Panorama Trail from Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley

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Quality: 

0

Scenery: 

4

Crowds: 

4

Distance Comments: 

to Happy Isles via the Mist Trail. Add a mile for the JMT. 10 miles round trip from Glacier Point

Distance in Miles: 

7.80 miles

Trip Type: 

Bus Shuttle

Trailhead: 

Glacier Point

Trailhead Elevation: 

7000

Elevation Gain/Loss: 

500/3000

Elevation Min/Max: 

4000/7000

References: 

Schaffer, p. 238-240

Running: 

Rolling trail (2 out of 5)

Highlights: 

More than one person has told me that this is her favorite trail in Yosemite, but I certainly wouldn't go that far. It does, however, offer nice views, a pleasant stop at Illouette Creek and, if you take the hiker's shuttle to Glacier Point, is mostly downhill. It is also relatively uncrowded compared to the other trails to the top of Nevada Fall.

Details: 

The easiest way to do this by far is to take the shuttle to Glacier Point, and then just hike eight or nine miles down the Mist Trail past Nevada and Vernal Falls to the Valley. If you want a longer day, you could hike up the Four Mile Trail, and then down the Mist Trail for one of the best spring tours in Yosemite.

If you park at Glacier Point and do it as an out and back trip, remember that you will have to climb about 1000 feet up out of the Illouette Canyon at the very end. It's not a steep trail, so it isn't that bad. That said, it's been my near undoing a couple of times. One Memorial Day I had to park and Sentinel Dome (so it was almost 2000 feet to climb at the end) and hiked out to Merced Lake and back (30 miles) and was just whupped coming back up those last hills. Another time, Theresa and I hiked out to Obelisk Lake and back (approx. 40 miles, with a fair bit of slow cross-country travel) and had to hike back up to the car at 1:00am. I still kid her about making me park in the "shady" spot. Yep, it was still shady at 1:00am. Anyway, just remember that if you are returning to Glacier Point, you have that climb at the end, so save some energy. Also be aware that the slopes are sun-drenched until fairly late in the day, so coming back up the initial slopes in the heat of a mid-summer day will likely be unpleasant.

If you haven't been to Glacier Point, you'll definitely want to start your walk by just sucking it up and adding the 100 yards of wheelchair-accessible trail to your walk for one of the great views in all of North America. It is, frankly, that much more stunning in the winter with snow on Half Dome and if you are a skier at all, you should consider coming back for a Glacier Point ski tour. With that out of the way, head back toward the parking lot, but stick to the left and find the dirt trail that quickly leads you to a junction. The right branch goes up to Sentinel Dome and the left takes you down the Panorama Trail.

The Panorama Trail starts out as a long gentle descent on very long switchbacks. In 1.4 miles you reach the junction with the Buena Vista Trail which takes you up and around to Buena Vista Pass or out into the Clark Range. Our route swtiches back and descends another three quarters of a mile or so to Illouette Creek. Just before the Creek there is a nice view of Illouette Fall. This lookout once had a steel rail and all that, but it slid off into the abyss a few years ago. The ground here has stabilized somewhat in the past couple of years, but this is not a place to go playing around the edge.

It isn't legal to camp at the creek, though people do all the time. It's a nice place to stop and I've seen a family actually haul one of those coolers on wheels down here. The usual cautions about going in the river apply: you are just a short ways from the top of Illouette Falls and if you slip on the mossy rocks and get swept downstream, death awaits you. It's that simple, though this is not nearly as dangerous a place as the tops of Vernal and Nevada.

Cross the bridge and start heading uphill. As you approached the creek, you finally got off the open scrub slopes of the first part of the trail and into some forest. As you work back up from the creek on the more northerly aspect of the canyon, you'll have fairly decent shade and some nice forest for your climb. The total gain is only a couple of hundred feet and the climb is gentle and consistent.

You'll have views back to Glacier Point, but as the trail flattens and rounds to the true north of Panorama Point, You'll start getting better and better views of Half Dome, Liberty Cap, Nevada Falls and the Merced River Canyon. You will shortly reach the trail that cuts over under Mount Starr King and from this point on you will once again be going steadily downhill and starting to get some really great scenery. You're in the sweet spot here: the views are great but you have not yet encountered the circus-like atmosphere of the Mist Trail. Take some time to linger here when you have a nice view so that you can enjoy Half Dome and Nevada Falls in peace.

After some thin cover, you go back into thicker forest and steeper descent down some switchbacks to the trail junction with the John Muir Trail. You can simply turn left and head for the Valley, but that would be a shame. You should go out to the Nevada Falls lookout and, assuming you can handle a well-developed but nevertheless quite steep descent, you should descend by the Mist Trail if you've never done it (and regardless of whether you've done it or not if the river is in spring flood, because you can't ever tire of that). Se the Mist Trail page for more information.

Runner's Notes: 

I have to admit that I've never really tried to run the Panorama Trail as far as I know, but it is never too steep or too rocky, so it should be a reasonable run. The bummer is that you either start out on a downhill, which I hate, or you have to run a pretty steep trail to get there. I think the best option would be to start at Happy Isles, run up the JMT rather than the Mist, then up the Panorama Trail, and down the Four Mile Trail. If I have added right, that would be very close to a half marathon, with 3000' of elevation gain and loss.

32 Comments

By hiking up the Four Mile

By hiking up the Four Mile trail, across the Panorama trail, and down the Mist trail, you very nearly recapitulate John Muir's "Excursion #1" from "The Yosemite". All you have to do is add side trips up Sentinel Dome and Liberty Cap, and you have fast-packer John's idea of the best one-day hike in the Park!

Not a good hike for bad knees.

After much research, the Panorama Trail was my husbands and my latest adventure in Yosemite. He has bad knees and after the 4 Mile Trail caused him some discomfort last year, he prepared this year by working out and wearing 2 knee braces. We took the bus to Glacier Point to hike the trail down. The trail was very enjoyable and fun until we began out decent from Nevada Falls. We took the stone staircase down to Vernal. At first, you cannot tell how long the staircase is and just when it looks to end to a dirt trail, it begins again. By the time we reached Vernal Falls he could barely walk. After resting, we decided to go down the Mist Trail to just get it over with (instead of catching the Muir Trail). When we reached the foot bridge, he really was having a hard time. We really had to take our time to get to Happy Isles.
My recommendation to anyone with sightly bad knees is to buy the walkers poles, wear knee braces, and know your limits! I am not sure how much walking poles would have helped my husband but I know for sure it would not have made it worse ( I ended up finding a stick for him to use near the end of the trail).

How much exposure

I'll be hiking in Yosemite with my wife in August. We're planning on doing the Panorama Trail downhill. She's not very good with exposure - ledges and such. How much is there on the Panorama Trail?

Boots for Panorama Trail

The thought hit me that the photos of the trail itself show it to be very flat, and apparently paved, or gravel. Will I need to pack my good 3-season hiking boots all the way from the East Coast just for this trail? If I take up suitcase space for them, I'm going to get some blowback from the rest of the party if the trail "goes" really well with sneakers!

I'm probably the wrong guy

I'm probably the wrong guy to ask. I hike pretty much everything in trail running shoes unless I need crampons or long gaiters, and have for most of my life. All I can say is I own some nice, comfy leather hiking boots and I never wear them in Yosemite unless I think I'll see a fair bit of snow. The trail is indeed quite a highway (not paved though) and, as is typical here, less mud and roots and such than out on the Long Trail or Appalachian Trail. The big reason that people choose beefier footwear, especially if with a pack, is all the little rocks. Over time, you feel them through flimsy shoes and it can make you somewhat more footsore.

Personally, if I were going to do one thing for my feet, I would pick up some shorty gaiters. My wife loves (and I will soon buy but haven't yet) her Dirty Girl gaiters. Don't be put off by the jarring website (you'll see what I mean). These things are absolutely great for the gravelly trails we have here where you're always getting stones in your shoes.

panorama

Panorama down from Glacier is my favorite hike in Yosemite.

We too had knee problems coming down the first time, but that was because we did not pace ourselves with respect to the hard downhill on the staircases. The next time, we avoided that and took Muir.

But I'd imagine that, knowing the punishment ahead, if one were to gingerly take the staircases with minimum impact, instead of bounding down them, one might avoid that exquisite pain that made the final few uphills on Mist towards Happy Isles a respite.

Part of the problem is that aside from the climb up out of Illouette Canyon to the top of Panorama Cliff--the only real exposure on the trail is a shortcut 100m trail to Panorama Point, and then only if you go to the edge--the whole trail is downhill.

One of my favorite parts of that trail is the forested stairstep between Nevada and Vernal, though, and you miss that doubling back and taking Muir down.

Ski Poles Might Help

Thanks for the good advice and tips Marc.

One tip: if you have knee problems, ski poles or trekking poles can be a huge help. My knees are pretty healthy these days, but I've had some issues in the past and using poles to take the load off on the steep, pounding downhills, especially with big stepdowns like those stairs, can make a huge difference.

Hurting Knees

I don't think your husband is unique with the knee problem if he is over 40 y.o.. Our group has been up to Half Dome and back on numerous hikes and we are all in our 40's 50's and 60's and in perfect health and no knee problems EXCEPT when we hike down these trails. The walking sticks do not help relieve the pain but acetaminophen+codeine does help!! All of the hikers in our group who would not normally admit to pain or agree to take medication gave-in on this hike. EVERYONE took one or two #3 tabs, and everyone was fine after doing so, and no after effects the next day. So I recommend that you bring and take the pain/ anti-inflammatory medication and you will be able to enjoy your hike down the trail as much as you enjoy going up!!

Based on your suggestion...

I ran JMT to Panorama and down 4 mile (which was technically closed but after talking to some people, they had just shoveled out the last of the snow today and the trail was fine) and then ran back to Curry Village.

According to my Garmin Forerunner - http://connect.garmin.com/activity/35603795 - which should be taken with a grain of salt, it was about 13 mi to the base of 4-mile, but I show an elevation gain of 5800 feet.

Your site is an awesome resource.

Kid-appropriate hike?

I have a 10 year old, and was wondering if the hike down from taking the bus to Glacier Point is do-able for someone that age? Would we be ok taking the Panorama Trail downhill, the John Muir trail, or avoiding this hike all together due to her age? Thanks!

It depends on the kid. How

It depends on the kid. How active is she? You're looking at about 8-9 miles, mostly downhill.

I would think most active kids could do that, but I don't have kids. I don't think I would have had a problem when I was 10, but I was doing overnight backpacking trips with my family and had already done some pretty long rock climbing routes. And I walked 3 miles just about every day during the week to get to and from school.

Kid-appropriate hike?

My 9 year old daughter did the Panorama Trail down from Glacier Point via the Mist Trail on July 2, 2010. It did take us about 8 hours - several short breaks and took lots of pictures. We saw another family with kids about the same age on the trail the same day. She is a active kid in TaeKwonDo with experience hiking shorter easier trails by our home and had hiked the 4 1/2 Mile Trail when she was 7. We made sure she had good trail shoes and socks.

Reply - Panorama trail exposure

The Panorama Trail does not have much in terms of cliff-edge/ledge hiking or exposure until you get all the way to Nevada Falls. But... you have to look over the Falls - that is why you do the hike!! There is a little path that takes you literally to the face of Nevada Falls. There are iron rails and rocks - I think even a bench or two - to sit and watch the roaring mouth of the Falls shoot out over the precipice. It is completely safe and is definitely an "E-Ticket" experience!!

Then it is decision time:

1) Go down the rocky stairs and through a bit of shaded forest cover to the bridge above Silver Apron and the Emerald Pool to the top of Vernal Falls - you have now committed to go down the rocky face of Vernal Falls and down the Mist Trail which are full of edge/ledge exposures - some very wet and slippery due to the "mist". Or.....

2) After viewing Nevada Falls, turn around and hike back up to the John Muir Trail and descend to the bridge below Vernal Falls and then to Happy Isles. If you take the right fork of the John Muir trail, you have avoided the descent from Nevada Falls to the Emerald Pool at the top of Vernal Falls, BUT you still have to descend the face of Vernal Falls and the wet edge/ledge-laden Mist trail....

THEREFORE, you need to take the "left" fork of the John Muir Trail. That left fork will see you come to a trail junction that is basically at the bridge that looks back up to Vernal Falls. Thus, you have completely avoided the wet, scary descent of the Mist trail, but still get the beautiful, camera-friendly view of Vernal Falls.

By the time you reach this point it should be early, mid-afternoon when the light starts to become "best" (behind you) for shooting pictures of Vernal Falls. After you sort your way through all the tourists and photographers on the bridge, just head down the slightly up/down - but mostly downhill trail to Happy Isles.

Option #2 is best as well if you have bad knees. I played a lot of indoor competitive volleyball in my collegiate years. Going up the trail and rocky stairway from Vernal Falls to Nevada Falls was no problem for my knees, it is coming back down the rocky stairway from Nevada Falls to Vernal Falls that ate up my knees. These are not your standard indoor style 6-8 inch vertical steps, these are more like 12 - 16 inch steps, so your knees take the impact and provide the initial stability that your ankle and thigh muscles will be looking for.

That is how I got to know the "left fork" of the John Muir Trail. It is still downhill, but no rocky stairway involved. Enjoy!!

Great tips "anonymous" :-)

Great tips "anonymous" :-) You should have signed them.

I basically agree with everything you said. The Nevada Fall lookout is the best in the park. Because you're out over the fall, it's really better than the Yosemite Falls view.

As for the slippery and wet Mist Trail, that will depend on the season. I ran the trail a week ago and it was pretty wet, but you wouldn't normally expect that in mid-July. This is in fact rather dangerous. The Half Dome Trail is responsible for 50% of all rescue calls and has had a death most years we've lived here. Last year, a German teenager was just trying to avoid getting her feet wet in a puddle when she slipped and fell to her death. If I were a parent, I would be keeping a very close eye on my kids on this trail (I know parents who have hiked this with very young children, but you do need to be careful).

Finally, a link that describes both options and has pictures of both: see my page on the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls Loop page.

Panorama Trail to John Muir Trail

My daughters and I took the bus to Glacier Point and hiked to the John Muir Trail then to the valley floor.

1. It was beautiful;
2. You really can use those gaiters because the rock dust really does get in your shoes;
3. We used sneakers and were fine (except for the daughter that had too small shoes);
4. The overlooks or edges were not unduly scary;
5. At 56, out of shape and with quesionable knees, with all the down and up I had more than enough by the end and actually overdid it;
6. I filled up our water bottles at every opportunity but still overheated and needed to soak my head and neck by the time I got to the bridge;
7. I can't wait to get back to Yosemite.

Hikers Shuttle

Is it really free, the hikers shuttle up to Glacier Point from the valley? I cant find that anywhere on the websites. All I see is that there is a bus that charges $25 a person for a ride up to Galcier Point. Anyone know if I can leave my truck at Glacier Point for three nights while we hike down to half dome, then back down to the valley , then catch a shuttle ( free or not) back up to my truck at Glacier Point?

Thanks...

Hiker's Shuttle is not free

The hiker's shuttles to Glacier Point and Tuolumne both cost money. The only free shuttles are the ones on the Valley floor and Wawona to the Mariposa Grove (and the Oakhurst to Badger Pass shuttle in the winter, but that's another story).

As for leaving your vehicle, yes, you can leave it. As long as you aren't sleeping in your car, you can leave it most places, but in your case, you'll also have a wilderness permit for your three-day trip and they'll give you all the parking instructions when you pick that up.

That said, my preference if I can pull it off, is to park the car at the destination and shuttle to the trailhead (that way not waiting for shuttle buses when I'm tired and ready to head home). Just my preference.

Mist Trail - Panorama- 4-Mile

My wife and I are planning our first visit to Yosemite this summer. I was wondering if it would be best to hike from 4-Mile to Panorama to Mist Trail or vice versa. Taking into account views and lighting during the day. Any info would be helpful. Thanks for the great site.

-Ryan

I have never hiked from the

I have never hiked from the valley to Glacier Pt via the Panarama, have done the reverse many times. I'll be doing the hike next week. Any thoughts about reverse route? I really enjoy beginning the 4 mile hike just before sunrise and walking a slow steady pace to GP. Then a little time to enjoy the top and head out on the Panarama, it's one of my all time favorite hikes. I can not go down the Mist Trail, vertigo impaired. There are no other problem areas for me on this hike. I do find the John Muir section from Navada Falls to the bridge harder on my feet and knees as I age (60 this year). It's rocky and somewhat rutted. The key for me is pace. As long as I don't break into a jog, no problem. Oh changes with age... About 10 years ago I met an 80 year old man hiking up the 4 mile trail at sun-up. I want that to be me!

My only thought is to prepare

My only thought is to prepare yourself mentally for the hike up out of Illilouette. You'll be getting a bit tired by then and it's longer then the climb when going the other way and you've hiked more miles, though less vertical, than when hiking up out of Illilouette by the direction you're used to. It's not a big deal, but that climb up to Glacier Point is always longer than I expect.

Otherwise, in some ways I think it's less effort than the way you're used to doing it and I like breaking up the downhill as opposed to the 4.7 miles of continual pounding on the 4 Mile Trail.

Best Experience of My Life!

Just recently I went to Yosemite with my boyfriend {i am 24 he is 25} and we hiked up 4 mile trail to the top of Glacier Point and then down Panorama Trail then Mist Trail. Honestly it was the most amazing experience and it is the hike of a life time. I feel like everyone knows about Half Dome and everyone wants to hike that because it is so popular but you will truly learn about yourself on this hike and nothing is better than the sense of accomplishment after you have completed everything. I wrote a very detailed blog post for anyone who is considering it and would like to know what to expect! I hope it helps :]

http://mylittlecookiejar.blogspot.com/2012/06/15-mile-10-hour-hike-of-li...

-Susie

Hiking down trails

Dear Courtney, Regarding your husband and his problems with hiking down Mist trail. All I can say is from quite a few times visiting Yosemite and hiking Half Dome at least four times now nearly everyone in our group has experience knee pain hiking down. We have tried the "hiking poles" and find that they offer little or no relief. However, I have found the perfect solution, which is to simply take one tablet of acetominophen with codeine (prescription needed) and the pain goes away COMPLETELY. The other good news is that the pain does not return even after the hike, your knees will feel fine that evening and the next day etc. Most of my hiking buddies wanted to "tough it out" and not use the pain killer, but after the pain became excruciating, they took one tablet and now they swear by it too. Its a bit of a crutch, but if it gets you down the mountain, then it is a good thing. Oh, and don't forget to turn the batteries around in your flashlights so they don't turn on in your pack and drain your batteries, and bring enough water, or better yet, bring a water purifier for the trip down the mountain. Being thirsty beyond belief is just as bad as the knee pain!!

Cliffs? Ledges?

I would love to hike the Panorama Trail from the Four Mile Trail to Happy Isles. I get dizzy on edges and would like know if there are many cliff edges that one must hike along, especially from Illilouette Falls to Nevada Falls. For reference, I've hiked many other trails in the park, including Four Mile to Glacier Point, Upper Yosemite Falls, and the Half Dome Trail (Sub Dome and Half Dome made me dizzy but the rest of the hike was fine).

Thanks, and thanks for the awesome site!

Hi Ryan,

Hi Ryan,

Funny you should ask, because I did this very hike with someone with a crippling fear of heights. He had no problem with the Panorama Trail as you guess. He only had one place where he really had trouble and that was going down next to Vernal Fall.

If you did Half Dome, you either did that or you did the Ice Cut on the John Muir Trail. The Ice Cut is a little less vertiginous than the Vernal Falls stairs (about 75 feet of exposure though nothing as bad as Half Dome and though steeper than the Sub Dome, Vernal has steel railings - not cables, real railings).

Anyway, what I did with Art was I got him all set up at the top of the Vernal Falls stairs and told him to focus on the back of my head and just keep pace with me. Then I went down the stairs at a steady but modest pace and he reached the bottom sweaty but proud of himself. The rest of the trail aside from that one spot he navigated on his own with no visible nervousness.

At Illilouette and Nevada Falls you are fairly far from the edge if you stay on the trail. There's no real safe way to get near the edge of Illilouette. Nevada has a lookout you can detour to. I think it's the best waterfall lookout in the park and it has a sturdy rail, so if you can force yourself, it's worth the effort, but it is definitely optional.

camping

I am leading a girls back country trip and want to camp some place between Illilouette Falls and the top of Nevada. Are there any good places to camp?

Camping prohibited along Panorama Trail

Angela, I'm sorry to say there is no camping anywhere along that trail. It is entirely within the no camping zone that extends from Taft Point to Little Yosemite Valley (and a bit farther in each direction). If you wanted to camp in this general area, you'll need to hike at least a mile out of the way.

Trail Running the Loop from Yosemite Valley

"I think the best option would be to start at Happy Isles, run up the JMT rather than the Mist, then up the Panorama Trail, and down the Four Mile Trail. If I have added right, that would be very close to a half marathon, with 3000' of elevation gain and loss."

I trail ran that very direction a few weeks ago! I admit, however, that I went up the Mist trail instead of the JMT because I'd never done that particular trail before.

As far as trail runs goes, it's a fantastic one, as long as you realize there is no 'running' up the Mist Trail or down the 4 mile. All the running is along whatever sections of the JMT you use, the Panorama, and the trail heading up to Glacier Point.

The distance may be half marathon in length, but the total of 3400' elevation gain and loss trumps a full marathon in brutality. But it's more than made up for in the killer scenery and the epic rest stop at Illouette.

Total time: 4:15:00, NOT counting multiple photo ops and fighting crowds up the Mist Trail.

Hi Duane. I wrote that a long

Hi Duane. I wrote that a long time ago. I've since run up the 4MT and down the JMT which was pretty good too. The thing about running down the 4MT is that it is so consistent that your foot is pointed at the same angle for a long time. I did this several times, but one time, about five years ago, I really screwed up my calves coming down the 4MT. Still bother me actually. The Panorama and Mist/JMT Trails are more varied, so a little less brutal on the downhill.

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