Yosemite National Park is FULL of amazing trails; it’s hard to choose which ones to hike, especially if you only have a handful of days in the park.
While I haven’t spent as much time in Yosemite as John Muir, I can honestly say that if you backpack the Pohono Trail, you will be thrilled with how you spent 24 hours of your time. I know that John Muir would approve.
I put a lot of effort into googling which trails are the best for backpacking. You are a bit limited by the availability of backpacking permits, which I will dive into later. Your choice will also depend on how many nights you want to spend on the trail. Obviously, you want to see some beautiful sights.
Look no further than the Pohono Trail.
The Pohono Trail is a perfect one night backpacking trek. It is a one-way, 13 mile hike. You are inundated with stunning overlooks of Yosemite Valley for a majority of the hike. If you look at a map of the trail, it is dotted with an outrageous amount of viewpoints. And with 3700 feet of elevation gain, it’s not that strenuous of a hike. It’s a lot of bang for your buck (I’ve never used this phrase before, but it just fits with this trail.)
To backpack the Pohono Trail, you will start at Glacier Point (arguably the best view in the park) and hike down to Tunnel View (another one of the great views in the park). You can hike it the other way (Tunnel View to Glacier Point), but it’s more difficult and even more difficult for transportation.
If you’d rather not backpack, you could do this as a long day hike if need be. You would need to start early as it can take 5-10 hours to hike the whole trail.
The Pohono Trail can be hiked once Glacier Point Road is open, likely mid-May until end of October. We hiked it in the middle of June, and there was still some snow on the ground. Be prepared if you hike it before the snow has all melted.
I mentioned that this is a 13 mile one-way trail. Unless you plan on completing a marathon and going both ways, you will need a way to get to the start of the trail and hopefully your car can be at the end of the trail. The end of the trail is 6 miles from Yosemite Valley, so unless you want to add that to your backpacking day (you don’t – there are better ways to spend your time in Yosemite), you’ll want to figure out transportation.
You can park a car at one end, drive another car to the start, hike the trail, then drive back to pick up the other car. This is definitely the least worrisome option, but you must have 2 cars available.
You can use the guided bus tour. This option is a little risky and mildly expensive ($57 round-trip per person). The bus stops at Glacier Point and then stops at Tunnel View on the way back IF there’s time.
You could take the shuttle from Yosemite Valley, hop off with your packs at Glacier Point, then try to catch the shuttle from Tunnel View the next day. The issue here is that you could miss the bus from Tunnel View, the bus might be full already, or it might not stop at Tunnel View at all.
You could also have person A take the bus tour, have person B drop your car at Tunnel View, try to convince the bus driver to pick up person A at Tunnel View, and then both of you can start together at Glacier Point. This puts you at the mercy of that bus driver, though.
Last bus option: you could park a car at Glacier Point, take the bus tour from there to Tunnel View, and hike the more strenuous Tunnel View to Glacier Point route. If the tour runs out of time, though, you won’t be dropped at Tunnel View and will be taken to Yosemite Valley with no car or way to get to the trailhead. Yikes.
Also, we had planned on trying this bus option, but 2 hours before our bus tour, they unexpectedly canceled the tour. We were given multiple reasons for why it was canceled, none of which made any sense. The bus tour option is really risky.
Hear me out. Hitchhiking is legal in California, meaning it’s legal in Yosemite, there are plenty of hikers out that can pick you up, it’s free, and you might make a new friend. In this scenario, you will park a car at Tunnel View and catch a ride to Glacier Point. The next day, you’ll have your car waiting for you when you finish your trek. There are plenty of places to stand with your thumb out. It only took us maybe 7 minutes to catch a ride.
Only a certain amount of wilderness permits are released from each trailhead to give everyone the chance for solitude on the trail. 60% of the permits for each trail are reserve-able. It is $5 per reservation and $5 per person to reserve a wilderness permit ahead of time. I highly recommend guaranteeing your spot ahead of time. If 2 of you are going, it will cost you 15 bucks to reserve your permit.
Head to this website to see if there are available permits for the Pohono Trail on the night you want. The dates listed on the page are dates that are no longer available. If it’s full, see below on how to get a permit once you’re in the park.
This is the form you fill out to try to reserve your permit. You can submit the form 24 weeks before you plan to go backpacking and up to 2 days before. When you submit your form, choose Wawona and Glacier Point Road as your “trailhead region”, and choose Pohono Trail (Glacier Point) as your “Trailhead Entry.” You are allowed to submit a 2nd choice if you want; Taft Point would be a good choice if Glacier Point ends up being full.
Once you submit, you will receive an answer in 1-2 business days. You then have 48 hours to pay for and confirm your wilderness permit.
Pick up your permit from one of the five wilderness centers once you arrive in the park. You must pick up your permit by 10am the day of your hike or it will be released to other campers.
Starting at 11am the day before your hike, you can get a first-come, first-served backpacking permit from one of the Wilderness Permit Stations in the park. They give priority to the closest Wilderness Permit Station in relation to the trailhead, so for the Pohono Trail you would want to go to the Yosemite Valley Wilderness Station.
There are no designated campsites on this trail. It is wild camping. Please always follow Leave No Trace rules.
This map has little arrows on the trail, and you must camp in areas past the arrows. Coming from Glacier Point, you’ll pass Bridalveil Creek, and you must camp past that point. There are some nice spots just past the creek where people had set up camp.
My recommendation, though, is to continue on and camp at one of the “Points.” We camped near Dewey Point, and it was epic for sunset. You could also continue on and camp near Crocker Point, which was one of our favorite views.
You will start at Glacier Point, which is STUNNING. Soak that view in before starting your trek.
After a mile of hiking, you will have to decide if you want to add an extra half mile to your trek by hiking to Sentinel Dome. Unfortunately, we were too short on time to be able to do it, but it is highly recommended.
Hike another 3.5 miles, and you will reach Taft Point, offering an incredible view of El Capitan.
2.5 miles later, you will reach Bridalveil Creek. You can camp beyond this landmark.
I recommend hiking another 2.5 miles to camp at Dewey Point. This means that you’ll be hiking around 9 miles to reach Dewey Point. Time the start of your hike accordingly.
Crocker Point is a little less than a mile from Dewey Point, and Stanford Point is 1.3 miles from Dewey. Both offer amazing views of Yosemite Valley.
After Stanford Point, the views are not as great for your last 3.7 miles. Enjoy the end of your hike, though, and take in Tunnel View when you reach the end.
Traffic in Yosemite can get really, really bad all summer long. Allow extra time to get to the trailhead to account for the traffic you might end up sitting in (it could potentially add an hour or more).
You will need to bring a bear canister to store your food and other smelly items. You can rent one of these when you pick up your backpacking permit from the Wilderness Center.
Start your hike early enough that you can add the hike to Sentinel Dome.
Bring bug spray and layers and an extra pair of socks for when you dunk your boot while creek crossing.
Spend a night or 2 at Yosemite’s Secret Backpackers’ Campground – you have access to it the night before and night after your backpacking trip.
Really take some time to soak in the views along this trail.
If you camp near one of the views of El Capitan, watch the lanterns go on at dusk. The climbers of El Cap turn their lanterns and headlamps on, and you can see them dotting the side of the mountain.
Because this trail isn’t over popular due to the transportation issues listed above, you will spend a lot of time in solitude. Enjoy it.
With so many options of beautiful views in Yosemite, I felt that this incredible trail really quenched my desire for beauty. I hope you get the chance to backpack the Pohono Trail.
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