Hike the Panorama Trail in Yosemite National Park: Cross-Training

Looking forward to spring trip planning? Look no further than Yosemite National Park. Sometimes as a cyclist it is important to change things up and try something new. Taking a break from using the same muscles over and over again can be a healthy and positive thing. Personally, I find hiking a great alternative exercise, and a great workout. It is a unique form of cross-training that can bring you places your bike can’t take you, and provide a different perspective on nature.

If you are looking for a substantial day-hike of 4 to 6 hours, you would like to see a variety of stunning Yosemite National Park scenery, and you are in the mood for a cross-training day, then the Panorama trail may be just what you need. Yosemite has classic vistas, mountains and waterfalls galore, and to top it off endless elevation gains and drops to give you a solid workout.

The hike details:

  • DISTANCE: About 8 miles from Glacier Point to the Valley
  • ELEVATION GAIN: 1500 feet (deceiving because there is a lot of tricky downhill)
  • DURATION: 4-6 hours depending on fitness and breaks
  • DIFFICULTY: Moderate
  • FUN LEVEL: High

Glacier Point:

We ventured towards the starting point of the hike, driving down the long Glacier point road, towards the infamous Washburn point, and Glacier point lookouts. These are both fantastic, and the scenery is almost indescribable. If you are not in the mood to hike, simply perch here and snap some photos or take in the unique awe-inspiring beauty that is Yosemite. The mountains surround you for almost 270 degrees, and were carved out over time by a massive glacier. There are waterfalls that drop through the mountains like they were painted there by an artist’s brush.

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Taking in the beauty at Glacier Point

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After you have absorbed this, which may take some time, head towards the trailhead at Glacier point for the Panorama trail. There will be signs, saying 8 miles to Yosemite Valley. If you want to hike it one way (what I did) you will need a ride at the other end. Otherwise you can hike to Nevada fall, and then turn around and head back the way you came.

Departure from Glacier Point:

This hike truly fits the description, and is probably one of the most scenic hikes I have ever done. The first portion brings you through a badly burned section, where you descend through sparse trees with views of half dome changing as you go. You will eventually reach Illilouette falls, which is a tucked away waterfall, and quite pretty.

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Descending slowly
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Glimpsing Illilouette Falls from the trail

From here, you continue up an ascent of about 1000 feet. You will switchback for a while, and get a workout. Along this section, don’t forget to stop at Panorama point. This is another stunning vista, and you will stand right on a cliff while you look onto the towering mountains and their unique shapes. Be careful not to get too close to the edge! It truly is a cliff. You will see a trail to your left leading to Panorama point, but there is no sign. After this break, you will eventually be descending again, towards Nevada fall. You will have closer and closer views of half dome, as you descend along a shaded section of trail.

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View of Half Dome from the trail

Nevada Fall:

Eventually you will reach Nevada Fall. This waterfall, if flowing, is truly astonishing. I am not normally stunned by waterfalls, but this one is truly unique and amazing. The water is white and crashes down the granite cliff, almost ferociously. It was one of my favourite sights on the hike. I didn’t want to leave it.

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You can head right towards the top of the fall, where you will climb up some more, or turn left to branch onto the John Muir trail. Β I skipped the hike up to the top of the fall, and went left on the John Muir trail. This is the connector trail to head down towards Yosemite valley. The views are worth it here, as you will look back at the stunning Nevada fall, cascading down the rock.

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View of Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail

 

Final Stretch:

The trail descends very steeply from here back to the valley. It will be tough on your legs, but the end will be near. I was so overwhelmed by the scenery on this hike, to be honest, that I didn’t even feel the effects of descending on my stabilizer muscles until the very end of the hike. If you do hike the trail in the direction I described, there is a lot of downhill, and it can be a bit intense after a while. Some hiking experience is recommended. If you are getting a ride to pick you up in the Valley, make sure you plan a meeting spot, as the parking and crowds can be chaotic. Cars are not able to drive right into the area where the trailheads begin. You can take a shuttle back to the Parking lots in the Valley quite easily. We were staying at the Big Trees Lodge, about a 45 minute drive from Glacier Point. It is a beautiful and secluded lodge, and a true gem if you choose not to camp while in Yosemite.

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Conclusion:

One of the most scenic hikes I have done, and a good workout. Absolutely recommended if you plan to visit Yosemite National Park.

Happy Hiking!

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