One Yosemite Hike to Rule them All!
With dozens of day hikes in Yosemite National Park, one could spend weeks walking in this outdoor Disneyland. However, most of us cannot dedicate such a significant portion of our time to hiking Yosemite. Ultimately, we still want to experience as much as we could of the park in the short time we do have.
If you only have time to do a single day hike, but still wish to experience most of what the Yosemite has to offer, then there is only a single day hike you need to try. There is no official name for this hike. However, we call it the Yosemite Valley Traverse. The hike is a distillation of all the things that make Yosemite great into one full day hike.
This excursion showcases the major points of interest in Yosemite from panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, Half Dome, Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls to the Mist Trail all in a single hike. All in a single day! The fabulous thing about this hike is that half-way through, you can grab a cold drink from the Glacier Point store.
Distance: ~14.5 miles
Time: 8 to 10 hours
Elevation Gain: 3950 ft.
Conditions: Primarily dirt trails. Trails may close if snow is present. Check trail conditions before hiking.
Hiking the Yosemite Valley Traverse can be broken down into three distinct segments.
The journey starts at the Four Mile Trail trailhead.
- From the trailhead, you hike up the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point.
- From Glacier Point, follow the Panorama Trail along the rim of Yosemite Valley towards Nevada Falls
- Right before you reach Nevada Falls, take the John Muir Trail down to Happy Isles.
Trekking poles come in handy. We suggest bringing 3 liters of water during the summer months. Concerning water fountains, refill your water bottles at either the Vernal Falls footbridge or Glacier Point water fountains. Snacks and souvenirs are available at Glacier Point store between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the summer months.
We advise an early morning (6 a.m.) start during summers to reduce the sun exposure during the ascent. If you begin in the afternoon, make sure to bring a headlamp as the sun sets earlier in the Valley.
The Yosemite Valley Traverse hike starts at the Four Mile Trailhead. If you’re arriving by car, parking is available at the trailhead. If arriving by shuttle, take the El Capitan Shuttle to stop E5. The El Capitan Shuttle only runs from late May through October from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. One could also walk to the trailhead via the Valley Loop trail. If you’re staying in Half Dome Village, it’s about 2.5-mile walk to the trailhead.
Four Mile Trail Segment: ~4.8 miles
The trail was originally 4 miles. But later extended to 4.8 miles. As the hardest section, the Four Mile Trail is an all uphill climb to Glacier Point via switchbacks. As you ascend, you will see reverse Tunnel View, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome. If you start early, you can enjoy this trail in solitude as you watch the sun lights up the valley. A marvelous feeling fills us when watching the juxtaposition of light and shadow of a morning Yosemite hike. About 3.2 miles in, a short side trail leads to the Union Point overlook. As the switchbacks end, you arrive at Glacier Point.
Panorama Trail Segment: ~5.5 miles
Enjoy the panoramic views and refuel at Glacier Point. From Glacier Point, continue on the Panorama Trail down towards Nevada Falls. As the name suggests, this trail includes panoramic views from the rim of the valley. Following the trail will take you down to Illilouette Falls footbridge. The footbridge is approximately 2.8 miles from Glacier Point. Take a short break here and soak your feet in the Illilouette Creek. The trail then ascends for about 1.2 miles before descending. As you descend, Nevada Falls will come into view. As the trail ends, take a rest at the top of Nevada Falls.
John Muir Trail Segment: ~3.5 miles
From Nevada Falls, take the John Muir Trail (JMT) towards the Valley. During the spring months, this portion of the trail may be muddy due to snow melt. This segment of the JMT offers a high angle view of both Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. The John Muir Trail will eventually take to the Vernal Falls footbridge. The Vernal Falls is a popular tourist spot, so expect crowds during the peak weekends. After passing the footbridge, look the left towards the rim of the valley and you possibly able to spot Illouette Falls. Remember that? You were only there a few hours ago. Once you arrive at Happy Isle, stop and pat yourself on the back because you just completed one of the most spectacular day hikes in Yosemite Valley!
Optional Mist Trail
If you’re interested in the infamous Mist Trail, instead of taking the JMT, at the top of Nevada Falls, follow the signs for the Mist Trail down to Yosemite Valley. The most popular section of the Mist Trail steps can get crowded in the afternoons regardless of time of year.
While this guide starts you off at the Four Mile Trail trailhead, you can hike this trail in reverse and start at Happy Isles.
If you parked your car at the Four Mile Trail trailhead, it’s roughly a 3-mile walk back via the Valley Loop. Alternatively, you can take the shuttle back to the trailhead. For the most up to date bus schedule, check schedules posted at bus stops.
- If you need an offline mobile trail map, we recommend REI’s Hiking Project app.
- Park and trail conditions