Reverse Summit of Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park

Glacier Point Parking Area

Catch the sunrise at Glacier Point, one of Yosemite's premier lookout spots, and embark on a grueling reverse-summit adventure.

Yosemite's Panorama Trail is undoubtedly one of the most scenic and worthwhile trails in the entire national park. The stretch that reaches from the valley floor to the top of Glacier Point involves 8.5 miles and a monumental amount of elevation gain. If you want to see the entire stretch of trail - but you also want to catch an unbeatable sunrise view beforehand - try out this demanding reverse-summit of Glacier Point. Warning: This route is not for the faint of heart. 

Timing for this adventure will be different at any given time of the year. Make sure you give yourself wiggle room for driving through the park - it took me 1.25 hours from the Yosemite NP entrance to the Glacier Point parking lot. On this particular morning, I left San Francisco this morning at 2am and reached my destination at 6:15am.

Enjoy dawn on the steps of the large stone amphitheater carved into the side of a hill at Glacier Point, overlooking Yosemite's granite walls and Half Dome shining like a beacon at the center of it. You'll run into plenty of photographers and likeminded explorers catching the morning's first rays, but enjoy the solace on the trail. Since Glacier Point is around 25 miles and a couple thousand vertical feet outside of Yosemite Valley, it’s a much more popular afternoon destination for hikers than morning. 

This way, you can walk against the first crowds you'll encounter later in the morning coming up from the Valley, and again walk the opposite direction of hikers in the afternoon who are descending from Glacier Point. The direction and timing should be perfect for a solo adventure, given your legs are up to the task.

It's a nice, gradual hike down into the valley, and the trail is very easy to follow and stay on track. Each trail is clearly marked, and there are numerous intersections that allow you to check your distance about every two miles. After the first 2.5 miles, you'll see the large granite slabs that surround Illilouette Fall, and cross a wooden footbridge to the only uphill section going this direction. In a little less than a mile from this footbridge, keep your eyes peeled for an unmarked path that veers to the left off the main trail and leads you to Panorama Point - a beautifully hidden lookout that you won't want to miss.

Continue down the traditional Panorama hiking route, past Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall. The top of Nevada Fall offers another vantage point to look out across the park, and walking down the steep, crooked steps that parallel Vernal Fall can give you a cool break from the sun with its shadowed slopes and mist coming off from the waterfall. Within 2.5 miles from here, the trail turns into road and you'll reach the Happy Isles Trailhead. This is your only chance to catch a shuttle that could take you back to your parking spot, otherwise, turn around here and prepare for a strenuous summit.

A mile past the Happy Isles Trailhead, the path splits left up the Mist Trail and right up the John Muir Trail. These are equidistant in length and meet back up in just about a mile, only difference is avoiding the slower hikers on the steep slopes of the Mist Trail. You may run into thru-hikers who are following the entire 221-mile long John Muir Trail from Yosemite NP to Whitney Portal. 

Continue on back up to Glacier Point the way you came, and be sure to use sun protection as afternoon's heat will come creeping in.

Pack List

  • Minimum 2 liters water, opportunity refill at Happy Isles Trailhead
  • Sun protection
  • Jacket, wind protection
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Trekking poles
  • Plenty of food, especially salty snacks
Show More
RT Distance 17 Miles
Elevation Gain 6100 Feet
Activities Hiking, Fitness
Skill Level Advanced
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Food Nearby
Groups
Scenic

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Great way to really get into the heart of Yosemite

This route is so grand because you are exposed to such stark contrasts in the ways people visit this popular park. A drive up to Glacier Point, a quick scramble to some view points, and the pop of a shutter is the classic venture for people at this point. To turn it into a proper hike really takes you on a 180 from that scene. I have enjoyed this route thoroughly and love it most right before the snows come.


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