The Panorama Trail is a true Yosemite classic. For those who are motivated for a full-day of hiking there’s arguably not a better trail to showcase the park’s natural treasures. The Panorama Trail starts at the famed Glacier Point overlook, with sweeping views of the iconic Half Dome and the high peaks of the Clark Range. A real highlight is peering down into Yosemite Valley, 2,700 feet below. The first section of hiking dives down into Ilillouette Creek, with cascading falls and a diversity of birdlife. Leaving the creek, there is a short, steep climb up a sandy ridgeline. From there, the trail traverses the top of Panorama Cliffs among the yellow pines and cedar trees (don’t worry, it’s on a nicely groomed trail!). Along the way, you’ll see more views of Half Dome, and across the valley to Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest waterfall at 2,425 feet. The best time to hike this trail is when the Glacier Point Road opens, which varies every year but typically April or May.
The trail starts at Glacier Point so you will need to arrange transportation at the bottom of the trail back to your vehicle at Glacier Point or plan ahead and purchase a one-way ticket on the Glacier Point Tour. This tour departs several times a day from the Yosemite Valley Lodge once the road to Glacier Point re-opens and provides you with an informative narrated tour to Glacier Point and an easy drop off point at the top to begin your hike. Once you reach the valley floor you can pick up the free shuttle bus to return you back to where your vehicle is parked at the Yosemite Valley Lodge.
There are lookout points all along the trail and if you arrive early in the season you may also find snow plants, a native fungus that appear in shady spots along the trail and easy to spot for their vibrant red color.
After a few miles the trail descends once again, bringing you to the top of Nevada Fall. Plan to take some time here to take in the views down-canyon. The final section of the day follows the popular Mist Trail, descending the “Wild and Scenic” Merced River, passing by the rushing Nevada Falls and then Vernal Fall in the lower canyon. The trail ends in Yosemite Valley, just a quick shuttle ride to the pizza deck and store at Half Dome Village.
Although the Panorama Trail is just 8.5 miles in length, it often takes people 9-10 hours to complete the trail. Not only are there many exceptional vistas and rushing waterfalls to spend time at, but also there are many granite steps along the Mist Trail, which often slow down the pace at the end of the day. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the trail and not be rushed.
On the first section of the trail, in the springtime and early summer, keep your eye out for male Blue Grouse playfully dancing for the lady grouse. These large birds have colorful air-sacks that they inflate and they must execute the dance in good form, or they risk the female losing interest.
If you are hiking this trail in the springtime or early summer, bring a light rain-jacket or poncho for the Mist Trail section if you are planning on exiting later in the day. Cool afternoon winds blow through the shady canyon and not everyone appreciates being soaking wet after passing Vernal Falls.
This trail guide is provided & sponsored by Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides.