This must-do tour of Yosemite’s granite and whitewater highlights is so breathtaking, the park’s godfather, John Muir himself, specifically recommended it as the area’s premier dayhike. But the nation’s best views can attract big crowds; hit Muir’s route on a weekday in June before summer season peaks, or wait until after Labor Day.
Begin the 13.3- mile horseshoe at the Four Mile trailhead beneath Sentinel Rock and grind up 3,200 feet on more than 40 switchbacks as the morning sun sets the valley walls aglow. Catch your breath at Glacier Point while you peer into the valley from your 3,000-foot-tall perch, surrounded by the glacier-hewn faces of Half Dome, Royal Arches, the Three Brothers, and El Capitan. Descend the Panorama Trail toward the quiet of Illilouette Basin and the rumbling of two of Yosemite’s most famous waterfalls: Nevada and Vernal.
Muir recommended resting your legs beside the cascades before following the Merced River down toward “the stupendous scenery into the heart of which the white passionate river goes wildly thundering, surpassing everything of its kind in the world.” Enough said.
PLAN IT GUIDEBOOK AND MAP The Complete Guidebook to Yosemite National Park, 6th Edition ($12.95, yosemitegifts.com). Consult the time-tested authority on Yosemite, or plan other trips in the park using BACKPACKER’s Destination’s page (backpacker.com/destinations/category/206). Get around the park using Yosemite’s free shuttle service (nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/valleyshuttle.pdf).
FEES/PERMITS To enter park: $20 per car, $10 per pedestrian/ bicyclist. Pass is valid for seven days. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight stays from May through October. Reservations for a permit can be obtained no earlier than 24 weeks before the first night of your stay. Permits cost $5 per reservation and $5 per person in the party. Depending on availability, permits can also be obtained at the wilderness center on the day of your trip.
CONTACT Call the Wilderness Permit Office at (209) 372-0740; nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm
CONDITIONS Tioga Pass Road (Highway 120) is closed between October and May. Water is available along the trail at mile 2.8, mile 3.8, mile 5.4 (seasonal), mile 7.9, mile 11.7, mile 13, and mile 14.4.
GPS DATA Download tracks and waypoints, print or order custom topos, from the menu on the left.
LOCAL LINKS GAS LEE VINING: CHEVRON 51557 Highway 395 Lee Vining, CA 93541 (760) 647-6330
GROVELAND: CLAIM JUMPER OUTPOST 17586 Highway 120 Groveland-Big Oak Flat, CA 95305 (209) 962-7153
GEAR MAMMOTH MOUNTAINEERING SUPPLY 3189 Main St. Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546 (888) 395-3951
GROCERIES EL PORTAL: EL PORTAL MARKET 10913 Highway 140 El Portal, CA 95318 (209) 379-2700
MAMMOTH LAKES: VONS 481 Old Mammoth Rd. Mammoth Lakes, CA (760) 934-4536
RESTAURANTS MAMMOTH LAKES: ANGEL’S RESTAURANT 20 Sierra Blvd. Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546 (760) 934-7427
CURRY VILLAGE: DEGNAN’S DELI 9015 Village Dr. Curry Village, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389 (290) 372-8454
LEE VINING: NICELY’S RESTAURANT Highway 395 and 4th St. Lee Vining, CA 93541 (760) 647-6477
-Text: Brian Beer. Map and photographs: Jeff Chow
TO TRAILHEAD: For a shuttle from Yosemite Lodge, call Glacier Point Shuttle (209) 372-4FUN. From CA 41 N, turn right at Glacier Point Rd. and follow for 15.4 miles. Parking is at end of road.
Yosemite National Park, CA: Four Mile Trail to Mist Trail
Distance: 13.16 mi
Total Time: none
Speed: 0.0 mph
Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none
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Points of Interest
Location: 37.734067, -119.601750
Four Mile Trailhead along Southside Drive.
Location: 37.731833, -119.600917
Reach a popular bouldering spot at the valley floor.
Location: 37.729500, -119.599333
Reach a large rock pile and turn left.
Location: 37.732202, -119.594636
Tumbling Cascades. Bask in the cool glory of a gurgling brook intersecting the trail.
Location: 37.732376, -119.594636
Step over a small stream cutting across the trail, then pass through a grove of black oaks.
Location: 37.734900, -119.593067
View of Yosemite Falls, which are fed by snow, and thus most spectacular in springtime. The falls become more faint as summer stretches on.
Location: 37.735583, -119.587917
In particularly narrow stretches, the slopes above and below the trail are reinforced with rock.
Location: 37.735050, -119.585800
The Four Mile Trail slices across narrow cliff walls while ascending out of the Yosemite Valley.
Location: 37.734238, -119.587212
Turn right for a quick spur to Union Point, which offers closer vistas of Yosemite Falls.
Location: 37.732389, -119.584122
Grab magnificent valley views. The switchbacks are over!
Location: 37.732483, -119.581517
Overhang. The Four Mile Trail traces sheer cliff edges while meandering uphill.
Location: 37.729200, -119.576133
White firs and sugar pines comprise the towering forest shroud the upper reaches of Four Mile Trail.
Location: 37.730717, -119.573583
Reach world-class vistas from Glacier Point, perched precipitously atop Yosemite Valley's sky-scraping South Wall. Half Dome looms majestically to the northeast, while Nevada and Vernal Falls can be seen above the confluence of the Illilouette Gorge and Merced River to the east. Curry Village is carved into the valley floor directly north, Yosemite Falls plunge from the valley's North Wall, and the Clarke Range spans the southeast horizon.
Location: 37.727753, -119.573296
Turn left onto the Panorama Trail.
Location: 37.726143, -119.573157
Eastern view of Yosemite with Half Dome and Nevada Falls in the background.
Location: 37.718794, -119.569659
Giant Staircase. The steps of Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls make up the Giant Staircase. Half Dome, Grizzly Peak, Sierra Point, Mt. Broderick, and Liberty Cap line the Northeastern side of the Merced River.
Location: 37.710041, -119.565147
Bear left at the Y-junction. Descend on the dusty trail towards Illilouette Creek and the falls.
Location: 37.713074, -119.562950
Take in the best view of Illilouette Falls. The only other view of this waterfall is on the Mist Trail--several miles away. Look for rainbows at the bottom of the falls. Continue on the Panorama Trail.
Location: 37.712581, -119.562621
View of Illilouette Falls. The best place to view the falls is from this unmarked vista on the Panorama Trail.
Location: 37.711929, -119.561058
Cross footbridge over Illilouette Creek and begin the only real uphill portion of this trail. It is a strenuous climb gaining about 800 feet elevation in a mile and a half.
Location: 37.716190, -119.557381
Panorama Point: Catch a different perspective of Yosemite Valley and all its grandeur. Views to Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls and the Royal Arches too.
Location: 37.719936, -119.540031
Bear left at the three-way junction. Head downhill along switchbacks as you near the top of Nevada Falls.
Location: 37.722443, -119.535507
Turn right onto the John Muir Trail and continue northeast towards Nevada Falls.
Location: 37.725278, -119.532666
Top of Nevada Falls
Location: 37.726154, -119.530334
Bear left at Y-junction and merge onto the Mist Trail. Granite steps and switchbacks descend almost 700 feet.
Location: 37.726524, -119.540215
Cross footbridge over Merced River. Look back for a full view of Nevada Falls.
Location: 37.726261, -119.541473
Turn right at the Y-junction. The Mist Trail intersects with the trail to Clark Point. Stay right. Note: If the trail starts to climb, you're on the wrong trail.
Location: 37.727242, -119.543363
Top of Vernal Falls. When you're ready, put on your rain gear and head to the left of the falls to begin your descent on the wet steps of the Mist Trail.
Location: 37.726315, -119.548691
Continue right at the three-way trail junction. The Mist Trail intersects with the John Muir Trail.
Location: 37.725979, -119.551651
Cross footbridge. It's a blacktop path to Happy Isles.
Location: 37.726228, -119.553646
The only vantage point in Yosemite where you can see four waterfalls: Yosemite, Vernal, Nevada, and Illilouette Falls.
Location: 37.726330, -119.556881
Vista: Look across to see Illilouette Falls again. This location is also below Sierra Point, the only location in Yosemite where you can see the famous four waterfalls: Yosemite, Illilouette, Vernal and Nevada Falls. Its trail was decimated by a rock slide in the 1970s.
Location: 37.732422, -119.558373
Happy Isles Bridge: Head across the bridge to Happy Isles shuttle stop and take shuttle back to parking lot.
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