The Best Day Hike in Yosemite: The Four Mile Trail + Panorama Trail

Apr 1, 2020

Heading to Yosemite? We’re sharing everything you need to know about the Four Mile trail and Panorama trail, which when combined together, make for the best day hike in Yosemite! Ready to hike? Keep on reading!

A few summers ago we visited Yosemite National Park for the first time and even years later, it is still one of our favorite places we have ever been! We will never forget the moment we entered the park for the first time, very early in the morning, and exited a tunnel to the most EPIC sunrise and view of the Yosemite Valley (at the Tunnel View viewpoint). We couldn’t stop gasping at how beautiful it was!

We spent a total of two days at Yosemite National Park and saw quite a bit of what the park had to offer, but hands down our favorite thing we did during the trip was hiking the Four Mile trail + Panorama trail. This trail combination definitely makes for a very long day hike, but man, it’s soooo worth it! You get to see so many iconic sights in the park, like El Capitan, Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls, Yosemite Falls, as well as some lesser known gems. 

And the best part? Despite visiting during the busy season (early August), the majority of the hike was pretty empty, which is a huge win! 

If you want to experience the best day hike in Yosemite (in our opinion), the Four Mile trail and Panorama trail, we’re sharing everything you need to know before, during, and after the hike!

Want to explore more National Parks? Check out our National Park guides!

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About the Four Mile Trail + Panorama Trail

When hiking the Four Mile trail and Panorama trail, you actually have two different options:

  • Four Mile trail to Glacier Point + Panorama trail to the Yosemite Valley floor (via the Mist Trail)
  • Four Mile trail to Glacier Point + Panorama trail to the Yosemite Valley floor (via the John Muir Trail)

For this guide, we will be covering this trail combination: Four Mile trail to Glacier Point + Panorama trail to the Yosemite Valley floor (via the Mist Trail). We are going to suggest starting with the Four Mile trail and ending at the Mist trail, but you could also do this hike in reverse.

Another important thing to note about this hike is that you can do just the Four Mile trail OR Panorama Trail by themselves. You do not have to combine them, but we highly recommend it! 

We’re sharing stats for the individual trails, as well as the trails combined, below so you can decide what you feel the most comfortable with. We are also going to break down this guide by sections of the hike (see map above), so that no matter which option you pick, you know exactly where to start and end, how to get around, and more!

Four Mile trail stats

For the Four Mile trail, you’re starting on the Yosemite Valley floor, so it’s all uphill to Glacier Point.

  • Miles: 4.8 miles (one way)
  • Elevation gain: 3,200 ft
  • Time: 3-4 hours 

Panorama trail stats

For the Panorama trail, you’re starting at Glacier Point, so it’s mostly a downhill trek back down to the Yosemite Valley floor (via the Mist trail).

  • Miles: 8.5 miles (one way), including the Mist trail portion
  • Elevation loss: 3,200 ft (since you start at Glacier Point)
  • Time: 6-8 hours 

When you combine the Four Mile trail and Panorama trail, it makes the hike a total of 13.3 miles and between 9-12 hours, so start very early! The great thing about the trail is that the hardest, uphill part of the trail is first, so once you reach Glacier Point, it’s a much easier trek down, although a bit long. 🙂

When to hike the Four Mile trail and Panorama Trail

Yosemite National Park

While Yosemite National Park is open year round, to have the best hiking conditions, we’d suggest hiking the Four Mile trail and Panorama trail in late Spring or early Summer. The snow on the trail should be melted and the waterfalls will have the most water flowing.

We hiked the Four Mile trail and Panorama trail on August 6th and the weather was perfect (minus quite a bit of wildfire haze, something that is common in the summer) and the waterfalls were raging! However, we had seen photos from previous summers where there was less waterfall flow. To prepare yourself for how much or little water there will be during your trip, we recommend creeping on Instagram and AllTrails beforehand to see up to date trail photos.

Getting to and from the Four Mile trail and Panorama Trail

Depending on if you plan to do both the Four Mile trail and Panorama trail, or just do the Panorama trail, where you start and how you get there will vary. 

One of the things we love about the National Parks is that they have a free shuttle system! This makes it much easier to get around without the hassle of parking at every place you want to visit. The Yosemite Valley Shuttle System runs year round from 7 AM-10 PM (every 20-30 minutes), with many stops along the valley. We will reference the stops below so you know where to get on and off!

Starting at the Four Mile trailhead:

There are a few areas you could park if you start at the Four Mile trailhead. We parked along Southside Drive (arrive early to snag a spot!), which is right by the trailhead. However, the shuttle after the hike will not take you back to this area—you will have to get off at stop #7 or #8 and walk a little under a mile to your car. If you don’t mind a little extra walking at the end of your hike, this is a great spot to park.

You could instead park at the Yosemite Falls trailhead (Lodge Day-use parking on the map, by stop #7) and walk to the trailhead, which is a little less than a mile. The shuttle would drop you off right by your car at the end of the day, saving you from having to walk more after a long day of hiking.

One important thing to note is that there are no restrooms at the Four Mile trailhead. There are some toilets by the Swinging Bridge picnic area and also at Glacier Point. 

Starting at Glacier Point:

If you want to skip the Four Mile trail portion of the hike, you will want to start at Glacier Point. To get to Glacier Point, you’ll need to take the paid Glacier Point shuttle. This shuttle will pick you up at 8:30 AM by the Yosemite Valley Lodge and shuttle you up to Glacier Point. This ride will take about one hour and costs $28.50 per adult. We highly recommend getting your tickets in advance.

While technically you can drive up to Glacier Point and park there, we would not recommend doing this, as you’ll have to be back to Yosemite Valley before 1:30 PM to catch the last shuttle back up to Glacier Point to get your car. 

Very Important Note: Glacier Point Road will be closed to all traffic in 2021 to rehabilitate and improve the road. The only access to Glacier Point will be via the Four Mile and Panorama Trails. If you want to hike the Panorama Trail in 2021, you will have to hike the Four Mile trail as well. 

Ending at the Happy Isles Trailhead:

Regardless of where you start, your journey on the Panorama trail will end at the Happy Isles Trailhead, which is right by stop #16 on the Yosemite Valley shuttle. After the hike, just walk over to the shuttle stop and wait for a shuttle to take you back to your car (or close to your car).

Warning: during our trip, we waited a very long time for the shuttle. We aren’t sure if there was a shuttle delay or what happened, but we waited in quite a long line to finally catch a shuttle back.

Highlights of the Four Mile Trail and Panorama Trail

Four Mile Trail (Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point)

The Four Mile trail begins near the base of Sentinel Rock and climbs up to Glacier Point. During the uphill trek, which to be honest, is a bit challenging, you have incredible views of El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, and Yosemite Falls. And then right before you reach Glacier Point, Half Dome suddenly appears, which is the BEST hiking reward ever!

While we loved the views from this hike, what we especially loved was how few people we saw. We started the hike right after sunrise, which was around 6 AM during our trip, so we likely hit the trail close to 7 AM. The early start was a bit tough, but it was well worth it because we maybe saw 3 people on the way up, which is a stark contrast to the hundreds you’ll see when you get to Glacier Point.

Glacier Point 

Despite the crazy crowds at Glacier Point, the views at Glacier Point are UNREAL! Even with the wildfire smoke that was present, making the sky a bit hazy, the view of Half Dome from Glacier Point is absolutely jaw dropping.

At Glacier Point, there is a snack stand, gift shop, and restrooms. So if you need to grab some additional snacks or water, this will be your last chance to do so.

We spent probably an hour here taking a million photos and resting a bit before continuing onto the Panorama trail.

Panorama Trail (Glacier Point to Mist Trail)

Once you leave Glacier Point, the crowds immediately disappear again. While we saw more people during the Panorama trail portion of our day than the Four Mile trail, it was still very little compared to Glacier Point (and the waterfalls…which we will share more about in a minute!).

The Panorama trail is very exposed, which means you get incredible views the entire time, similar to the Four Mile trail. Prepare to “ooo” and “ahhh” nonstop!

About 2.5 miles into the Panorama trail you’ll reach Illilouette Falls. You get a view of the falls from the trail before eventually crossing a bridge over the Illilouette Creek. There is a great area along the creek with areas to sit and enjoy a picnic lunch!

After Illilouette Falls, you’ll continue on the Panorama Trail towards the Mist Trail. On the way, there is a Panorama Point, which is an unmarked path on your left about half a mile after the Illilouette Creek bridge. 

This viewpoint used to have guardrails, but in 1977, part of the point broke off and fell to the valley floor. The NPS eventually removed the guardrails, which were hanging over the valley. While there haven’t been any major rockfalls in this spot since, it’s something to keep in mind. (This is our kind way of saying “don’t get too close to the edge!”…we sound like my mom now!) 

After a few more miles on the trail, you’ll intersect with the John Muir Trail. Keep right here, which will take you to the Mist trail and Nevada Falls. You will reach the top of Nevada Falls shortly and there are quite a few spots to sit down and take a break, while admiring the rushing water plunge over the edge.

This is when the hike starts to get super busy again, so enjoy your last few moments of solitude! 

Panorama Trail (Mist Trail to Yosemite Valley)

After crossing over Nevada Falls, continue on the Mist trail, which will take you on the side of Nevada Falls and then to Vernal Falls. When you reach Vernal Falls you’ll understand why the trail is called the Mist trail. We got completely soaked by all of the mist from Vernal Falls…it was so fun and very refreshing! 

There are tons of stairs to hike down on the Mist trail, so if stairs are hard on you, you can take the John Muir trail instead (you will need to take the left before Nevada Falls like we mentioned earlier). These stairs are also very wet and slippery, so be careful!

The Mist trail eventually meets back up with the John Muir trail right before the Vernal Falls bridge, signaling almost the end of the hike. 

Once you reach the Happy Isles trailhead, you’re officially done! Then it’s time to take the shuttle and dream about all of the delicious food you will enjoy to reward yourself—you deserve it after all! 

Packing List for the Four Mile trail and Panorama trail

Curious what all you need to bring with you on your day hike at Yosemite? Here’s a list of some must-have items!

Note: Always bring the ten essentials with you! While hopefully you’ll never need to use some of the items, it’s better to be safe than sorry! Some of the items listed below are also on the ten essentials list, but we wanted to extra emphasize them 🙂

Hiking boots

Since this is a very long hike, we highly suggest wearing comfortable hiking boots or shoes! Not only will your feet be more comfortable, but you’ll have better grip on the trail. Adam loves his Altra Superior 4 Trail Runners and I love my Lowa Renegade GTX Boots.

Rain jacket

While the weather may be beautiful when you go, we have learned our lesson to never hike without a rain jacket. We have had many situations where it randomly rained and we got soaked! You may also want a rain jacket for the Mist trail 🙂 We both have Columbia rain jackets, which have held up very well on many rainy hikes in the PNW and beyond!

Camelbak Bladder

We have a 3L Camelbak bladder that we use to carry all of our water when hiking and it’s a lifesaver! It’s a lot of water, so it weighs a tiny bit more, but we have never run out during a hike. And it fits in our backpacks so we can easily carry it and drink from it while moving!

Sun Protection

Hopefully you’ll hike the Four Mile trail and Panorama trail on a sunny day and if you do, you’ll definitely need some sun protection! The trail has a lot of exposed areas, so getting a sunburn is very likely.

We’d highly suggest bringing sunglasses or a hat is also helpful to protect you from the sun. And, of course, sunscreen!

Camera Gear

There is a very good chance you’ll take over 100 photos during your time on the Four Mile trail and Panorama trail. The photos we took during these hikes are still some of our favorite photos we have ever taken.

While cell phone cameras have come a long way, we love using an actual camera to capture our travels. We have two cameras we use: a Nikon D750 (for photos only) and a Sony A6500 (for vlogging and some photos).

We really love the Sony A6500 because it’s mirrorless, which means it is a lot smaller and lighter than our Nikon, while still taking great photos! We have two lenses for our Sony A6500, but for Yosemite, the 18-105mm lens would give you the ability to get farther away and pretty close up shots! A tripod would also be handy so you can get photos without having to find someone to take it for you.

See all of our camera gear here!

Layers

Depending on when you visit Yosemite National Park, the mornings (or entire day!) could be a bit chilly. Make sure to pack layers so you can ensure you’re comfortable the whole day!

Snacks

There’s nothing worse than being hangry while hiking all day long. We always try to pack as many snacks as possible, especially because in the rare chance you get lost, you’d want to make sure you had enough food to hold you over.

Some of our favorite hiking snacks are Wild Zora meat & veggie bars (Mediterranean Lamb is our fav!), Larabars, Oatmega bars, trail mix (with chocolate of course!), and veggies for some healthiness. 

AllTrails App

We discovered the AllTrails app last summer and it’s a game changer! You’re able to track your progress along the trail, which is very helpful if you hit a fork in the trail or if you just want to see how long you have left.

We’d recommend paying for the AllTrails Pro app ($30/year) to have guaranteed offline map access, off-route notifications, and family and friend notifications.

Trash bag 

There is nowhere to throw away trash along the trail, except for Glacier Point, so we suggest bringing a small trash bag so you can follow the Leave No Trace principles and pack out any of your trash. 

Binoculars 

While not necessary, binoculars would be a great item to have to watch rock climbers, see people climbing to the top of Half Dome, and to see wildlife from afar!

Sidenote: Bears at Yosemite

One thing that is very good to know about Yosemite is that there are black bears. We didn’t see any, but it’s not uncommon to spot a bear in the park. Despite this, bear spray is not allowed, so please do not bring it with you! We’d highly recommend reading Yosemite’s advice on what to do if you see a bear beforehand.  

Where to Stay in Yosemite

Looking for a place to stay before or after your Yosemite adventure? There are a few areas you can stay that are convenient to the park: 

  1. Inside the park
  2. Mariposa, California, which is 1 hour, 15 minutes to Yosemite Valley
  3. Oakhurst, California, which is 1.5 hours to Yosemite Valley

When we visited, we stayed at the White Sage Cottage in Oakhurst, which was a great VRBO with such a thoughtful host. The drive into the park wasn’t bad either! 

Here are some options to check out, ranging from Airbnbs, to hotels, to campsites!

Airbnbs

Yosemite Airbnb

We’d recommend an Airbnb if you want to have a kitchen to cook meals and a little bit more space to spread out!

  • Option #1: A super cute tiny house in Oakhurst!
  • Option #2: A 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house in Oakhurst with a hot tub! (You can also rent just part of the house!)
  • Option #3: An adorable 1 bedroom (but 3 beds total), 1 bath house in Mariposa
  • Option #4: A nice studio in Mariposa
  • Option #5: A 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with an amazing patio in Mariposa
  • Option #6: A charming 2 bedroom, 1 bath cottage in Mariposa

PS: If it is your first time staying at an Airbnb, click this link to get $40 off your first stay!

Hotels and Lodges

Yosemite hotel

If being right in the park (or very close) is your top priority, a hotel is your best bet!

Camping + Glamping

Want a true nature experience at Yosemite? Go camping (or glamping)! Yosemite National Park has 13 campgrounds, some of which are reservable, while others are first come, first served. Reservations can be hard to get, especially during the months of May-September. They usually fill up the first day they become available, sometimes within seconds or minutes after 7 AM PT! 

Campground reservations open up for one month at a time, 4-5 months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 AM PT. That sounds very confusing, so here is a nifty chart!

For your best chance of getting a reservation, start the first few steps of the reservation process before 7 AM PT. If you plan to do a first come, first served spot, those also fill up fast, so arrive early!

Campgrounds near Yosemite Valley

Glamping near Yosemite Valley

Ready to hike the best day hike in Yosemite?

Pin this Four Mile trail and Panorama Trail guide to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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