One of my favorite scenic hikes in Yosemite National Park is what I call the Panorama Trail hike. My route is actually a loop consisting of the Four Mile trail, Panorama trail and the John Muir or Mist trail depending on the day. All total, the complete loop is close to 17 miles and is packed with incredible views of many of Yosemite’s most popular features.
Begin on the Valley trail on south side and head in the general direction of Glacier Point. Keep an eye out for the junction of the Four Mile trail. The trail climbs steadily upward toward Glacier Point so it is most often used as a way to come down, not up. Considering it’s location, there aren’t a lot of great views but it does get you up and out of the valley in the most direct way on foot and your eyes will have plenty to look at soon enough. It’s a fairly tiring climb, but it is much easier than it looks and it eats up a good bit of the vertical for the day at the beginning.
After about 4.5 miles and over 3,000 vertical feet, the climbing will end and you will be treated to a great view from Glacier Point. Many of the valley’s most famous sights are visible from here, so take a few minutes to soak it all in! Once you have savored the view, it is time to leave the crowds behind and hit the Panorama Trail.
The trail begins on the east side of the parking area and climbs a short distance to where the Pahono trail and the Panorama trail split. Our trail goes left and begins a bit of a descent through a forest with just enough glimpses of the glorious views beyond to keep your interest. Continue down until you see a short spur trail to Illilouette Falls. The 370 foot falls are one of the lesser known major falls in the valley area, but they are beautiful and well worth the short diversion. If they were located anywhere else they would be quite famous, it’s just hard for them to compete with their well-known neighbors.
The descent continues for a short time before rebounding with a stiff climb up to the rim of Panorama Cliff. From the ridge, continue gently uphill to the aptly named Panorama Point. There are two excellent view points in this area offering views of everything from Yosemite Falls to Half Dome and beyond. Another short ascent and descent brings us to outstanding views of the backside of Half Dome, Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap and Clouds Rest. If you are into photography, this stretch may take a while!
From here its pretty much all downhill until we reach the John Muir trail. You have two choices to complete your journey from here. The Mist trail is the shorter choice but it comes with a lot of steep stairs and you will get soaked. If you want your views up close, take the Mist trail. The Muir trail is longer and gentler. It also offers great views in places, but more of the scenic panorama type. If your legs are getting tired, the Muir trail wins in my book. Either way you will be treated to views of Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls – it just depends on how close you want to be.
It is obvious that Yosemite offers some of the best hiking in California, or even the world. The Panorama loop is a great way to sample many of the features in one long day hike. It is definitely a worthy outdoor adventure.