Do you have one track that you never able to complete? Always something happens. Weather, timing, closures… For me its four mile trail that starts from Yosemite Valley and slowly climbs up to Glacier Point. On our first visit, it was so hot so after a mile of the hike, my not trained body gave up. Then we tried it few years ago in early April. It was a snowy year, and upper section of the trail was closed. And this year we final did it.
I had a grand plan in my mind. Not just finally complete Four Mile but hike the southern valley ridge to the Vernal Falls. Disclaimer, my initial plan was less ambitious. I wanted to return to the valley via bus from Glacier Point. I didn’t know that there is no shuttle from Glacier to Valley. However there is a bus. And what was my surprise when I realized that all buses for summer weekends are fully booked. That’s how idea of this hike appeared.
The plan was the following: we will start early morning from Four Mile Trailhead, will reach Glacier Point and have a snack there. From Glacier Point, we will continue via Panorama Trail to Mist Trail. And by Mist Trail we will descend to the valley, take a shuttle to Sentenial Bridge stop and walk to the parked car. Easy? Well, based on the plan, it was more than 14 miles total. Nevertheless we decided to try.
Segment 1: Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point
We waked at our hotel in Mariposa before 5 am. Got breakfast at an only opened place in town at 6 am, Burger King, and just after 7 am parked our car at the trailhead. There were few other cars already, but except them, it felt peaceful and quiet.
Four Mile trail is challenging. The first mile and the half are the hardest for me. However as soon as we get to the section with views, the trail fells easier. I’m not sure if it’s me or the trail by itself.
I love this trail because of its views. At first, you see Yosemite Falls, then the western part of the valley. And when you almost reached Union Point you start to see Half Dome.
The last time we hiked there, we almost reached Union Point. The further trail was closed because of snow. This time we were able to walk past the gate.
If you reached Union Point it means you hiked two third of the trail. The main trail continues up, but don’t miss the views from the point itself (see two first photos below).
From that place, the trail continues in a series of switchbacks, but they are not the same hard as switchbacks on the lower part.
For me Glacier Point is the most beautiful place in the park. It stuns you with its view. Half Dome majestically stands in the middle of this view as an epic cathedral of nature. Nothing could beat it.
Basically, it’s a photographer’s paradise.
Before you start to read the next paragraph, I would say, the hike that we did that day was tough: elevation change, switchbacks, and uphill paths, hot summer sun, and of course, the length of the hike. We trained ourself before doing it. Five years after our first unsuccessful Yosemite hike, we became more strong and prepared for mountain trails. Also we’re hiking regulary just to keep our bodies ready for such challenges.
So if you reached the Glacier Point, and you have any doubts on what to do next: return down to the trailhead.
Or if you are a smart one, book a bus tour from Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley.
Or if you have two cars, park one on the top and one in the valley, so you’ll be able to drive back.
Segment 2: Panorama Trail
First of all, do not believe that this trail is moderate. Or that it’s only downhill from Glacier Point.
The trail has different sections: at first, you hike downhill, and when you think you are still fresh, it challenges you with some uphill hike.
Second, this section is also very long. You will need to have the energy to hike.
Third, it’s almost always exposed. Prepare water, sunscreen and hats. Don’t play with nature and the sun.
The trail is beautiful!
First mile, you’re enjoying Half Dome. With each step, you got the view of the unusual, back side of the rock. And then, you see panoramic view of both Vernal and Nevada Falls.
The trail goes downhill until reaches Illilouette Fall. It’s probably the only trail in the park that leads to this waterfall. The sad part, you could see only the top section of the falls. Be careful here. We saw some people going close to the edge to check the falls, but the ground there is unstable, and you could easily slip on the small pebbles and sand that cover the side.
From the falls, the trail leads further down to the creek crossing and then starts an uphill climb until it reaches the junction with John Muir and Mist trails. Again I suggest you to sit a bit near the creak to understand you own capability to proceed the hike.
Segment 3: Mist Trail
We never hiked Mist Trail, and I got tons of recommendations to do it. Also, I saw stunning photos of the falls from it, and that’s was the final reason to decide to take Mist Trail down to the Valley.
My opinion after the hike? You should not do it. At least not on the weekend, or during the summer. There is nice and less advertised John Muir trail with almost the same beautiful views. Yes, it’s longer, but I think this additional mile downhill will be worth it (see trails comparison here).
Both trails start at the top of Nevada Falls. There is an overlook on the east side of the falls, and I suggest to visit it.
The overlook has the view down to the base of the falls. From here, you could see tourists that look like ants that walking stairs along the falls. If you see too many ants, take John Muir Trail for your own nerves and safety.
Also from here you could see the rainbow above the mist from the falls. And it’s a special view!
We followed our plan and took stairs of Mist trail down to the Valley. Stairs along Nevada Falls were busy but a nice view of the waterfall got most of our attention, so it was a good walk.
When stairs reached the top of Vernal Falls, number of tourists grew exponensially. Yes, it was the middle of the July Saturday, but even that didn’t prepare me for what we saw further.
The trail proceeds down as the stairs, the views are stunning. Vernal Falls are one of my favorites in the park. However, it didn’t felt like a hike. We slowly moved on the wet stairs tightly surrounded by the crowd. In most of the places, stairs are narrow, wide enough for one uphill and one downhill hiker. It’s almost impossible to pass which didn’t stop some hikers.
If you decided to hike down via Mist trail be careful, watch your kids, cameras and yourself. Try not to slip (because they are slippery), and not to be pushed by the tourists in a hurry.
And forgive me for my grumble. I enjoyed the scenery but the distractions screwed up the mood.
I suggest you not to walk this trail in the middle of the day. Take a nap near Illilouette falls or near the creak, wait till the dinner time (the majority of the tourists will think where to find food) and only then take the stairs.
Or, start with Mist Trail in the morning and return via Four Mile.
This combination of hikes displays the beauty of the Yosemite from the southern side of the mountain wall above the Valley.
Now I’m thinking on the opposite side hike 🙂 or even Yosemite Grand Tour 🙂
Links and Info
- Before hiking, always check trails condition. Here is park’s trails page.
- Four Mile Trail on alltrails.com
- Panorama Trail on alltrails.com
- Mist Trail on alltrails.com
- Four Mile Trailhead on Google Maps
- The map and info about Yosemite Valley shuttle. Shuttle runs from 7 am to 10 pm
- If you want to book bus from (or to) Glacier Point check this page. If you planning to visit in summer, book well in advance.