“If I were so time-poor as to have only one day to spend in Yosemite I should start at daybreak, say at three o'clock in midsummer, with a pocketful of any sort of dry breakfast stuff, for Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, the head of Illilouette Fall, Nevada Fall, the top of Liberty Cap, Vernal Fall and the wild boulder-choked River Cañon.”
- John Muir
Many of those places described by John Muir in the quote above are found along the Panorama Trail. In fact, Muir may very well have hiked this trail himself, as it's one of the older trails in the park, having been constructed in 1872. Today the Panorama Trail is still considered to be one of the premier hikes in Yosemite National Park.
Visitors will have a couple of options with regards to hiking the trail. If you have two cars in your party you can park at both ends of the trail for a one-way hike. You can also take the Glacier Point Tour bus, which provides hikers with a one-way shuttle. This option will allow you to take the bus up to Glacier Point, and then return back down to the valley via the Panorama Trail. You could also hike up the trail and then catch the bus on your return trip to the valley. There is a fee for this service.
You can also combine the Four Mile Trail and the Panorama Trail for a spectacular 12.6-mile, one-way hike. This was the option we decided to go with.
If you do decide to combine the two trails, the free shuttle service in the valley can be used to bridge the gap between the two trailheads. You may also want to note that you can purchase snacks and drinks from the Snack Stand at Glacier Point. If you’re going to depend on this for re-fills and refueling on your hike, you need to make note of their hours. Well water from a spigot is also available at Glacier Point, though it’s not the best tasting water in the world.
The hike begins from Glacier Point where some of the most iconic views of the Yosemite Valley are seen. Normally from this vantage point at 7200 feet you’ll have outstanding views of Half Dome, North Dome, Basket Dome, the Royal Arches, Tenaya Canyon and Yosemite Falls. However, on this day, we were rudely greeted by haze that greatly diminished the normally spectacular vistas.
After leaving the sights and crowds at Glacier Point, we ventured onto the Panorama Trail. The upper portions of the trail are wide open, and provide some outstanding panoramic views of the Yosemite Valley, Tenaya Canyon and Half Dome. It’s pretty apparent how the trail builders got their inspiration when it came time to naming this trail.
Until you reach the Merced River, several miles down trail, Half Dome will be the dominating feature on the landscape. The granite monolith rises almost 5000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor, while topping out at 8836 feet in elevation.
About half-way down the John Muir Trail you’ll reach another trail junction at Clark Point. If you wish to see Vernal Fall, which I highly recommend, you should take a right onto this connector trail. Although continuing down the John Muir Trail is shorter, and isn’t quite as steep as the Mist Trail, it does bypass the waterfall.
The connector trail descends roughly four-tenths of a mile down a very steep and rocky path. Take your time here, as the views above Vernal Fall are outstanding.
From the top of Vernal Fall the trail makes an extremely steep descent down a couple hundred stone steps carved into the granite cliff wall. To reiterate some warnings from the park, you should descend the uneven and slippery steps with great care, and by no means get near the water, as many people have lost their lives over the years by slipping into the rapid currents of the Merced.
Trail: Panorama Trail
One-Way Distance: 7.9 Miles
Elevation Gain (Loss): 800 (4075) feet
Max Elevation: 7300 feet
TH Location: Glacier Point
Map: Yosemite National Park Trails Illustrated Map
Top Trails: Yosemite features 46 “must-do” hikes in Yosemite National Park, from scenic strolls, to full-day adventures, to spectacular backpacking trips. With at-a-glance information for each hike visitors can determine which hikes are most suitable to their skills, schedules and preferences. The book also provides elevation profiles, detailed maps, as well as information on which trails are child-friendly; where to see giant sequoias, waterfalls, lakes, wildflowers, autumn colors; the best photo opportunities; and which have camping, running or biking opportunities.