With the road up to Glacier Point in Yosemite closed to traffic, taking the Four Mile Trail to catch sunrise from this spectacular vantage point seemed a good idea. It’s my second and last Yosemite hike on our south-west USA road trip. The Four Mile Trail roughly follows the path of an old toll trail that was completed in 1872, although it’s now closer to five miles in length after the trail was reconstructed and lengthened in the early 1900s. Starting near the base of Sentinel Rock along Southside Drive, its dark as I set off. The first view I get after the first series of switchbacks is of the Merced River as it meanders down the Yosemite Valley.
After a long series of switchbacks – the Four Mile Trail climbs pretty relentlessly for most of its length – there’s an orange glow behind some of the taller Yosemite Peaks (Quartzite Peak, Mount Clark, Gray Peak, Red Peak and Merced Peak). To the north-east is the distinctive Half Dome.
It’s worth the strenuous hike – there’s no-else at Glacier Point, and there’s a stunning view to the east of Half Dome bathed in morning light.
To the north is North Dome and Basket Dome, and Indian Rock behind these granite domes.
It’s a lot easier (And quicker) heading back down the trail than the steep climb up. There are more views of Half Dome as the trail descends through tall pine forest just below Glacier Point.
The first (or last) section of the trail is the least steep, as it descends along a tall cliff.
There’s a sheer drop on one side of the trail which is fairly exposed here, as it heads towards the first/last set of switchbacks.
A very short detour takes you to Union Point, which overlooks many well known Yosemite peaks including El Capitan, as well as Yosemite Falls and the Yosemite Valley.
There’s more switchbacks as the trail continues to descend steeply. In the winter months you can only hike the first three miles / 5km which is just before Union Point – although the entire trail may close after heavy snowfall.
Looking back along the trail is one last view of Half Dome.
There’s now a few more people making their way up the Four Mile Trail, which is a fairly popular hike as it offers views of most of the Yosemite Valley landmarks.
The tree cover gradually increases as the trail descends – but there isn’t a lot of shade along most of the trail, so a pre-dawn start is a good way to do this hike.
The last half a mile of the trail is through shaded mixed pine forest and is a more gradual descent, before it finishes at the main road through Yosemite Valley.
It’s taken me just over three hours to get up top Glacier Point – and back! But I’ve had to maintain a fairly brisk pace as I needed to get back to our accommodation (at Fish Camp, just outside the South Gate Entrance to Yosemite).
Getting to Glacier Point va the Four Mile Trail
The Four Mile Trail starts along Southside Drive in Yosemite Valley, where there is a parking area and signposted trailhead. There is a shuttle stop here – but not at the top. If the road is open to vehicles and you can arrange to get dropped off at Glacier Point (it’s not serviced by any regular shuttles), you could do this as a much easier, one-way walk down from the top.
- National Park Service (NPS) – Four Mile Trail