On the Panorama Trail in Yosemite National Park, panoramic vistas of the valley and surrounding waterfalls are guaranteed. This iconic hike is an all-day showcase of the park’s best gems, descending along Yosemite Valley’s south wall past Panorama Point, Illilouette Falls, and Half Dome. When you’re not looking up at the scenery, scout the sides of the trail for blue grouse hopping in the bushes and great red paintbrush coloring the meadows. With steep downhill sections, switchbacks and stone steps, this trail is considered challenging. But if you’re up for the adventure, take your time enjoying the astounding views of one of California’s most famous destinations.
Along the trail, you can identify Half Dome, the Clark Range and the valley floor. The first part of the trail leads downhill for two miles to Illilouette Falls. But once you cross the bridge, you’ll climb uphill again along a wide, well-maintained trail. Look across the valley to Yosemite Falls before continuing to a junction, where a short trail takes you to the top of Nevada Fall. Waterfall spray in spring and early summer can make conditions slippery, so watch your step and stay away from the edge.
The last part of the trail follows the Mist Trail, which, as the name suggests, can get slippery. A fork near Nevada Fall leads you on either the Mist Trail or John Muir Trail. The Mist Trail follows the water, but it’s steeper and more slippery, as the name suggests. Watch your step, don’t get too close to the river’s edge, and keep an eye on kids. Do not enter the water, even if it looks calm. It’s not. A dangerously strong current has carried children and adults to their deaths. The John Muir Trail is less steep and easier on the knees, but travels away from the water and is slightly longer.
How Long is the Panorama Trail in Yosemite?
From the trail’s start at Glacier Point to its end on the Mist Trail, this trail is about 8.5 miles with about 3,000 feet of elevation loss. For the total distance, give or take a mile or so, depending on where you park on the valley floor. Unless you’re a guest at Yosemite Lodge, parking is available at the Curry Village lot or in the day-use lot beside Yosemite Village.
With the proper planning and fitness, it’s possible to double it in a day for 17 miles out and back. However, the park service recommends shuttling with two cars or taking the Glacier Point Tour shuttle to avoid hiking back uphill.
Plan to spend 4.5 to 7 hours one way, downhill, on this hike, depending on your fitness level and pace. Set aside some time to spend at Panorama Point, Illilouette Falls and other overlooks along the way — prime photo and snack break opportunities.
Note: Glacier Point, where the shuttle would normally drop you off to begin your hike, is closed to all traffic in 2022. This means the only way to hike the full Panorama Trail in 2022 is to do an extremely long 17-mile out-and-back. Backpacking is not allowed in Yosemite Valley, so this adventure is probably best saved for when Glacier Point opens again to vehicles in 2023.
How Do I Get to the Panorama Trail? Do I Need to Take the Bus?
When Glacier Point Road reopens and the Glacier Point Tour Shuttle resumes in 2023, use the following directions.
If you’re hiking downhill, which is the recommended direction, this trail begins at Glacier Point. The park service suggests parking on the valley floor and taking the Glacier Point Tour shuttle one-way to Glacier Point rather than parking up there. Tickets should be purchased at least 15 minutes in advance of departure at any Tour & Activity Desk, online at www.travelyosemite.com/things-to-do/guided-bus-tours/ or by phone at 888.413.8869. Glacier Point Tours meet at the lobby entrance of Yosemite Valley Lodge. If you are taking the park shuttle, get off at stop #7 (new stop number starting May 17, 2022). That way, you’re closer to your car when you finish the hike.
If you don’t take the bus, or if the bus is not running, plan on using two cars at the start and end of your hike. Park one car on the valley floor before driving the second car up to Glacier Point. The free valley shuttle bus can also help get you back to your car in the valley once you’re finished your hike.
Should you decide to park at Glacier Point, you can access it from one of two ways: either by driving from Wawona Road to Glacier Point Road at the Chinquapin intersection or by driving up Wawona Road from the Yosemite Valley and turning onto Glacier Point Road. Note that Glacier Point Road is closed in winter.
From the Glacier Point parking area, past the restrooms and amphitheater, follow signs for the Panorama Trail.
When is the Best Month to Hike Panorama Trail?
Spring, summer, and fall are the best seasons to hike Panorama Trail. Glacier Point Road is closed in winter and snow typically makes this strenuous route even more challenging or leads to closures. In the late spring and early summer, mist from the waterfalls is strongest and offers a nice respite from the heat. This time of year is also when the falls are at their most dangerous as the mist can make the trails extra slippery and the current is super strong. If you hike in the spring, don’t get too close to the waterfalls and watch your step on wet sections. The hottest month in Yosemite is usually July, when the average high is 93. During the rest of the year, temperatures are usually in the 60s. While this trail is still beautiful in the fall, especially when the trees begin to turn, many of the waterfalls often dry completely or to a small trickle by August so the trail won’t be quite as scenic.
What Should I Bring on My Hike?
As with any hike in Yosemite, wear sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots with good traction. Trekking poles can also help with balance. Pack enough water and snacks for the day. A good rule of thumb is to pack one liter for every two hours of hiking. In your backpack, also consider packing a light rain jacket. Mist from the waterfalls along this route can get pretty wet, so stay dry with a waterproof layer.
Leave behind pets, including service animals, and bear spray. Neither are allowed.