California Road Trip Day 3: September 30, 2016
On our 3rd day in Yosemite we hit the trails for a long day of trail running/hiking. I did a LOT of research on different trails and hiking routes in preparation for this trip, since I knew we would have to narrow it down to a few routes. I settled on two long (15+ mile) days, one being Half Dome if we won the lottery (spoiler alert – we DID!) and the other a route up the 4 Mile Trail to Glacier Point, returning on the Panorama Trail.
We started our hike up, up, up the 4 mile trail. Which, by the way, is not 4 miles. I’ve seen it listed anywhere from 4.6-4.8 miles. Something to keep in mind before you start your hike.
The trail starts out as… well… not dirt. Which took me by surprise. It’s actually paved for a good portion, with some broken up paved areas combined with dirt, and areas of natural rock steps and footing as well.
The trail climbs up, up, up in a series of switchbacks. Don’t forget to stop and take in the views along the way! There are some great views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls (FYI -if you are a waterfall lover, go in the Spring or early Summer. The falls were little more than a trickle, or dry, when we were there).
Eventually the trail tops out at Glacier Point, an INCREDIBLY scenic vista overlooking the granite peaks that Yosemite is known for. Keep in mind – there is also a road that leads up to Glacier Point, so it is likely to be a bit crowded up there. There is a parking lot full of drive-up tourists, bathrooms, and a little store where you can get snacks (I think they had sandwiches too). If you’re a wilderness loner who doesn’t like sharing their view with others, this probably ain’t the place for you. We took full advantage and grabbed ourselves a Chipwich and a coke (much to the dismay of the nice guy at the register who told us how fit we looked and asked why we were poisoning our bodies – look dude, I like a little junk food sometimes. don’t judge) and settled in to take in the views.
After gawking at the views, refueling on ice cream sandwiches and filling up our water we headed on to the Panorama trail. This section is around 8.5 miles and is a rolling, winding, FUN section of trail that is mostly downhill, heading back toward Yosemite Valley. We ran a good portion of this, pausing frequently to take in the sights. They don’t call it the Panorama trail for nothing, that’s for sure! This was a “real” (read: not paved) trail, but not technical by any means (certainly not by our rock-studded New England standards).
The trail cruised down through fun, flowy switchbacks, past stunning views of an expanse of granite with Half Dome jutting up in the midst and rolling downward over Illilouette Creek and Illilouette Falls.
The Panorama Trail eventually leads back to the Valley by two options: The John Muir Trail (slightly longer but less steep and stair-case-y) or the Mist Trail. We opted to take the Mist trail, traversing over the footbridge and down along Nevada Falls, stepping down, down, down to Vernal Falls and eventually back to another paved path leading to Happy Isles.
The Mist trail (which is a giant granite staircase, really) was no joke. Coming down this was tough, especially on a pair of tired (and kinda short) legs. My quads were BURNING by the end of the day. You get up close and personal with the falls, which weren’t exactly falling much by the end of a long dry Summer. If you’ve got bad knees, beware – this trail will put them to the test. You may be better served taking the slightly longer, but more moderate John Muir trail instead.
This hike/run is definitely one of the best I have EVER done. If you are looking for a long, rewarding day on the trails with spectacular views and a variety of terrain – this is most definitely for you. You won’t be disappointed. Tired? Maybe. But definitely not disappointed.
I’ll leave you with a very amateur, pieced together, sped up video that highlights a good portion of this route. I don’t pretend to be a quality cinematographer… but if you want to check out some Go Pro footage of what to expect, check it out!
- Rating: I’d rate this as moderate-strenuous for someone in shape and used to logging long trail miles. For anyone else? Very strenuous. It’s long mileage and a lot of climbing and descending.
- Weather: Couldn’t have been better. High 60s-70s and sunny.
- Mileage: Around 16-17 miles total for us (including the mile-ish to the 4 mile trailhead from the campground and mile back from the Happy Isles trailhead)
- Trail time: Around 7 hours, including lots of unhurried stops for pictures, view gawking, and food. Moving time was definitely significantly less.
- Gear: With the exception of snowy hiking, I hike in my trail running sneakers (Pearl Izumi M2’s). I prefer something light and fast and the terrain on this route was just fine for these. For a pack I used the Ultimate Direction Jenny Adventure Vesta, with a 1.5 L hydration bladder as well as two 500 mL soft flasks in the front pockets. This was plenty as I was able to refill with water from fountains at Glacier Point before carrying on.
- Don’t forget: Your camera, a trail map, some money for snacks and drinks at Glacier Point, snacks and lunch, layers of clothing depending on the weather forecast, water treatment (we carry a sawyer squeeze filter on long days in the woods just in case), sunglasses, and a hat (particularly if you have filthy camping hair that needs to be covered up at all times).
Coming up next…. HALF DOME!!!