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Reaching Glacier Point the Old-Fashioned Way

September 24, 2000|JOHN McKINNEY

Four-Mile Trail is a Yosemite classic, the original route to Glacier Point. When it was constructed in the 1870s, it extended four miles, but after an overhaul in the 1920s and the addition of some switchbacks, it now measures 4.8 miles. No matter, the original trail name is still with us.

In my early Boy Scout days of hiking Yosemite, Four-Mile Trail seemed far longer than its name suggested. We were more than a little surprised to struggle up the trail and find the Glacier Point Hotel (then in its last days; it burned in 1969) and hordes of tourists who had driven there. You mean we could have driven to Glacier Point?

Walking to it means you'll appreciate the view more, our Scoutmaster said.

It took me three decades before I really appreciated our Scoutmaster's wisdom. Indeed, the Yosemite Valley panorama does seem more satisfying after a hike with a 3,200-foot elevation gain. Now I'm a strong advocate for hiking up to Glacier Point.

Yes, you can catch a ride to Glacier Point and walk down, but at least experience Four-Mile Trail one way or another. (During cooler months, you have to walk up the trail. Glacier Point Road is closed November to May east of the Badger Pass Ski Area. How far you can safely proceed up Four-Mile Trail is limited by snowfall during these months.)

Glacier Point offers restrooms, a snack bar, the old Geology Hut, a new amphitheater and a 0.25-mile paved pathway. The same stunning view that has wowed generations of Yosemite visitors remains, of course.

For the hiker ascending Four-Mile Trail, the views begin with the meandering Merced River, then all the postcard panoramas of Upper Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, Vernal Falls and much more.

Directions to trail head: From Southside Drive in Yosemite Valley, head 1.2 miles west of Yosemite Village to mile-marker V18 and the pullouts alongside the road.

To reach Glacier Point by car, head out of the valley about nine miles south on California Highway 41, then follow Glacier Point Road 16 miles east to the parking lot and trail head.

The hike: As if to disguise its charms, the first 25% of Four-Mile Trail is a mellow meander across the valley floor followed by a moderate ascent among oak and manzanita. For impatient hikers, it seems to take a long time to leave traffic noises behind.

About 1.5 miles out, the real climb begins, first through more oak woodland, then among incense cedar and white fir. It's about 2.3 miles of steep ascent, rewarded by evermore expansive vistas of Yosemite Valley and a bird's-eye view of Yosemite Falls.

Finally, you finish all those switchbacks and the last mile is a cooler, calmer climb and contour amid sugar pine and white fir to Glacier Point.

Glacier Point was the launch pad for Yosemite's after-dark, crowd-pleasing Firefall. Piles of burning embers were pushed over the edge to create a spectacle that was popular for nearly 100 years before it was halted in 1968.

While your descent to Yosemite Valley may not be as dramatic as the Firefall, it will be memorable.

For more of John McKinney's hiking tips and trails, visit Internet


Four-Mile Trail

WHERE: Yosemite

DISTANCE: To Glacier Point is 9.6 miles round trip with 3,200-foot elevation

TERRAIN: Wooded slopes, bold granite landscape.

HIGHLIGHTS: Postcard panoramas of Yosemite Valley from legendary trail.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Yosemite National Park, P.O. Box 577, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389; tel. (209) 372-0200

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