Yosemite: Vistas & Waterfalls Of The Panorama Trail

Last year in Yosemite, I was awestruck by dynamic scenery on the Panorama Trail.  This year the experience was entirely new in the month of June. The views are even more awe-inspiring since the waterfalls are in full force and colors burst forth from wildflowers.  The entire trail is approximately 10 miles, and starts at Glacier Point.  We weren’t able to get tickets on the YARTS bus because they were sold out two weeks before our trip, but thankfully we had two cars and were able to leave one on Glacier Point and one at the North Pines campsite.  Planning ahead is key if you need to take the shuttle.  I highly recommend this option!  It’s $25 one way and is part of a tour, so the information learned on the way up to the trailhead only adds to the experience.  Make sure to bring plenty of water and a water filter on warm days.  There are no filling stations along this trail, but water is plentiful and can easily be filtered.  By the end of the day, most of us had gone through our 2 liters by the time we reached Nevada Falls.

With a group of 6, varying speeds of pace, and a whole lot of stopping for pictures, this hike ended up taking us the entire day.  Every turn opens up into another sweeping scope of view.  Just a few steps can reframe an image and reveal new features of the varied landscape.  It’s hard not to want to stop and linger at every single point.

photo credit Solomon Davis

photo credit Solomon Davis

We rested at the top of Illilouette Falls just over the walking bridge.

Beyond this point begins a 700 ft elevation gain through a number of switchbacks that are exposed to full sun and hot as blazes in the summertime.  We stopped at Panorama Point to watch peregrine falcons zipping through the air, soaring and diving in tandem.  This is an unmarked trail, approximately .6 miles from the bridge and is worth the detour. Enjoy the views with no one else around.

photo credit Solomon Davis

When we made it to Nevada Falls, the water was raging in torrents underneath the footbridge down to the depths below.  This was my favorite moment of our entire trip.  To be in the presence of such force, such power, such incredible energy, was a humbling experience.

Looking over the edge of the falls I stood entranced by the ribbons of light, misty sheets of water, and gauzy sprays that ricocheted off the rocks.

The Sierras received record amounts of winter snow, making this waterfall even stronger in might than the average year. Standing in the spray I imagined how this place was formed by the very waters still flowing through its valleys and canyons today.  We stayed here for quite a while, eating lunch, resting tired limbs, and soaking swollen feet in the icy water’s edge.  I stood on the bridge, my thoughts wholly consumed by the water raging beneath my feet.  If ever there was peace, it was in that moment as droplets danced in the sunlight over a river urgently wending its way to lower reaches.

Over years of traversing through places of beauty, scenes sometimes blend together, trails resemble one another, and moments must be extracted from memories past.  Standing on that bridge will be a speck of remembrance that will stay with me forever.  That water crashed its way through my heart and reminded me that every mile, ache, blister, and sore muscle is worth the pain to get to places like this.

When we left Nevada Falls and headed down to Happy Isles, cascades of water plummeted off the cliff sides, happily soaking us in the heat.

We opted to take the John Muir Trail back, avoiding the slippery Mist Trail and the crowds below.  From this point, there are a lot of paved switchbacks covered in sand which make for a slippery descent.

I still get chills seeing the Happy Isles trailhead sign.  Someday…the JMT is calling my name!

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