This 13-mile day-hike (or backpack) along the south rim of Yosemite Valley features stunning views of its biggest highlights – like El Capitan, as seen from Dewey Point.
!!!!! NOTE THAT THE GLACIER POINT ROAD IS SCHEDULED TO BE CLOSED FOR THE ENTIRETY OF THE 2021 SEASON !!!!!
Pohono Trail Guide – Yosemite
MAP: Trails Illustrated, or see below
PERMITS: Required for backpacking (Not required for day hikes)
DESIGNATION: Yosemite National Park (entrance fee)
BEST SEASONS: June through September
DISTANCE: 13 miles from Glacier Point to Tunnel View
WATER: numerous sources, primarily Bridalveil Creek
ELEVATION: 4,030ft at Tunnel View – ~7,230 at Glacier Point – difference 3,200ft (add 300ft for Sentinel Dome)
ACCESS: paved roads – free shuttle bus access is not available at either trailhead (see “One-Way Logistics” below)
DIRECTIONS: West end of the trail starts up the stone steps south of Tunnel View, at the parking for Artist Point Trail east of the Wawona Tunnel. The east end of the trail is found near the Glacier Point Curve – it’s best to walk up the connector trail from the east end of the Glacier Point parking lot to access it. An alternate east end is found at the Taft Point Trailhead.
ROUTE: forest trail with rocky exposure at the viewpoints
GUIDEBOOK: Yosemite: The Complete Guide
SPECIAL NOTE: The phrases “Tunnel View” and “Wawona Tunnel” are interchangeable as synonyms for the purposes of this guide.
Pohono Trail Map
Here’s the NPS map showing the Pohono Trail, marked in red. You can right-click on the image to view a larger version or download it.
One-Way Logistics – Wawona Tunnel to Glacier Point (and vice-versa)
Hiking the full 13-mile distance of the Pohono Trail has some logistical problems. Namely, there’s no reliable public transportation at Tunnel View, and only a one-way shuttle to Glacier Point (from Yosemite Lodge), which requires a fee.
The most reliable thing to do is use your own transportation, but the Glacier Point Shuttle can sometimes be leveraged to your advantage. The steep, creatively-named 4-Mile Trail opens up some options too, as it connects Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley.
Here’s the options:
1 – Use 2 vehicles. With two vehicles (and presumably two drivers) you can simply spot a car at either end of the trail.
2 – Split your party. Maybe someone in your group isn’t up for a strenuous day. Ideally this individual could drop you off at Tunnel View. If this individual is especially generous, you can arrange to have them pick you up at Glacier Point (Or do the opposite from Glacier Point). Otherwise, you can attempt to catch the Glacier Point Shuttle back to the Valley. Finally, you can return to the valley via the 4-mile trail, extending your hike to 18 miles total (The 4-mile Trail is 4.8 miles).
3 – Single Vehicle / Single Party. If you’re determined to hike the Pohono Trail as a one-way trip with a single vehicle, your options (shy of hitchhiking) are limited and involve the Glacier Point Shuttle.
Using the Glacier Point Shuttle
The so-called shuttle is actually a bus tour that begins and ends at Yosemite Lodge. Here’s the basics about it.
- only operates in-season, May through October
- 4-hour round trip
- departs from the lodge twice daily at 8:30am and 1:30pm
- can be reserved in advance, one-way to Glacier Point for $28.50 per person
There’s two key things about the tour that make it advantageous for your logistics…
- If there’s space, the bus will pick you up from Glacier Point and take you back to Yosemite Lodge. The thing is, there should generally always be space available, as someone is bound to have to have booked a one-way tour, and the tour may not even be full in the first place.
- If time permits, the driver will make a stop at Wawona Tunnel on the return trip. This opens up the possibility of spotting your vehicle here and getting on or off the bus. This is the most tenuous option, as the phrase if time permits leaves some potential to leave you high dry.
Camping: Pohono Trail Backpacking Permits
A backpacking permit is required to camp along the Pohono Trail.
Dispersed Camping is only allowed from Artist Creek (west end) to Bridalveil Creek (east end). The best and most popular camps are located at Bridalveil Creek.
These wilderness permits can be reserved online, up to 24 weeks in advance of your trip. They carry a fee of $5 per reservation, plus $5 per person.
Permits are also available in person in the park immediately prior to your trip, on a first come, first served basis. 40 percent of permits are held for this purpose, whereas the remaining 60 percent are open to prior reservation. The first come, first served permits are processed at these stations, beginning at 11am on the day prior to your hike. The main hub for this is the Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center.
Note that it’s necessary to use a bear canister in Yosemite.
Trailheads & Extensions
When you go online to reserve your permit, availability is based on your entry trailhead. The official trailheads for Pohono are as follows:
- Wawona Tunnel
- Taft Point
- Glacier Point
As time allows, you may also wish to extend your trip beyond the Pohono Trail. The first logical extensions include the Panorama Trail and Four Mile Trail. Longer trips may bring you along the Buena Vista Trail to Merced Pass and beyond.
Overnight Parking in Yosemite
Overnight parking is allowed at Glacier Point, as well as in the upper lot at Tunnel View.
Though the Park Service only lists Curry Village, overnight parking in Yosemite is essentially allowed for all backpackers at all of the official trailhead lots that are equipped with a food storage box.
Anything with a scent that may attract a bear must be stored in the box.
Sleeping in your vehicle is not permitted.
Out-and-Back from Glacier Point
There’s plenty of opportunities for shorter hikes on the Pohono Trail from Glacier Point. You can climb Sentinel Dome, or do a loop around it. You can also do an out-and-back hike to Taft Point or to Dewey Point.
Round-Trip Lengths from Glacier Point
Sentinel Dome Summit – 2.6 miles
Loop Around Sentinel Dome – 5.5 miles
Taft Point – 8 miles
Dewey Point – 16.6 miles
Round Trip Lengths from Tunnel View
Stanford Point – 7 miles
Crocker Point – 8 miles
Dewey Point – 9.3 miles
Taft Point – 18.7 miles
The west end of the Pohono Trail is usually open in winter. The Artist’s Point is a great (if miniature) winter hike in Yosemite, and it’s often possible to get to Stanford Point and Crocker Point.
If conditions allow, with the requisite strength and capability you could theoretically hike all the way to Glacier Point in winter. Just be sure to note that the Glacier Point Road is closed throughout the winter, and the 4-Mile Trail is most often closed, too.
What does “Pohono” mean?
The Pohoho Trail takes its name from the nearby Bridalveil Falls. The term Bridalveil was dubbed in the 1850s by a newspaper editor, as the wind gave the falls such an appearance.
The word Pohono is allegedly the original Native American name for the Falls, as named by the Ahwahneechee people. It’s said that it means “spirit of the puffing wind,” though other sources refer to the word as “evil wind.” Interestingly, the natives living south of the waterfall were called the Pohonochee.
Pohono Trail Description
The west trailhead is unfortunately situated at one of the most popular, traffic-infested stops in all of Yosemite National Park – Tunnel View. Once you finagle yourself a parking spot or get dropped off, run from the crowds via the stone steps at the south end of the upper lot to begin your hike.
Soon you’ll cross the historic, Old Wawona Stage Road. Turning left here (east) will connect you 2 miles to the Bridalveil Falls Trailhead. It’s mostly traffic free, if you so desire.
I think you have bigger fish to fry. The early miles of the trail are the most brutal, as you relentlessly climb up through the forest. After 2.7 miles you’ll cross Artist Creek, which could be gushing or completely dry, depending on the season. Meadow Brook is crossed not too long thereafter.
Stanford & Crocker Points
By the time you reach Stanford Point (6,659ft) in 3.5 miles, you’ll have gained 2,500ft in elevation.
In a half-mile you’ll reach Crocker Point (7,090ft), from where you can look down on Bridalveil Falls.
Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker were founders of the Central Pacific Railroad, which built the west end of the first transcontinental railroad.
Dewey Point (7,200ft) is reached in another half-mile. At about the 5-mile mark from Tunnel View, Dewey Point may be the most spectacular view along the Pohono Trail (shy of Glacier Point, of course).
The Cathedral Rocks are immediately below you, and El Capitan stands just a stone’s throw across the valley. Views stretch out to more distant peaks, like Cathedral Mountain.
The overlook is named for George Dewey. He achieved the rank of Admiral of the Navy for his victory at Manila Bay during the Spanish-American war in 1898. “Admiral” is the highest possible rank in the US Navy, and he’s the only person in history to have been awarded the honor.
Dewey Point was labeled as such in the original 1907 map of Yosemite Valley.
Leaving the gorgeous view behind, it’s time to dive into the forest toward Taft Point. After 2 miles you’ll Bridalveil Creek, which is perhaps the most reliable water along the Pohono Trail, with the best camping. The creek, of course, goes on to pour over its namesake waterfall.
Taft Point (7,503ft) is another 2.6 miles beyond the creek. If Yosemite Falls is flowing, you’ll have a great view of it here from across the valley.
Taft Point is named for William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States. John Muir brought him here in October of 1909. They hiked to the overlook from Glacier Point – perhaps much the same as you will!
The whole scenario strikes me as somewhat comical. At 350 pounds, Taft is known as the most obese president of the United States. He’d hoped to do the trip via horseback, but none of the horses he’d brought were strong enough to carry him.
So they had to do it on foot. Afterward, Taft wrote “While I am tired from the open air exercise, I feel greatly the better for it.”
After leaving Taft Point, you’ll soon come to a fork in the trail. The right fork is technically the Sentinel Dome Trail (That leads to Taft Point Trailhead), so you’ll likely want to continue left on the Pohono Trail.
Another fork soon provides a 0.5-mile scenic option versus a 0.3-mile shortcut. The trails immediately rejoin each other, and after another half-mile you’ll come to the junction for the optional climb up Sentinel Dome (8,122ft).
From this junction, it’s just a 0.4-mile, 370ft ascent to the top. Since you’re this close and have come so far, you may as well check it out.
slopes of Sentinel Dome
From the dome you’ll gain 360-degree views far and wide that rival those of Glacier Point. This is a popular destination, but by now you’ve likely come to accept that the peace of the woods is behind you, somewhere back around Dewey Point.
After descending from Sentinel Dome, it’s just another mile to the end of the Pohono Trail at Glacier Point.
Couple Falls to Their Death at Taft Point
In October of 2018, a couple made headlines when when they fell off a cliff while taking a selfie at Taft Point. Meenakshi Moorthy, 30, and her husband, Vishnu Viswanath, 29, were popular on Instagram and kept a travel blog.
The media ate up the story. Autopsies later revealed that they were intoxicated (at least to some degree) at the time of their fall.
My Trip Report and Photos
I day-hiked the Pohono Trail (including Sentinel Dome) from west to east on September 24, 2009. This was just the first piece of a full, 22-mile day that continued down the Panorama Trail to Yosemite Valley.
I was in my late 20s and in top shape after completing the John Muir Trail, just a few days prior. A friend dropped me off at Tunnel View before sunrise, and I finished the day shortly after sunset.
The pizza at Curry Village was most welcome 🙂