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Yosemite National Park, California, United States

The Panorama Trail

A mostly-downhill hike with views of Half Dome, Nevada Fall, Vernal Fall, Yosemite Falls and the Yosemite Valley

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    This guide contains photos
 (45 votes, 3 reviews)
Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 8.9 miles / 14.3 km
 
Overview: There is no better hike in Yosemite National Park which offers the amazing views of Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Illilouette Fall, Yosemite Fall, and the entire Valley than the Panorama Trail. This 8.5-mile hike will take you on an adventure from Glacier Point, high above the valley, down to the Mist Trail where you will hike next to both Nevada and Vernal Falls. The hike ends near Curry Village where you can grab a bite to eat or take the free shuttle to anywhere in the park.

While this hike loses 2,800ft in elevation, it is not an easy hike; some would even rate it as strenuous. After the initial climb down to Illilouette Fall you will hike back up 800ft of steep switchbacks before hiking down the same distance immediately after. The Mist Trail can be especially tough on the knees, especially the section from the top of Nevada Fall to Vernal Fall, which is almost exclusively made up of small stone steps.

But don’t let that discourage you, the views of the Falls, the Valley, and the surrounding area more than make up for the aches and pains you may keep with you the next few days.


Points of Interest

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Parking

You can park at the Glacier Point parking lot but if you are hiking down all the way to the Valley (alternatively you can hike as far as Illouette Fall and then back up), you may want to take a shuttle to Glacier Point or have someone drop you off and meet you down in the Valley.
Food/Dining
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Snacks and Gift Shop

You can fuel up for your hike at the snack shop located between the parking lot at Glacier Point (it's the largest building up here).
Junction
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Trailhead

As you walk to Glacier Point from the parking lot, the trailhead will be on your right side as you approach the first viewpoint. You can stock up on snacks for the hike at the gift shop/store on the other side of the paved path before you begin. At the start there are few trail signs that give different distances for the hike (off by as much as 0.5 miles), but the hike is just about 8.5 miles down to the Happy Isles trailhead where you can catch the shuttle.
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Profile view of Half Dome

After about 10 minutes of hiking (and some significant elevation loss) you will come to a perfect place to take a picture of Half Dome and the nearby waterfalls. You will have likely stopped every 5 feet up to this point to take another picture because the view just seems to keep getting better.

This view is particularly impressive, and you will have a complete profile view of Half Dome with Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall below to the right. This view may be the best of the entire hike, so enjoy it while you can.
Junction
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Junction

After some more switchbacks you will see a trail to the right leading to some other lakes in Yosemite. Continue on the Panorama Trail to the left and you will soon arrive at the top of Illouette Fall.
Viewpoint
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View of Illilouette Fall

Before you reach the water, you will come across a great view of the entire Illilouette Fall. You can creep towards the edge of the granite to see the pool below but be careful and watch your step.
Water
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Illilouette Fall

About 2.5 miles into the hike you will reach Illilouette Fall. If you parked at Glacier Point and are planning to go back to get you car at some point, this is probably as far as you want to go (you will have to climb up 800ft of switchbacks on the other side of the river if you want to continue further). Up the river you will see some granite slabs in the water that some people use as a natural slide, and there are some nice places to dip your feet downriver of the bridge as well.

Pay attention to the signs mentioning the danger of swimming in the river. If the water is too high or you are not careful you could be caught in the river, and you wouldn’t want to fall to the Valley Floor below without first seeing Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall up close.
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Switchbacks up

Immediately after you cross the bridge you will begin the 800ft climb up a series of switchbacks. This section is the last major climb of the trail and afterwards it will be exclusively downhill.
Viewpoint
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View of the Valley and Yosemite Fall

As you near the top of the climb turn back and admire the open view of Yosemite Valley below with Yosemite Falls far in the distance. You can see Glacier Point where you started as well as the backside of Half Dome.
Junction
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Junction

Before you start your descent to Nevada Fall there will be a trail to your right. Continue straight and climb down the switchbacks leading you towards Nevada Fall.
Junction
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John Muir Trail Junction

Just before you reach the top of Nevada Fall you will reach the junction of the John Muir Trail. This will bring you near the bottom of Vernal Fall but if you haven’t seen Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall before, continue down the Mist Trail to see some of the most impressive waterfalls in the park.
Water
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Top of Nevada Fall

The top of Nevada Fall is a great place to stop and take a break and admire the view. Find a place upstream to sit and grab a snack while soaking your feet in the cold mountain water while you watch water rush over the edge falling far below. There is a pool further upstream where many like to swim, but pay attention to the signs discouraging swimming: the current is stronger than you may think.
Junction
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Junction to The Mist Trail

A few minutes after crossing the bridge over Nevada Fall you will reach a 3 way junction. To your right is the trail to Little Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Clouds Rest, and to your left is the trail down the Mist Trail to the Valley. There is also a restroom in the wooden hut.

The next mile of the trail is particularly hard on the knees: it is made of small stone steps that are slanted downhill, and they can be quite slippery when covered in dust or after a rain. It takes unbelievable discipline to pay appropriate attention to where you are stepping with such stunning views of Nevada Fall crashing down only a little ways away.
Water
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Great view of Nevada Fall

About half way down the steep rocky path you will have probably the best view of Nevada Fall from the side of the waterfall.
Water
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Emerald Pool and Silver Apron

Emerald Pool sits at the top of Vernal Fall, and at the end of the Silver Apron, a granite "slide" leading coming from Nevada Falls. While it may look fun to slide down, restrain yourself, and the current underwater is much stronger than it looks, and swimmers have been swept off the edge of the Fall. But that doesn't mean you can't sit by the water, soak your feet, and enjoy your lunch!
Water
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Vernal Fall

Soon after the Emerald Pool you will arrive at the top of Vernal Fall. You likely will learn why the trail is called "The Mist Trail" on your way down. The rock stairs can be a bit slippery when wet, so be careful. From the top you can take a water break and creep to the edge (don't worry, there are rails) to look straight down at the river below. To see Vernal Fall at its fullest, visit around May or June when the snow is mostly melted and the upper lakes are at their fullest.
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Vernal Fall Footbridge

With about 0.8 miles left to go you will walk across the Merced River on a wooden bridge, with views of Vernal Fall in the distance. There is a restroom and water fountains here as well.
Junction
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Happy Isles Trailhead

At the end of your journey you will arrive at the Happy Isles Trailhead where you can catch the free Yosemite Shuttle (this is stop #16) to anywhere in the valley. Before you get on the shuttle, head over to the refreshment stand for a cold drink or some ice cream, you deserve it!
Restroom
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Restrooms

There are several restrooms around the Glacier Point parking lot. Plan ahead, because the next restroom (other than the woods) isn't until the top of Nevada Fall, about 5 miles into your hike.
Pictures in this guide taken by: chris, jasonchiu
Reviews
inqueba
had wonderful experience

by inqueba on Jul 17, 2014
hairtransplant
had a lifetime experience...

by hairtransplant on Jul 17, 2014
tmacasek
What an unforgettable hike! We were lucky enough to do this in early May due to the low snowfall this year. Great views all around, I high recommend pairing this with the 4 Mile Trail if you have the energy. The reward is at the top with Glacier Point showing off 270 degrees of awesomeness!
Visited on May 07, 2014

by tmacasek on May 19, 2014

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About the Author

chris
chris
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When I'm not spending all of my work time and free time working on cool new products for EveryTrail,...

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