Distance (round-trip)

12.8 mi

Time

8 hrs

Elevation Gain

3124 ft

Season

Spring
Summer
Fall

Weather

A nearly 13 mile loop that hits some of the highlights of Yosemite National Park. This route starts out with a refreshing soak from Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail, then treats you to great views of Nevada Falls and Half Dome before giving wide vistas of the Valley Floor from the Panorama Trail and Glacier Point. A knee-busting descent on the Four Mile Trail takes you through some welcome shade and back down to the valley floor. This is a challenging but incredible way to spend a day in the park.

Yosemite National Park has a well-deserved reputation as an outdoorsperson’s paradise. The landscape is rugged and breathtaking, and the trail system is top-notch. I’ll always remember the first time I set eyes on Yosemite Valley, and if you’ve never been there yourself, you’ll most definitely have the same experience. There’s so much to see, it’s tough to soak it in all at once – but if you want to get a few great tastes of what the park has to offer, you should consider spending a day on the High Sierra Loop.

The trail starts at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley. Cars are kind of a hindrance on the floor – especially during the summer – so ditch the wheels at the central parking area and take the free shuttle to the Happy Isles Nature Center stop, then hop off and look for the signs for the Mist Trail.

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This stretch of the trail is likely to be crowded. Not only is it the starting point for Half Dome, but it’s also a great short hike to the drenching cascades of Vernal Falls – a very popular destination on hot summer days.

The Mist Trail is a 2.6 mile trail that follows a branch of the Merced River as it tumbles down from the Sierras. It starts off on a manageable paved path, but after crossing the river becomes a more uneven, but still fairly wide path. There are railings on some of the steeper drop-offs, but you should exercise extra care here, as most of the time the trail is completely drenched from mist from Vernal Falls.

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Many of the waterfalls in Yosemite are fed by snowmelt, and can be reduced to trickles by the end of the summer – but Vernal and Nevada tend to hang on throughout the year. When I was there, there was still a lot of water coming over the falls, but the trail wasn’t particularly drenched. In an earlier visit, this waterfall was raging, and I ended up looking like I’d just been thrown in a swimming pool at the end of the hike. Be prepared for rain-like conditions and slippery rocks, along with fantastic views!

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At 1.5 miles, you’ll be at the top of Vernal Falls. Continue along the river but stay a safe distance away from the banks – swift currents here can and will take you right over that beautiful waterfall you just saw if you’re not careful. Here, the crowds may thin out a bit, but you’ll probably still be dealing with heavy foot traffic from Half Dome Hopefuls for the next 1.3 miles. Enjoy the views of nearby Liberty Cap and the increased shade as you cross the river and continue toward Nevada Falls.

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In this stretch of the Nevada Trail, there’s a pretty decent ascent through some rocky terrain – but you won’t have to worry quite as much about the trail being slippery. Nevada Falls is very impressive, but the water falls with a bit more control. The trail gets pretty close to the cascade at parts, but you’ll have to go off-trail if you want to get close to the water at this point. Don’t worry, though – you’ll get a very up-close view a bit further along the trail.

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At about 2.6 miles, ignore the bustling throngs headed up to Half Dome and keep right at the junction to turn onto the Panorama Trail. You’ll note this route is much less crowded than what you’ve been hiking on so far, but don’t have any regrets about missing out on anything – you’re in for some spectacular park experiences of your own. For instance, crossing near the precipice of Vernal Falls.

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Don’t worry – there’s a bridge. Get a good look at that granite outcropping directly across the canyon – that’s Glacier Point and it’s your next destination.

0.4 miles past Nevada Falls, keep left at the junction with the John Muir Trail and continue another mile through some tight (but not too steep) switchbacks. The trail is nice and shaded here, and chances are you’ll probably have it to yourself, as the Panorama Trail is not nearly as popular as the route to Half Dome.

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Once you get past this short section of switchbacks, you’ll be on an area called Panorama Cliff. The trail skirts the edge of this cliff (although you don’t really have to worry about drop-offs) and basically backtracks west overlooking the canyon you just climbed up out of. The views of the landscape beneath you are pretty breathtaking here, not to mention the picture-perfect views of Half Dome.

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The trail continues west for 2.6 miles, gently descending toward Illouette Gorge in plenty of shade. Enjoy it now, because the next big ascent up to Glacier Point is mostly shadeless, as you can see in the trailcuts across the gorge:

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The trail descends down to Illouette Falls, where a small footbridge lets hikers cross without fear of being swept downstream by the currents. As with all waterfalls in Yosemite, don’t try to step out onto the granite to get a better view of the cascades – the rocks can be slippery and dangerous, and there’s a much better view of Illouette Falls a bit further up the trail anyway.

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From the bottom of Illouette Gorge, ignore the trail to Mono Meadow and continue on the Panorama Trail. It’s another 1.4 miles of uphill to Glacier Point. There’s a small spur trail on the right hand side about 0.3 miles past the bridge, which provides a good view of the cascade itself.

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You’ll also have some interesting profile views of Half Dome from this section of trail, which provide a nice contrast from the views earlier on Panorama Cliffs.

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The further along you hike on this section, the better the views will be. You can get a sense of just how far you’ve come and how high up you are when you’re able to make out Nevada and Vernal Falls:

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This is another tough section of trail, with very little shade and a seemingly relentless incline. Prepare for more crowds as you approach Glacier Point (7214 ft). It’s one of the best viewpoints in the entire park, but it’s easily reachable by shuttle or car. There are also bathrooms, snacks, and ranger-led programs here, but in my experience most people don’t venture very far onto either the Panorama or Four Mile Trails, so you won’t see other people until you actually get to the Glacier Point parking area.

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Even if it’s crowded, do yourself a favor and walk up to Glacier Point itself. You’ll probably have already seen better views along the Panorama Trail, but it’s worthwhile to make a short stop at this high point for a sense of just how much elevation you’ve gained … and maybe you’ll even be able to see some climbers up on Half Dome with a ranger’s assistance.

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When you’re done soaking in the views or crowds or ice cream you bought at the snack shop, look for the Four Mile Trail between the snack shop and Glacier Point. Despite the name, this trail is actually 4.6 miles, and has a reputation of being one of the toughest ascents from the Valley floor (the Yosemite Falls Trail across the valley takes the cake, achieving a comparable incline with about a mile less distance). While the descent isn’t quite as difficult, your knees will take some punishment on the descent, so be sure to have some trekking poles with you if you’ve got a cranky knee or two.

Near Glacier Point, the trail is wide and the ground is soft. Throw in plenty of shade, and you’ve got a very nice descent.

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On this section of the trail, I had the pleasure of coming across my first black bear! A few other hikers and I watched in silence as the little guy rooted around in the underbrush, then kept hiking.

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About 0.8 miles into the Four Mile Trail, the trail starts into a series of switchbacks, which pretty much continue down to the floor. For most of this time, the trail is wide, but there are some steep drop-offs and narrower, more slippery sections as you descend. Just keep an eye on where your feet are headed, and you’ll be fine – and make sure to look up to enjoy some of the scenery once in a while, too!

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The trail ends in a shaded forest glen with a few giant granite boulders that fell from the valley walls. Walk toward the road and either wait for a shuttle or start hiking toward your campsite!

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles," Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.





Camping

Historical Interest

Potable Water

Views / Vista

Water Features

Waterfall

Trail Map

29 Comments

Casey Schreiner Oct 12, 2018 11:10In reply to: Conor

I went back to the GPX file on this one to check, but you're probably right. You'd definitely have to be bookin' it to make this in 6 hours. I'll update the time to a more realistic pace :) Thanks for the catch!

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Conor Oct 2, 2018 11:10

Amazing hike, but there is no way you're doing this in 6 hours. My girlfriend and I are experienced hikers and in very good shape and it took us nearly 10 hours, granted we did stop a few times to rest and eat. If we hadn't stopped, it still would have taken us nearly 9 hours. This hike is not for the faint of heart. We were exhausted by the end and the last two hours going down 4 Mile Trail were miserable. Your toes and knees will be begging you to stop, but the incredible views and sense of accomplishment are worth the pain.

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Magdalena

Magdalena from Prague Feb 2, 2017 19:02

I must definitely agree! One of the most beautiful treck I did!!! But the opposite way. Starting with 4 mile trail ( and parking there), up to Glacier point, beautiful view to El Cap. From Glacier point you have the best in front of you! Half Dome from various angels, the falls. And the Misty trail down. Then you don't mind some people;-). And by the bus back to camp 4 and across the meadow to the parking lot.

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Zach Alan Nov 9, 2015 15:11

the cheat version of this - hiking bus to glacier point, then downhill past Illilouette, Nevada, and Vernal Falls, with views of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls across the valley, appx 80% downhill with the hardest part (rapid descent) at the end, is also grand (and much easier for the less ambitious / short on time)

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Omar Jan 18, 2015 22:01

Great write up indeed. To add a little substance and/or difficulty to this hike, add the Four Mile Trail into the mix. You'll have yourself one helluva day for sure. I tackled this idea last June and I was in for a treat no doubt. I started my day at about 7:00 am at the Four Mile Trail trailhead. I headed up towards Glacier Point and then made my way on to the Panorama Trail as you described, but just going in reverse. Using my Garmin Oregon GPS tracker, my total trip clocked in at 24 miles which took approximately 9.5 hours. When I was done at the Happy Isles area, I figured I already came this far what's another 2 or 3 mile trek back to my car at Four Mile Trail through there valley floor. I bypassed the shuttled and walked back. Let's just say my feet disagreed and leave it at that. :) UGH! What an awesome memory that I want to do it again, but in the opposite direction. In a few months I'll tackle to Pohono Trail to Glacier Point and down Four Mile trail for another great day in Yosemite. Happy hiking, folks...!

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gophersnake Oct 29, 2014 01:10In reply to: Casey Schreiner

Thanks for the writeup and the bear pic. I did this hike in the "forward" direction last July. Although I got an early start, I'm pretty slow going uphill so I was prepared to finish in the dark. I know the Four Mile Trail much better than the Muir/Mist so if I'm going to plan on coming down anything by headlamp, it's going to be the Four Mile.

I'd tried going up the Mist Trail a few years earlier but it was so hard on my knees that I abandoned it midway and headed for Clark Point and the John Muir. I've been taking only the John Muir since then. I've heard a lot of people mention that going down the Four Mile is hard on their knees but it hasn't been particularly hard on mine. I attribute that to trekking poles, a lot of practice, and the relative absence of steps.

No bears for me on that trip; only a chipmunk and a rattlesnake.

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Mark Oct 14, 2014 21:10

Just got back from hiking the panorama-4 mile, it was incredible this time of year! Your images echoed the 105 frames I shot along the trail ,absolutely beautiful. Until this weekend I had done all the easy touristy trails at Yosemite, it was well worth the effort of an all day hike to catch some extreme views! I'm looking forward to hitting more of the longer trails. Our group started the trail just about 9:30 in the morning and we happened to have good conditions and shade most of the trail. The approach to glacier point was actually fairly well shaded as the trees and shrubs have grown quite a bit plus the late season/start put the sun lower in trajectory. Temps in the 70's it was perfect and awesome!

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BugDoodle Jun 6, 2014 22:06

Great pics and write-up! I have not been to Yosemite since I was a kid, and I am headed back there next month for a few days. Panorama Loop is definitely on my to-do list.

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SteveM May 21, 2014 12:05

Thanks for the great write-up. It helped me recall some fuzzy memories of this trail, which I have covered in two separate hikes over 35 years ago. Up and down the deserted 4 Mile to Glacier Point one sunny fall day. Then another trip from Washburn Point to summit of Half Dome and back to Washburn. My wife and I spent the night on top of Half Dome (still allowed back then) so the round trip with backpacks wasn't so bad.

You are so right about how empty and quiet most of the Panorama Trail is. And the views are spectacular.

I am happy to find your excellent site. Thank you for your detailed descriptions and fine images.

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Casey Schreiner May 19, 2014 10:05In reply to:

Sounds like an awesome trip, Daugpack! And good call on getting all that elevation gain out of the way right in the beginning. I love the views of the Valley once you pass Glacier Point in that direction too.

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