scree in places which was very slippy under foot - even in good hiking boots - and again put some stress on the legs. We both ended up with bruised toes from having them forced into the front of our boots! 9 months later I have just lost my bruises.
My only point here is to warn older/less than athletic hikers that the trail is not a walk in the park.
That said we are so glad that we walked the trail, the views will last a lifetime in my memory. If anyone wants a recommendation for the less than fit, the upper part of the trail is both beautiful & pretty easy walking. If you want the views but fear the walk get the bus up, walk the first half of the trail where all the best views are & turn back up to Glacier Point to get the bus down again. That will give you the best views without the exhaustion and if you are as lucky as we were you might even see a bear or two.
The following morning to prevent my legs from stiffening up I walked the Mist Trail as far as the top of Vernal Falls and plan to return to get higher to the Nevada Falls. You have to love Yosemite.

One can lose perspective

Dave,

Thanks for that corrective. Maybe I should edit my description. I find it an "easy" walk compared to the Falls, Mist and Snow Creek Trails, and similar to the John Muir Trail to the top of Nevada Falls. So by the standards of the trails that take you up to the rim it is your easiest option, but by the standards of other places (even within the park) it's still involves a lot of vertical.

Also, I agree that coming down is tough. In any exercise, concentric contraction (as when you're catching yourself on the downhills) usually causes more soreness than eccentric contraction (as when you are lifting a weight). So it's usually the downhills that cause soreness and I'm of the school that would prefer to hike up and ride down, but in talking to people, most tell me they find going up worse.

Dave has one other good warning. Decomposed granite is the normal surface on Yosemite trails with a couple of exceptions and that can eat your feet, usually from pebbles getting in your shoes. If you get some lightweight gaiters like the Dirty Girl Gaiters (don't be put off by that website; my wife's order arrived promptly), you can keep the annoyance down.

Have fun!

4 mile trail plus more

This is wonderful! My fiance and I are planning to hike from the Valley floor, up 4 Mile Trail, across Panorama Trail, then down John Muir Trail to Happy Isles. 12.5 plus/minus miles. All of this for my 49th birthday.

My question is - we are going the weekend of November 7. I am thinking that the trails should still be clear of snow - especially this year when rain is low. I know the weather can change in a heartbeat, but what do you think?

Also - is there water along the trails, or should we bring a small pump?

Last year we climbed Upper Yosemite Falls in January. What a hike THAT was!! Can't wait to take photos from the other side of the valley.

Four Mile Trail with Baby?

We are somewhat experienced hikers but haven't hiked with our year old baby in a backpack. Is the downhill half of the four mile trail too treacherous to try with a baby? If so, can anyone recommend a fairly safe but scenic hike in Yosemite for mid-October? Thanks!

Snow, babies and other

Wavesmom: who can say about the snow. We have often gone skiing by the first week of November, but who can say. It is quite possible that the trail will close. If not, you can still have a great hike by going up the John Muir trail and just turning around. Another hike I would recommend that's nice and somewhat similar to the Four Mile, albeit a bit longer, is to go up the Pohono Trail from Wawona Tunnel to Stanford, Crocker and Dewey Points. This was one of my favorites for a while and has some outstanding views.

RE babies: No, the downhill is not treacherous. It's long and tough on your knees as one comment noted, but this is completely navigable by stock and much if it paved. It's much less rough and steep than say the Falls Trail or the Mist Trail, and plenty of people take babies up the Mist Trail.

As for other trails, I might make the same recommendation I did to Wavesmom. The Pohono Trail is nice, mellow and hit right can have some great aspen groves and is a nice autumn hike. It's quite a mellow hike both in terms of difficulty and crowds. It is rather steeply uphill and by far the hardest part is the first half mile. So if you are comfortable there, you can take it as far as you want without worrying about it getting harder.

Mountain LionsHa! I can tell from my logs that the mountain lion person probably knows you! And falling trees. Dangers abound. Of course, there has never been a human killed by mountain lion or bear in Yosemite. Falling trees and rocks (and people!) have killed dozens though. So watch those killer trees

re babies on trail

Having personally worked on the trail for the nps and hiked it on a regular basis I would not recomend taking kids up the trail who cannot walk on their own. The trails used to be paved, but is no longer still leaving sections of pavement on the trail, which can become EXTREMELY slippery. It is very dangerous in my opinion to hike with a baby on your back because of this, people fall on this trail all the time because of this. I have hurt myself slipping on the pavement, on this trail and have sen countless others fall too, so be carefull. Its still a great trail, though just bring alot of water, as you will only cross one stream and its near the start.

I would expect a fair bit of

I would expect a fair bit of snow.

I just hiked up the Snow Creek trail and it was snow-free to the Valley Rim. Keep in mind, however, that you can still ski tour to Glacier Point until next weekend and it's only closing because the ski area is closing, not for lack of snow. And it's snowing as I write this.

I would guess that the Four-Mile Trail will still be officially closed during your visit and will have a lot of snow at a couple of critical points.

You might consider as an alternative a nice walk to Hite's Cove to see the spring wildflowers. Also, the Snow Creek trail is hot and brutal in July, but will likely be a nice outing in early April.

Keep in mind, these are just guesses

weather early June

We want to visit Yosemite in early June but now I am wondering how much snow would be left on the higher trails. We don't like to hike in sllick stuff.

It depends.... How much snow

It depends....

How much snow there will be will depend a lot on how much snow falls. If it keeps up like it was doing, there will be a lot of snow. If it keeps up like the last couple of weeks, not much.

As a general rule, on June 1, I'd expect to encounter some snow at about 7,000 feet and lots of snow above 10,000 feet.

Looking to do some hikes.

Hi there.
I am an Aussie looking to come over and do some hikes in Yosemite (I have been before and was so blown away I thought I had to come back. Plus last time I was there in April and most of the trails were closed. I did upper Yosemite falls...very nice).
Any way I was wondering if you have info on the trails in there? I would like to do Half Dome (but I have a fear of heights...well the falling) so that's out. My idea is to combine The Four Mile Trail with Panorama Trail and make a single day out of it. If I were to do this, would I be better off going UP Four Mile and DOWN Panorama...or the other way round?
I will like to do some smaller trails as well while I am there. Could you recommend some good shorter hikes to do and the times of day that are best to do them? I get there at about 4 in the afternoon...will there be a good hike to do to get me 'invovled' with the valley at that time? I was thinking the Artistic Trail?
Any advice would be much appreciated.
Thanks.
Pete
I will be there in Mid June.

Sorry Pete - I'm just seeing

Sorry Pete - I'm just seeing this. During the rebuild of Yosemite Explorer, my comment notification feature got deleted and I didn't realize I was getting comment! It's been a process to get things up and running again.

Anyway, I personally prefer to go up Four Mile and down Panorama. Mostly this is because the downhill is more broken up this way, but also I think the hike builds better that way, with the best last.

As for shorter hikes... so many choices, but check out the Best Easy Hikes on my Recommended Yosemite Trail Guides page. It's currently showing as for sale on Amazon for one cent!

Wow! The trail looks

Wow! The trail looks extremely beautiful. I do hope that the camping group of mu college can make a trip their for the coming fall as this will be a great opportunity to visit the Four Mile Trail to have the best of the Yosmite valley.

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