Distance (round-trip)

13.8 mi

Time

10 hrs

Elevation Gain

5622 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall

Weather

Have you ever been asked if you’d rather have the power of flight or the power of invisibility and found it difficult to decide between the two? With Yosemite’s Pohono Trail, you don’t have to choose – you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the famed Yosemite valley and beyond, along with the kind of solitude that makes you feel like you own the place.

003 Wawona madness

The Pohono Trail begins its steep and steady climb out of the Yosemite valley from the parking lot located to the right of Tunnel View (also known as Discovery View) on the south side of Wawona Road. Most people pull over at this iconic viewpoint as soon as they exit from its namesake tunnel, leading to traffic bottlenecks, egregious honking, and suffocating crowds – but you can avoid all of this by skipping the mayhem and heading up the stone steps at the start of the trail, quickly switchbacking through the verdant forest.

002 Wawona Pohono Trailhead

This early portion of trail is steep and rocky, and will send your blood pumping and your lungs huffing – but the payoff is that within minutes, the crowds and sounds are a distant memory, leaving you with nothing but fresh air and gorgeous views – just remember to keep looking over your shoulder from time to time!

008 first mile

At about 0.6 miles, you’ll reach the intersection with one of several old stagecoach roads in the park, a relic from simpler times. If you were to hang a right, you’d end up walking towards Wawona, if you were to hang a left, you’d head towards Artist’s Point, Bridalveil Falls, and the valley beyond, but considering that the valley’s southern rim is your destination, you’ll go past the road and head straight up, up, up.

009 en route to Inspiration Point

Winding your way up through a vibrant mixed forest, you’ll reach an intersection at about 1.2 miles that features a metal mileage sign and trail on the left and an open plateau on the right that was once the site of the long-gone Inspiration Point parking lot. The viewpoint itself is down to your right across the open area (there are obvious paths that will lead you there), but I’m going to engage in some sacrilege and suggest that you skip this one, as the valley views were better on your hike up than they will be here – plus, there’s some pretty spectacular stuff ahead. So head left and continue making your way up, up, up through the forest. It’s pretty dang beautiful in here, and chances are you’ll have it all to yourself – enjoy the solitude!

012 en route to Stanford Pt

The first water you’ll cross on the trail is around 2.7 miles at Artist Creek, which was barely a gurgle thanks to our current drought. This is a good time to mention that when you pick up your Wilderness Permit, you should check with the rangers on two things – water levels and snow levels. In a dry year, several of the water sources may dry up by early summer (if not earlier), and in a wet year, snow can linger in shaded areas well into July.

015 artist creek

A few minutes past Artist Creek, you’ll reach a potentially confusing area where several use trails branch out to the left. Look for two metal mileage signs spaced a few feet apart, facing one another – this is how you’ll know you’re at the turnoff for Old Inspiration Point…which judging from its far-superior views, should still count as New Inspiration Point in my book. Head left on the use trail between the metal signs and enjoy the good stuff.

017 old inspiration point

Don’t linger too long, though – it might be hard to believe, but the views are going to keep improving the further you travel along the rim. As you make your way deeper into the peaceful solitude, you’ll cross Meadow Brook, which becomes Silver Strand Falls once it spills over the granite. This has a slightly stronger flow than Artist Creek and is a good place to fill your water reservoirs.

At about 3.7 miles, you’ll reach another pair of metal signs and this time, they guard the path to one of my favorite viewpoints on the trail, Stanford Point. From here, your valley views get a bit more vast and you see even more of the northern Yosemite backcountry, including the Cathedral Range.

022 view from Stanford point

018 cathedral range

If you’re up for some more epic vistas (of course you are!), continue onwards (and upwards) and pull over to another use trail around the 4.4 mile mark – this time, you’re headed to Crocker Point, which offers a top-down view of Bridalveil Falls.

025 bridalveil falls from crocker point

By the way – make sure you’re also taking the time to appreciate the forest you’re hiking through – the colors and variety of plant life are incredible and worth just as much of your attention as the cliffside views!

028 the green everywhere

029 en route to dewey point

If your jaw was on the ground at Crocker Point, just leave it there for Dewey Point. Located about 5.1 miles into the hike, this dramatic outcropping is the crown jewel of today’s vistas. It’s so epic that I couldn’t fit it all into one photograph, and trust me when I say that these shots don’t even capture 1/100th of the beauty and tranquility of this magical spot.

030 dewey point is about to bring it

032 dewey point killin it

It might be kind of a letdown knowing that once you leave this granite perch, you’re going to spend the rest of today’s hike moving through the forest, further away from the dramatic views, but I promise there are treats ahead.

You’ll enjoy some downhill respite on portions of this last leg, crossing over several branches of Bridalveil Creek, this evening’s destination. At about 7.4 miles, you’ll come to a pair of intersections with the McGurk Meadow trail – keep going straight and a few minutes later, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous Bridalveil Creek and its idyllic footbridge…a perfect place to not just refill your water reservoirs, but also dip your weary toes. Just think – your feet just touched the water that will eventually cascade down as Bridalveil Falls!

046 bridalveil bridge

As the rangers will explain when you pick up your permit, there are a lot of camping restrictions along the Pohono Trail – and it turns out that west of the bridge is one of the only areas where you can pitch your tent…which is just as well, because it’s perfect. There’s easy access to water, plenty of flat spots, and even some established fire rings. Since this is wilderness, you must practice Leave No Trace principles and make sure your camp is situated far enough away from the water and that your campfire is located in an established ring, using only dead and downed wood.

I highly recommend poking around to the south of the trail, just up the hill from the western side of the bridge – there are some fantastic spots tucked away in here and if you’re as lucky as we were, you’ll have solitude…and a perfect gap in the trees for stargazing.

051 no place like home

***

Good morning, campers!! Once you’ve had a chance to dangle your feet off the bridge while enjoying your morning coffee, it’s time to boogie. Chances are, your quads and calves and hips and back and everything will be sore today, so take it easy on yourself – that elevation gain yesterday was no joke!

056 en route to taft pt

OK, today’s elevation gain is no joke, either – but I promise that while the climb to Taft Point might feel rough, it’ll be over soon enough. From camp, it’s about 2.5 miles to the viewpoint and you’ll know it when you see it – not only is the broad plateau leading up to the point fairly obvious, but you’ll also likely encounter some of the first people you’ve seen since leaving Tunnel View. Try not to feel disappointed, though – there’s a reason those other people are here and that reason is More Epic Views. Left, right, straight ahead, and down – there’s a little bit of everrrrrything here.

063 taft view 4

064 yosemite falls upper

062 taft view 3

Once you’ve pushed your vertigo to the limit, come back down from the point and look to your left to view perhaps the spookiest thing on this entire hike – The Fissures. These are a series of beautiful, if a bit stomach-dropping cracks that barrel straight down to the valley floor…it suffices to say, watch your footing.

067 the fissures

Leaving The Fissures, you’ll hop back on the trail, gaining elevation for a few minutes before coming to a fork – the right heads to Glacier Point Road, but you’ll continue on to the left to escape the crowds and enjoy a few more miles of relative peace and quiet. Keep an eye out for Sentinel Dome, which will make an occasional appearance through the trees to your right.

069 en route to glacier point

After a short while, you’ll cross Sentinel Creek – this is the only water crossing that gave us pause due to some slippery logs spanning the water, so I slung my boots around my neck and enjoyed the refreshing glacial melt on my tired tootsies.

On the other side of the creek, you’ll reach another fork in the trail – while I believe both will converge again before you reach Sentinel Dome, we chose the left fork to stay close to the rim and snag a few more views, including a nearly full look at both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls – and the squiggles of its namesake trail to the left.

071 yosemite falls from rim

Let those views reenergize you for the last bits of uphill. You’ll switchback up, probably groaning a bit as you do, passing the junction for an optional climb of Sentinel Dome (we were too exhausted to make an attempt). Just when you think your tank is empty, you’ll round a curve and the profile of Half Dome will snap you awake (see photo at the top of this page).

Floating on this natural high, follow the signs to cross over Glacier Point Road a few times, headed for the overpopulated expanse of Glacier Point itself. Once there, fling your pack in the dirt, buy yourself an ice cream cone, ignore the hordes of tourists, and find a cozy spot where you can soak in one of the park’s most iconic views – you earned it!

073 i love you sign

075 welcome to glacier point

076 would you like more epic yosemite views with your lunch

 

NOTE: This was my first time using a fancy GPS device, and as a result, you’ll be able to tell by the manic squiggles exactly when I stopped for lunch, when I filtered water, and when I enjoyed a pee break. From Point A to Point B, the trail is a bit closer to 13.8 miles than the 14.8 you’ll see on the GPX file.

Detailed Trailhead Options: This is the most difficult part of the hike, and probably the reason we saw only a handful of other people during a busy holiday weekend! The Pohono Trail lies inside Yosemite National Park, running between Tunnel View on Wawona Road and Glacier Point, off of Glacier Point Road. To get to the trailhead, your options are as follows: A) Arrange a car shuttle with fellow hikers, leaving one vehicle at Glacier Point and one at Tunnel View; B) Leave your car in the Valley at Visitor Parking, then have someone drop you off at Tunnel View – plan to hike down from Glacier Point via the Four-Mile Trail, then walk back to the parking lot; C) Leave your car at Visitor Parking, walk over to the Yosemite Lodge, and take the Glacier Point shuttle bus ($25 one way, reserve ahead via the Lodge) to Glacier Point, hiking the trail in the reverse of this description; or D) Park at Glacier Point, then catch the first shuttle bus back down to Tunnel View to begin your hike. The only problem is that the shuttle is only reservable when going up to Glacier Point; going down, you’re taking your chances that there will be extra seats available (note: on a busy holiday weekend, we had no problem). If you choose this option, let the driver know before you board that you’ll need to be dropped off at Tunnel View.

Note that descending via the Four Mile Trail adds an extra 4.8 miles to the route.

I am a curiosity-seeking, adventure-loving, outdoor-rambling professional word wrangler.





Camping

Historical Interest

Potable Water

Shade

Solitude

Views / Vista

Water Features

Trail Map

28 Comments

Shawnté Salabert May 28, 2018 19:05In reply to: Hannah

Hi, Hannah - I'm glad to hear that the writeup was helpful and that you had a great trip! It's one of my favorite ways to spend time in Yosemite.

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Hannah May 28, 2018 16:05

I used this post to help plan my first Yosemite Wilderness experience! Thank you so much for the detailed post. We went in early May. All of the water sources were in full flow from seasonal snow melt, and it was still pretty chilly at night on Bridalveil Creek. There were a few more people on the trail than we expected for a Sunday and Monday. We saw (and scared away) one small bear! It was a wonderful trip.

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Emily May 6, 2017 00:05

Hello, I am planning to do this hike in early June from Glacier Point. Can you give any recommendations on good spots to backcountry camp overnight? We have wilderness permits. I'm also struggling to decide what footwear to bring as I've never hiked in Yosemite before- heavy duty hiking boots or would a solid trail running shoe be suitable? I've read the trail is well maintained but possibly snow on the ground still and some spots of rocky terrain. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

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Shawnté Salabert

Shawnté Salabert Jul 11, 2016 15:07In reply to: Blake Nathaniel Tucker-Jones

Hi, Blake - I'm so sorry for the late reply - I just saw that there were unanswered comments on this post! 1) Hopefully you're already sorted for your permits, but in case you're still working on it, you can always try for a walk-up permit. The trick is to get to the wilderness permit office early the day before you want to hike (I'm talking…be there at dawn), then wait patiently until they release all unclaimed permits (I think at 11am) and hope to grab the one you want! 2) The way wilderness permits work is that you tell them where you're entering (i.e. your starting trailhead) and where you're exiting, and how many nights you plan on being out there. If permits are available, they then issue one permit to cover your whole trip. 3) Of course it is! Pack size is always relative to your own personal comfort level. I used to backpack with a 65L pack, now I use a 58L and usually have a little room to spare. Remember that you'll need a bear canister - that's the only thing that might cause you some issues, size-wise. Have a great trip!

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Shawnté Salabert

Shawnté Salabert Jul 11, 2016 15:07In reply to: Shannon Virginia Harris

Hi, Shannon - It depends on where you want to start your hike - we started from Wawona Tunnel, so that's the permit we requested. You can also start at Bridalveil Falls or Glacier Point - you would just need to specify with the ranger when you request your permit! Have a great trip :)

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Shannon Virginia Harris Jun 24, 2016 20:06

Hi there! I am planning a trip for the Pohono trail in August and we are looking at the wilderness permits for that trail. There are several for the Pohono trail so I am not sure exactly which ones we would need. Which permits did you have to have for your trip? We are planning on backpacking. Thanks! love the detailed guide!

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nwhkr Jun 7, 2016 14:06In reply to: nwhkr

Yes. There are two parking lots. you can definitely park overnight on the left side parking, next to the TH. Not sure about the one across the street

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Elsa Jun 7, 2016 13:06In reply to: nwhkr

Last question! Can you park overnight at Tunnel View? Hoping to drop a car there and pick it up on our way out.

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Blake Nathaniel Tucker-Jones Jun 5, 2016 18:06

Amazing article! I have many questions but i'll limit myself to a few. I'm planning a trip of 6 people to Yosemite, late July, 2016. We plan to leave a car in the valley near Camp 4, and take our other car to the Tunnel. I see we need a wilderness permit for this trail, I also saw a maximum quota of 6 people per day for this trail. This brings me to my first question: Is there a possibility that we wont be granted access if other people are planning on hiking the same week? Second question is regarding the permits; In order to camp overnight, do we need permits for each trail we will be on? Assuming we don't stay in designated campsites. Last question, Is the Pohono Trail doable with a 50L backpack? Everyone seems to insist on 75 or 80L backpacks although i'd rather use my 50L because i'm a minimalist and I like light-weight travel.

Thank you!!!

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nwhkr Jun 4, 2016 15:06In reply to:

This is mainly applicable to the entry point and it would be based on:
1. availability of permits
2. your preference in terms of scenic views/difficulty/conditions etc.
3. camping location preference (also depends on water availability).

I started from Tunnel view and got back via Panorama trail as it was in mid April last year, just after a couple of days of snow. 4 mile trail should be okay at this point, weather permitting. Shuttling would be another thing to figure out if you start from around sentinel dome TH

NPS holds you accountable for entry point and first day of camping location, exit TH can vary during your trip, so you can put your best guess for exit one

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