All the trails in Yosemite National Park offer up some exceptional views. However, during the peak season, many of them are stuffed to the gills with nature lovers out for a wonderful time. The Panorama Trail leaves the scrum down in the valley and heads up into the hills for some of the best views in the park. Even with such an intriguing name as "Panorama" Trail, it is actually very lightly travelled during the park's most popular months. It is quite odd how only a handful hike this trail considering it provides views of Yosemite's most iconic sights like the Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and several waterfalls. The Panorama Trail starts up above the valley at Glacier Point, which provides excellent views in and of itself, and primarily downhill all the way to the Yosemite Valley. The hike can be done in reverse, but very few do so considering it is almost an all uphill climb. Many just choose to hike down and take the shuttle back up to save their aching legs.

Yosemite National Park

Quick Stats:

Trail Length: 8.4 miles City/State:   El Portal,
Bikes Allowed: No
Elevation: 5,230 feet loss
County:  Tuolumne, Mariposa and Madera Dogs Allowed: No


Getting There:

There are three ways to enter Yosemite National Park. It can be done via Highway 120, 140 or 41 and each entrance hosts detailed signage on how to get where visitors want to go. Those looking to hike the Panorama Trail will want to follow the signs to Yosemite Valley, driving past Sentinel Beach and up the winding road to Glacier Point.

The Hike:

Once at the parking lot for Glacier Point, be sure to take some time out before beginning the hike to enjoy it. The point sits at around 7,000 feet and is one of the great vistas in the park. On clear days, visitors can spot the Half Dome, North Dome, Basket Dome, Royal Arches and Tenaya Canyon in the distance.

After leaving the views and the crowds behind, it's time to head to the Panorama Trailhead. The beginning portions of the trail take after the previous vista by remaining open as the trail leads through beautiful meadows. Those who couldn't appreciate the views at Glacier Point due to all the foot traffic can certainly do so here. The trail gives great overhead views of the Yosemite Valley as well as Tenaya Canyon and the Half Dome during this first stretch that winds slightly downhill. According to the rumor, it is this stretch of trail that inspired Panorama Trail's name, for obvious reasons. It is worth noting that this beginning area of trail is fully bathed in sunlight. This is actually quite nice in the spring and fall months, but during summer it makes for some very hot and dusty hiking.

At just over a mile, hikers will come to an unmarked side trail, it leads to a small side trip to Illilouette Falls and at just a couple hundred feet long, it is a trip worth taking for the curious visitor. From the overlook at the end of the trail, visitors get to watch the falls make their 370-foot drop into the river below. This is one of those waterfalls that hikers can hear well before they see it. Unlike the Yosemite Falls that are snow melt fed and dry up during the summer, this waterfall is spring fed and it roars all year round.

After getting back on the Panorama Trail, the terrain takes a somewhat steep decline until it bottoms out at Illilouette Creek. The creek is easy to hop at most times, but almost immediately afterwards, the trail steepens as it climbs out of the small creek valley. The steep climb continues for just under a mile, gaining 450 feet in elevation before it levels out. Out of the tree cover pops another unmarked trail that is well worth taking. This spur leads to an overlook called Panorama Point. The overlook at the end of the spur trail shows off some stunning views of the Half Dome, the Royal Arches and the Illilouette Gorge. While the view is worth it, hikers may have to push their way through some chest high brush to get there, depending on how recently it has been groomed.

From Panorama Point, the trail shifts and begins to trace Panorama Cliff for the next two miles. This is easily the best section in the hike for scenery, although peaking over the edge of the cliff can be dizzying.

Eventually the trail comes to a three way junction; hikers will want to keep all the way left. The trail now takes a particularly sharp descent through the forest as it heads towards the John Muir Trail. Hikers should beware this section if it has rained recently, it can get very slippery and once you fall, it's likely you'll slip all the way down. At the bottom of the hill there is a choice to make. One trail takes hikers over the top of the Nevada Falls while the other briefly follows the John Muir Trail, sporting views of the Nevada Falls from afar as well as the Liberty Cap and Half Dome. They are both equally tantalizing choices with both leading to the same point eventually. However, the John Muir Trail offers the best bang as the 594-foot Nevada Falls are most stunning from afar.

While hiking down the John Muir Trail, take some time to marvel that you are walking down one of the most famous long distance walking trails in the United States. It runs from the Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley to the highest point in the United State of Mount Whitney, although those travelling the Panorama Trail probably won't want to hike the whole 215 miles.

Along the Panorama portion of the John Muir Trail, there will be a small junction at Clark Point. This short side trip is highly recommended as it leads to the wonderful Vernal Falls. Those who do take the trail will follow it all the way to an overlook of the falls to watch it make its wonderful 317-foot journey down a sheer cliff face. While the hike can be continued back on the John Muir Trail, it is much more fun to take the Vernal Falls Trail to end it. From the overlook, there is a small connector trail that leads to the famous Mist Trail that leads to the top of the falls. This bypasses the steepness of the Mist Trail, but still gets visitor on the top of the Vernal Falls.

From the top of the falls, there is a steep set of carved stone steps that lead down with up close and personal views of the falls. Hikers need to be very careful here, the steps trace close to the falls, thus they are always wet and potentially slippery. There have been 18 deaths on these steps along due to sparse levels of caution, so take your time going down. It also merits saying, hikers will get a refreshing cool spray from the falls here as well.

At the bottom of the falls, ending the Panorama Trail is as simple as crossing the Vernal Falls Bridge and treading downhill to the Happy Isles trailhead. Hikers can return to their vehicle at Glacier Point by hiking the trail in reverse, but those who are far too tired can catch a shuttle back to the point at the nearby visitor's center.

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