Y osemite is one of those places that you read about in geography and instantly decide that it is a must visit location.
When Yosemite became one of the stops of a statewide summer road trip across California, I was ecstatic (to say the least). We would only have one day in the park so we had to decide on a hike that would offer the most bang for our buck. Through our research we decided on The Panorama Trail; a near 10 mile hike from Glacier Point that snakes through the valley, down The Mist Trail, ending in Curry Village that offers vista views of different falls and the iconic Half Dome and El Capitan.
We would drop 3,200 feet on this journey until we reached the finish. We bought one way tickets to Glacier Point from the Yosemite Lodge tour bus that departed from none other than, you guessed it, the Yosemite Valley Lodge. We would hike back to the valley from where the bus stopped.
The views over the valley from Glacier Point is absolutely breathtaking. Almost unreal. In one sweeping view it seems as if you can see nothing but towering granite domes and ranges for miles. It is really a spectacular sight. We stopped for a while at the top and took in the outstanding view from Glacier Point in all its glory and took a few photos.
Shortly thereafter we got started on the trail to ensure that we would make it to the bottom before the sunset. The trail started off with a good amount of elevation loss. There were a series of switchbacks with occasional tree cover before the terrain started to flatten out leading to a ridge.
The views that you see along the switchbacks were hands down the best views we would see on the trail. It was hard to focus on the trail when there is an unbelievable view of Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and Vernal and Nevada Falls at every turn. We stopped for lunch and for a break approximately 3 miles along the hike at the then pretty dry Illilouette Creek at the top of Illilouette Fall.
The trail then begins to climb again gaining around 700 feet in a mile and half span. The wildlife that we saw along this stretch would turn out to be quite the surprise. We were walking along having casual conversation with one another when the friend that I was hiking with stopped cold in his tracks causing us to do the same.
He pointed out a rattlesnake, which had to be around three to four in length crossing the path of the trail a couple yards ahead. Slightly taken by surprise, we let the rattlesnake pass and ensured that we were clear of any eminent threats before proceeding.
It’s safe to say our guards were a little increased at this point. But it didn’t stop there. It wasn’t even 10 minutes until a couple on the trail stopped us warning us that they had just spotted a bear just ahead. We made a group with the couple to continue on and when we went around a corner, there was surely a brown bear meandering through the woods. We cautiously passed assuring that we kept our distance and passed the bear without any problems.
Our next stop was at Nevada Falls. Being mid-August, there was not much flow from the falls in general but they were still a beautiful sight to admire. Sitting at the top of the fall and watching the water fall hundreds of feet below has to be one of the coolest and most relaxing experiences of the trail.
Near Nevada Falls, there is a choice to take the Muir Trail or the Mist Trail. Mist Trail is the more popular and scenic route but it is also longer and more difficult than the Muir Trail. Since we wanted to get as much scenery as possible we chose to do the Mist Trail.
From here on, the trail became exponentially more difficult. The section of the Mist Trail near Nevada/Vernal Falls is made of uneven and loose rock stairs with steep declines. It is also very narrow and there are hikers going in opposite directions so a little maneuvering is required to make it through. At this point in the season, there wasn’t much mist from the falls so the rocks were fairly dry.
Essentially from here on, the trail is completely downhill all the way to Curry Village. I would be lying if I said that the trail didn’t become a little strenuous until we would reach our destination. All the while however, we were surrounded by amazing views of the adjacent falls which lead to a thick forest to the path at the base of Vernal Fall.
The last mile or so of the trail is paved but features views of Yosemite Fall along with an uphill portion that continues to descend until you reach the bottom of the valley where shuttle stops await to make the return to Yosemite Valley Lodge.
The Panorama Trail via the Mist Trail is surely no slouch. It is a fairly lengthy route that takes no excuses but rewards you with views like no other. Making it to the bottom is surely one of the most satisfying things that I have done. It would be even more satisfying if I had traversed the trail as an out and back. The reward of Glacier Point being your destination has to be incredible.
It is not surprising why this is one of the most popular hikes in the park considering all of the diverse scenery (and wildlife) that you will encounter. If you are physically fit, I would not hesitate to recommend giving this great trail a try.
Yosemite National Park is and will forever be one of the most beautiful places that I have ever had the privilege of visiting.