Yosemite National Park: Pohono Trail

Wander along Yosemite's towering South Rim for unbeatable Valley panoramas from a series of high-country, cliff-edge vantage points.
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Wander along Yosemite's towering South Rim for unbeatable Valley panoramas from a series of high-country, cliff-edge vantage points.

Crammed with world-famous features like Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Fall and Sentinel Dome, the glacier-carved Yosemite Valley holds a veritable treasure chest of must-see park icons. On this 13.8-miler ideal for a long day hike or leisurely overnight, climb from the panorama-blessed Tunnel View to the soaring Glacier Point before catching a shuttle for the scenic return trip down Glacier Point Road. For travelers hoping to experience Yosemite sans car, this excursion is an ideal way to nab views from can’t-miss vantage points like Taft Point, Sentinel Dome and Glacier Point.
From the east mouth of Wawona Tunnel, snag your first series of Valley views – featuring El Capitan, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks and Sentinel Dome – before climbing to the top of the South Rim on the Pohono Trail. Notch your first aerial vistas of the valley from Stanford Point (2.8 miles) before continuing on for fresh perspectives from Crocker Point and Dewey Point.
Weave through a 4.3-mile stretch of forest before passing the Fissures – a series of deep, tight gashes into the granite of Profile Cliff – en route to Taft Point. The panoramas from Taft Point, which protrudes precariously into the void above the Valley, rival those from Glacier Point, although Taft, inaccessible by motor vehicles, draws considerably less visitors. Continue to Sentinel Dome (three miles east) for all-encompassing vistas from the Valley’s second highest vantage point (Half Dome is the highest). Then, descend from Sentinel’s exposed, granite summit to complete the final one-mile jaunt to the legendary Glacier Point for spectacular cross-valley panoramas of Half Dome.
Return to Tunnel View via the Glacier Point Shuttle. The $25, one-way shuttle departs from Glacier Point at 10:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The shuttle does not accept reservations for rides from Glacier Point to the Valley, though usually has openings because most passengers ride the bus up and walk back to the Valley via the Four Mile Trail.

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

-Text: Brian Beer. Map and photographs: Jeff Chow

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 22.3

Waypoints

PHT001

Location: 37.715061, -119.67649

Start at the Tunnel View Trailhead. Bear boxes and overnight parking are available on the south side of Wawona road. Before setting out, look down-valley for a greatest hits collection of Yosemite Valley scenery. El Capitan punctuates the North Rim, while Clouds Rest, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Sentiel Dome, Bridalveil Fall, Cathedral Rocks and Half Dome span the South Rim. After snapping a few photos, leave the crowds at the viewpoint and head south to begin climbing the mildly-graded Pohono Trail.

PHT002

Location: 37.7146, -119.68255

At the Y-junction, fork right to stay on the Pohono Trail. The left trail leads to Artist Point (0.5 mile) before continuing another 1.5 miles to the Bridalveil Falls Trailhead.

PHT003

Location: 37.713283, -119.687217

Reach a clearing where the parking area for Inspiration Point once stood. Cross through the partially-paved area and turn right to descend to Inspiration Point, which features an excellent panorama of Yosemite Valley. Dense forests mask the roads weaving across the valley floor, providing a pristine base to the soaring peaks overhead. The Valley regulars are available visible here, with El Capitan and Half Dome presiding over the rest of the gang. After savoring the view, turn around to continue climbing the Pohono Trail. You'll gain an additional 1600 feet of vertical before earning your descent.

PHT004

Location: 37.702433, -119.67785

Cross Artist Creek. Water is available here.

PHT005

Location: 37.703017, -119.672817

Reach the top of the South Rim as the Clarke Range and Cathedral Range slowly creep into view. Sentinel Dome rises clearly near Half Dome to the south.

PHT006

Location: 37.700633, -119.66725

Cross Meadow Brook. Water is available here, and campsites are situated along the upcoming stretch of trail leading to Stanford Point.

PHT007

Location: 37.706333, -119.666917

Reach Stanford Point and notch additional panoramas of the Valley. The southwest face of El Capitan dominates the horizon, while Cathedral Rocks peek over the nearby rise of the South Rim. Bridalveil Fall is also visible to the south.

PHT008

Location: 37.704233, -119.659033

From the overhanging eastern edge of Crocker Point, gain dizzying views of the Valley below. Some established campsites are perched on cliff edges, but the Park Service prohibits camping within 0.5 mile of the Rim. If you are planning on spending the night, however, keep your eyes open for a site: camping is not permitted east of Bridalveil Creek (2.9 miles away).

Once done gawking at the height from which you stand, continue along the Pohono Trail where in 300 yards you will come across 3 boulders with a view back to Crocker Point and its overhanging viewpoint.

PHT009

Location: 37.704417, -119.650167

Snag prime panoramas from Dewey Point before descending into the marshy Bridalveil Fall drainage.

PHT010

Location: 37.6944, -119.6413

Cross through fern-blanketed marshes flanking the Pohono Trail above Bridalveil Creek. Whitedail deer frequent the area.

PHT011

Location: 37.693233, -119.6259

After crossing through a clearing, reach a Y-junction with the McGurk Meadow Trail. Bear left to follow the Pohono Trail to a footbridge spanning Bridalveil Creek. Camping is not available east of Bridalveil Creek. Find a spot here or complete the trek to the Valley floor before nightfall.
In a quarter mile you will come across a large footbridge over Bridalveil Creek. This crossing also marks the western edge of the no dispersed camping area. If you're camping, flat spots can be found here, near the trail junction.

PHT012

Location: 37.70585, -119.611333

Hug the edge of a cliff while enjoying prime vistas of El Capitan's eastern face.

PHT013

Location: 37.71315, -119.6046

Reach Taft Point. The Valley panoramas from here rivals those from Glacier Point, but Taft, only accessible via foot, attracts fewer visitors.

PHT014

Location: 37.711967, -119.595967

Stay left to continue on the Pohono Trail. The right fork leads to Glacier Point Road.

PHT015

Location: 37.71445, -119.5931

Sentinel Dome comes into view as the trail bends to the north and crosses through a clearing.

PHT016

Location: 37.719883, -119.595033

As the trail skirts a high cliff, snag views of Yosemite Falls and El Capitan's eastern face.

PHT017

Location: 37.7221, -119.5928

Cross Sentinel Creek. Water is available here.

PHT018

Location: 37.72655, -119.58245

At the Y-junction, bear right to take a spur trail to Sentinel Dome.

PHT019

Location: 37.725213, -119.581208

Cross right and cross a dirt road to continue climbing toward Sentinel Dome.

PHT020

Location: 37.7231, -119.584333

Grab some of the park's best views from the exposed summit of Sentinel Dome. The second highest point in the Valley (behind Half Dome), Sentinel clocks in at 8,117 feet and is home to the gnarled Jeffrey Pine immortalized in Ansel Adams' in several Ansel Adams photographs. Along with views of the Valley's usual suspects -- El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks and Clouds Rest -- Sentinel offers vistas of the far-off Cathedral and Clark ranges,as well as glimpses of Vernal and Nevada Falls. After feasting on the scenery, retrace your steps to the Sentinel Dome spur junction and turn right.

PHT021

Location: 37.723886, -119.575496

Follow signs to Glacier Point.

PHT022

Location: 37.7258, -119.5747

Cross Glacier Point Road and continue straight to Glacier Point.

PHT023

Location: 37.728, -119.573283

Reach Glacier Point. Wander through the interpretive area and toward the edge for spectacular panoramas of the Valley below.

PHT024

Location: 37.72969, -119.573178

Though packed with tourists, Glacier Point's superb high-country panoramas render it a must-see. Grab jaw-dropping views, comparable to those from Sentinel Dome, while wandering through an interpretive area toward Glacier Point's cliff-edged northern terminus.

PHT025

Location: 37.730717, -119.573583

Savor world-class vistas from the edge of 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. After soaking in the views, turn around and retrace your route to the Sentinel Dome/ Taft Point Trailhead.

Tunnel View

Location: 37.715067, -119.676483

From Tunnel Point, look south for a greatest hits collection of Yosemite Valley scenery. From left to right: El Capitan, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, Sentinel Rocks, Sentinel Dome, Cathedral Rocks and Bridal Veil Fall.

Inspiration Point

Location: 37.714183, -119.687933

Savor ultimate Yosemite Valley views from Inspiration Point. El Capitan and Half Dome rise prominently. The Valley's other mainstays (Clouds Rest, Cathedral Rocks, Bridalveil Fall, Sentinel Dome and Sentinel Rocks) are also visible.

South Rim Viewpoint

Location: 37.70315, -119.672733

After gaining the South Rim, grab spectacular down-valley views.

Nearing Meadow Brook

Location: 37.701167, -119.668617

Broad leaves line the trail leading to Meadow Brook.

Stanford Point

Location: 37.706117, -119.666483

Spectacular, cliff-edge campsites await from Stanford Point.

Stanford Point

Location: 37.70635, -119.666967

Clouds add an ethereal aura to the breathtaking panorama of Yosemite Valley from Stanford Point.

Crocker Point

Location: 37.704333, -119.65895

Crocker Point

Location: 37.70415, -119.65905

Crocker Point hangs precariously over the Valley below.

Bridalveil Creek

Location: 37.69425, -119.62185

Bridalveil Creek flows north toward a waterfall below.

Approaching Taft Point

Location: 37.707017, -119.609817

Gain Valley views as the trail hugs a cliff while approaching Taft Point.

The Fissures

Location: 37.712767, -119.604117

Before hitting Taft Point, pass by a series of tight, vertical slots known as "The Fissures."

Taft Point

Location: 37.712933, -119.604417

Taft Point, as seen from the trail to the southeast.

Trekking East

Location: 37.711267, -119.6013

From Taft Point, follow a smooth trail through boulder-dotted pine forest.

Sentinel Dome

Location: 37.7146, -119.59315

Sentinel Dome comes into view 0.8 mile east of Taft Point.

Approaching Sentinel Dome

Location: 37.718417, -119.5947

Meander over a soft trail of dirt and pine needle as you approach Sentinel Dome.

Yosemite Fall

Location: 37.722017, -119.59315

Gain dramatic cross-valley views of Yosemite Fall from a vantage point below Sentinel Dome.

Weather Rolls In

Location: 37.722017, -119.59315

Clouds add layers of texture to the Valley's already dramatic alpine scenery.

Sign

Location: 37.72405, -119.5758

Rusty as it may be, this sign indicates the correct route to Glacier Point.

Glacier Point Road

Location: 37.725883, -119.574667

Cross Glacier Point Road en route to Glacier Point.

Nearing Sentinel Dome

Location: 37.721083, -119.583317

Hardy lodgepole pines, Jeffrey pines and western white pines cling for life in the thin soil under Sentinel Dome.

Cathedral Range

Location: 37.723817, -119.583883

As you near Sentinel's peak, the snowy Cathedral Range spans the northeastern horizon.

Fallen Soldier

Location: 37.723083, -119.584317

Once the subject of many photos by Ansel Adams, this Jeffrey Pine remained standing until the summer of 2003.

Down Valley

Location: 37.728017, -119.581233

Half Dome punctuates a northeastern panorama of Yosemite Valley.

Glacier Point

Location: 37.730617, -119.573683

End the hike with world-class views of Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley from cliff-edged Glacier Point.