Yosemite National Park, with its iconic granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and towering sequoias, is a haven for nature enthusiasts and avid hikers. For those seeking a memorable day of exploration without the constraints of obtaining a hiking permit, you’ll love hiking the Four Mile Trail to Panorama Trail to Mist Trail in Yosemite that takes you to incredible views of Half Dome and past roaring waterfalls.
This hike is strenuous, long, hard, and absolutely the most “bang-for-your-buck”, all-inclusive hike in Yosemite that doesn’t require a hiking permit.
In this 12 mile hike you’ll see Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, Vernal Falls, and Nevada Falls from multiple angles.
Starting Trailhead: Four Mile Trailhead
You can easily hike this in the opposite direction however, I wouldn’t recommend it.
How To Shuttle This Hike
This is a through hike so if the shuttle isn’t running and you don’t have someone to drive you back to the starting point then it cannot be hiked in one day. One option, though, would be to bring bikes, park your car at the start of the Mist Trail, and ride your bike to the start of the Four Mile Trail. Then you could drive back to the start of the Four Mile trail to pick up your pick at the end of the day (don’t forget a bike lock).
The hike is best when the falls are running so spring or early summer is best. You can check the water levels here.
So here’s the dirt.
Part 1: Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point
4.8 miles, 1:45 hrs
Start the hike from the Four Mile Trailhead. This is probably the most strenuous section of the whole hike. It’s a steep 4.8 miles that gains over 3000 feet.
The Four Mile Trail gives you amazing views of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. You’ll catch yourself taking a picture of the falls at every switchback because the view continuously improves as you get higher.
At the 3-mile mark, you’ll reach signposts where you’ll split left. It’s about an hour and a half to this signpost and less than an hour further to Glacier Point.
After 4.8 miles you’ll reach Glacier Point. Hike the small .2-mile loop to the lookout point and have a snack. You’ll be astonished by the iconic views of Half Dome, Nevada Falls, and Yosemite Falls.
Soak in every precious view and savor the resting point, you’re only 1/3 of the way through the hike. Here you can refill your water bottles and use the bathroom.
Tip: If you don’t want to carry all your water, there are water fountains at Glacier Point (mile 5) and at the bottom of Vernal Falls (mile 12). Since we were hiking it in early summer and there were a lot of small tributaries of waterfalls on the trail we were able to refill our water bottles often at with this water filter.
Part 2: Glacier Point to Illilouette Falls via Panorama Trail
2 miles, 1:15 hrs
Now you’ll begin the downhill section of the Panorama Trail to Illilouette Falls/Creek. This 2-mile section is slightly downhill so your legs will get a break.
This section is also one of the best on the hike, athough all the sections are stunning, and you’ll understand e why it’s called Panorama Trail. When you hike this section because the view combines Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, Nevada Falls, and Vernal Falls.
Don’t let the grandiose views to your left deter you from taking in the subtly beautiful views on your right.
After a bit more than an hour, you’ll reach the significantly less crowded and equally beautiful waterfall, Illilouette Falls. Take a break here because the next section is a tough uphill again but save your snack for the next section.
Part 3: Illilouette Falls to Nevada Falls via Panorama Trail
3.2 miles, 1:30 hrs.
After you pass Illilouette Falls, you’ll climb the least amazing section—but that’s like saying Florence isn’t pretty compared to Paris, it’s still gorgeous!— for 3.2 miles.
From this direction, you won’t get any more views of Half Dome but you will see a dramatic thumb-shaped rock, that seems to be molded out of Play-Doh, as well as Yosemite’s valley floor.
This section takes nearly two hours upon which you’ll reach the top of Nevada Falls.
About fifteen minutes before you reach Nevada Falls there is a large flat rock expanse you walk through. This is a better spot than Nevad Falls to take a rest, grab a snack and hydrate.
Part 4: Nevada Falls to Vernal Falls via Mist Trail
1.8 miles, 45 min
This is where you start the Mist Trail.
Cross the river, head right, and descend the polished stone steps. Going down the steps you’ll get up close and personal with Nevada Falls.
Never in my life have I seen so much water in a waterfall! Tons and tons of gallons of water pour off the cliff’s edge in sheets at speeds so fast that all of the water is whitewashed.
I’ve seen waterfalls in many countries throughout our travel yet nothing I’ve seen comes close to matching the power of Yosemite’s waterfalls.
It’s called the Mist Trail for a reason. After you finish descending the stairs, prepare to get wet.
The waterfall comes down with so much power that you get soaked head to toe while walking a mile of it. This section is 1.8 miles, less than an hour, half of it being hiked wet, until you finally reach Vernal Falls.
Part 5: Vernal Falls to Yosemite Valley via Mist Trail then John Muir Trail
1.5 miles, 1:00
Optional: Vernal Falls to Yosemite Valley via John Muir Trail- 2.7 miles, 1:15 hours
This last section is by far the most fun, but also the most crowded. If you’ve been to Zion National Park and hiked Angel’s Landing, imagine the crowds there, now add water.
Start this section at the stairs with a handrail. If you are too intimated looking down at the trail, then you can choose to take the wide and dry John Muir trail down.
It’s longer and not nearly as fun as the Mist Trail, but if you don’t feel comfortable, don’t take the risk on this slippery trail.
After the stairs, you’ll start getting wet, although it’s more like sitting in the splash zone at a Sea World Shamu show. You’ll also get your first view of Vernal Falls against the bright green plants, and if you’re lucky, you’ll also see a natural kaleidoscope rainbow or two.
Don’t try to pass people and hurt someone, enjoy the views, get wet, and be patient.
Normally the stairs aren’t all wet, but as I’m hiking it on an extremely wet year, the stairs were more like a waterfall in itself. The plants you walked along make you question if you’re in the tropics. The trail is misty and wet for about half a mile and it takes close to 30 minutes to descend the most amazing section. After passing that section, it’s another mile down a steep paved trail to Yosemite Valley.
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