Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Day hike to 370-foot waterfall at Yosemite

View of Yosemite Fall from Glacier Point.
Photo courtesy Yosemite NPS.
Via a segment of the Panorama Trail, families can day hike to a stunning waterfall that few visitors to Yosemite National Park see up close.

Linking Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley, the Panorama Trail is a long route at 8.5 miles one-way, but families whose children are teenagers can handle it to Illilouette Fall. The segment comes to 2.5 miles one-way (5 miles round trip).

The best time to hike the Panorama Trail is in summer; typically Glacier Point is closed during winter because of the heavy snowfall at the high elevations. Consider hiking the trail during the morning to maximize shade.

To reach the trailhead, from Wawona Road/Calif. Hwy. 41, head east onto Glacier Point Road. Follow the road all the way to its end. A parking lot sits just below the road’s namesake, Glacier Point.

Vista of Half Dome
The trailhead is to the right of the parking lot, at about 7200 feet. Watch for signs. Be sure to first check out the first viewpoint, which offers a great vista of eastern Yosemite Valley. There is a snack and gift shop, but you might want to save that for once you’ve completed the hike.

Descending steeply, the trail heads south, away from Yosemite Valley. You’re looking straight into a section of the Sierra Mountains that few Yosemite visitors explore. Most prominent is Mount Starr King, which rises above Illilouette Canyon.

In about 10-15 minutes of walking, you’ll reach an excellent vista for seeing Half Dome with Nevada (the higher) and Vernal (the lower) falls beneath and to the right of the monolith. The river on the trail’s left side is the Merced, which comes into the valley via the two waterfalls.

After descending about 800 feet, the trail junctions with a path heading into the Sierra backcountry. The Panorama Trail goes left. In short order, you’ll begin several switchbacks for the steepest part of the hike.

Illilouette Fall
Before the trail arrives at the creek forming the canyon below Mount Starr King, you’ll get a great view of the entire Illilouette Fall. The fall is 370 feet in a single drop to a Yosemite Valley side canyon.

At 2.5 miles from the trailhead, you’ll reach Illilouette Fall, an elevation of 5960 feet. Don’t try to swim in the pool or climb onto the granite rocks; doing so is quite dangerous.

The trail continues down to Nevada Fall then to the Yosemite Valley floor, but Illilouette Fall marks a good spot to turn around and begin a climb of about 1200 feet back to Glacier Point. The good news is that taking the trail up offers interesting new views that you didn’t see coming down, specifically of Glacier Point above and of Royal Arches and Yosemite Fall across the valley floor. And did we mention there’s a snack and gift shop at the top?

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.