Hiking the Four Mile Trail | Yosemite National Park
Words and Photography by Brian Callender
Hiking The Four Mile Trail: Hike Details
Starting Elevation: 4,017 feet
Distance: 10.5 miles, round trip
Elevation Gain: 3,360
Hike Type: Day-hike, out and back
Difficulty Level: Strenuous
Food Storage: There are no bear boxes at the trailhead, so you’ll need to store any scented items elsewhere. Options include your hotel room, campground bear box, or take them with you.
Restrooms: None at the trailhead in the Valley. Closest option is at the Swinging Bridge picnic area (0.25 miles east) or once you reach Glacier Point.
Cell Service: Good! For Yosemite, there is surprisingly good reception throughout the majority of this hike and at Glacier Point.
Crowd Factor: High. This is one of the premiere hikes in Yosemite, so you will not find any solitude on this trail during peak season. Glacier Point will be even more crowded whenever the road is open but there are plenty of places to spread out and enjoy the views.
Store: At Glacier Point there is a seasonal store where you can purchase snacks, beverages, and souvenirs. The store is normally open between 9am-5pm, May through September, when the road is open.
Permit: None required for day-hikes. Overnight trips require a permit.
Date Hiked: May 15, 2021
During my first ever trip to Yosemite, Julie and I hiked down the Four Mile Trail as the conclusion of the Panorama Loop. We started by going up the Mist Trail, made our way past Illilouette Falls, up to Glacier Point, and then down the Four Mile Trail. The latter part of this trip was done in the dark with an iPhone flashlight and mini flashlight. We did this hike, somewhat on a whim, during a low snow year, in January and were fairly underprepared.
After that adventure, I had always wanted to go back and hike up the Four Mile Trail but the timing has never really worked out. And of course, since you can drive up to Glacier Point during the peak season, we often will just take the easy way rather than the strenuous hike. But this year, anxious to get a hike in, and with only two big hikes left on the list from Yosemite Valley, it was time to finally cross off the Four Mile Trail.
Hiking the Four Mile Trail
The trailhead for the Four Mile Trail is a small pullout on both sides of the road just before you reach the Swinging Bridge Picnic Area. It’s best to start early if you want to find a parking spot as you can expect both areas to be full by mid-morning. You’ll immediately see a sign for the Four Mile Trail on your left and then another one just before you start to ascend.
As you may have noticed by the distance at the top of this post, the Four Mile Trail is not in fact four miles (though it used to be). The National Park lists the hike as 4.8 miles, though it was a bit longer for me, including a short stop at Union Point. No matter how you slice it though, this is a tough hike with over 3,300 feet of elevation gain.
Once on the trail, you’ll start off in the trees which is a little victory because at the same time you will be greeted by switchbacks. The first clear shot of Yosemite Falls comes at the 0.75 mile mark. Without question, the views will be prominent as you climb nearly 1000 feet in the first 1.5 miles. At 1.7 miles there are unobstructed views out to Yosemite Falls and looking back across the Valley. By 2.5 miles, you will have already climbed 1600 feet as the switchbacks continue without mercy.
You’ll catch the first view of Half Dome at 3 miles and just about 2000 feet of elevation gain. This is a nice spot to admire the magnificent granite dome and catch your breath. As you continue along the trail, Half Dome quickly fades from view rounding the corner and heading up yet another switchback.
Once you reach 3.6 miles, a right turn will take you to Union Point (200 feet), which looks out across to Yosemite Falls and over to Half Dome. A tree obstructs the view of Yosemite Falls a bit, but the panorama here is still stunning. Half Dome returns to view at the 4.75 mark, here you’ll round a corner with a sheer drop off. You’re eye level at this point with Yosemite Falls, and every portion.
At long last the trail flattens out at the 5 mile mark and just over 3000 feet of gain. A welcome sign after a relentless ascent. The relief from climbing is brief, as you make one final push to Glacier Point at 5.7 miles and just over 3200 feet of gain. Your reward is immaculate views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. Glacier Point offers one of the most breathtaking vantage points you can find in a national park and it feels a little sweeter knowing you made it by way of your own two feet.
Find a comfy spot on some granite and enjoy your lunch or snack with a view. Despite the crowds, I was able to grab a seat to myself and made hasty work of my sandwich and Cheez-Its. If you time it right and the store is open be sure to pick up an ice cream bar for your troubles. The shop is open from 9 to 5 when Glacier Point Road is open. I enjoyed about an hour at the top before starting my descent. The nice thing about the return hike is that it’s all downhill, which makes it much easier and faster.
Final Thoughts on Hiking the Four Mile Trail
What’s the best way to describe the Four Mile Trail? It’s a relentless climb with breathtaking views every step of the way. You will earn every mile you hike but for your efforts, you will be rewarded with quintessential Yosemite scenery. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to take on my first ever solo hike in one of my favorite places in the country. The hike is definitely a grind, and not one where you should expect to find any solitude, but that’s okay! If you’re looking for an essential Yosemite hike, add the Four Mile Trail to your list!
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