The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Yosemite’s Pohono Trail

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Embark on a journey through the heart of Yosemite’s breathtaking wilderness by exploring the Pohono Trail, a path that weaves through some of the most stunning landscapes the park has to offer. This trail is not just a hike; it’s an adventure that promises unparalleled views of iconic landmarks, challenging terrains, and serene moments in nature’s embrace. Whether you’re an avid backpacker seeking to conquer the Pohono Trail backpacking routes or a day hiker eager to witness the majestic beauty of Yosemite from the vantage points along the Pohono Trail, this guide is your compass. With essential tips on navigating the trail, insights into the best times to visit, and a sneak peek into the must-see attractions, we’re here to ensure your Pohono Trail hike is nothing short of extraordinary. Let’s step into the wild, where every turn on the trail tells a story, and every step brings a new discovery.

Overview of the Pohono Trail

The Pohono Trail, a jewel nestled in the heart of Yosemite National Park, offers an immersive journey through the park’s most breathtaking landscapes. This historic trail, named after the Miwok word for “puffing wind,” serves as a testament to the area’s rich cultural and natural heritage. Stretching approximately 13 miles along Yosemite’s southern rim, the Pohono Trail provides hikers with an unparalleled opportunity to explore the majestic beauty of Yosemite Valley from a series of stunning vantage points.

Starting at Glacier Point, an overlook with sweeping views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite’s high country, the Pohono Trail weaves its way to Tunnel View, another iconic viewpoint offering a classic panoramic vista of the valley. Along this journey, hikers traverse a trail with an elevation gain that can exceed 3,700 feet, challenging even seasoned adventurers as they navigate between 4,000 and 7,214 feet above sea level.

The Pohono Trail’s length and elevation are complemented by its natural features, including lush meadows, dense pine forests, and commanding cliff-top views. Highlights along the trail include breathtaking stops at Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, and Inspiration Point, each offering unique perspectives of Yosemite’s famed granite landmarks and cascading waterfalls. The trail’s diverse ecosystem and varying landscapes provide a vivid backdrop to an already extraordinary hiking experience.

Embarking on the Pohono Trail hike, adventurers will find more than just physical challenges and scenic beauty; they will discover a profound connection to the natural world. This trail is not only a path through the park but a journey through history, where each step echoes the stories of those who have traversed this land for centuries. Whether you’re drawn to the allure of backpacking across Yosemite’s wilderness or captivated by the idea of day hikes to spectacular overlooks, the Pohono Trail offers an unforgettable experience that beckons hikers from around the globe.

hikers on a trail

Temperature, Climate, and Terrain

The Pohono Trail, set within the grandeur of Yosemite National Park, presents a dynamic climate and varied terrain that can significantly influence your hiking experience. The trail’s elevation and location contribute to a wide range of weather conditions, which shift with the seasons, offering distinct experiences throughout the year.

Temperature and Climate

Yosemite’s climate, particularly along the Pohono Trail, is characterized by warm summers and cold winters. Summer temperatures along the trail can range from the mid-70s to the low 90s (Fahrenheit) during the day, cooling off significantly at night. This season offers the most stable weather for hiking, with long, sunny days providing ample daylight for the journey. However, afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon and can add an element of unpredictability.

Winter transforms the trail into a snowy wonderland, with temperatures often dropping below freezing. Snow and ice can cover the trail from late fall to early spring, making it challenging and sometimes inaccessible without proper gear and preparation. Spring and fall offer transitional conditions, with variable weather that can include late snowfall in spring or early snow in fall, alongside milder temperatures and the changing colors of the park’s flora.

Terrain and Trail Conditions

The terrain of the Pohono Trail varies significantly along its length, from well-maintained dirt paths to rocky sections requiring careful navigation. The trail traverses a range of elevations, from about 4,000 feet at the valley floor to over 7,200 feet at its highest points. This elevation change not only affects the climate and weather conditions encountered but also contributes to the physical challenge of the hike.

Hikers can expect to navigate through dense forests, open meadows, and granite cliff edges, each offering its own beauty and challenges. The trail conditions change with the weather, from dry and dusty in the summer to potentially slick and snow-covered in the winter. Additionally, certain sections of the trail may be more exposed, requiring caution and preparation for sun exposure or high winds.

Understanding the temperature, climate, and terrain of the Pohono Trail is crucial for a safe and enjoyable hiking experience. Whether planning a Pohono Trail backpacking trip or a day hike, being prepared for the trail’s diverse conditions will enhance your adventure, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Yosemite National Park.

What to Expect on the Pohono Trail

Embarking on the Pohono Trail is a journey through Yosemite’s stunning wilderness, filled with panoramic vistas and the serene beauty of nature. This trail offers a comprehensive exploration of the park’s southern rim, presenting hikers with unforgettable views and a rewarding challenge. Here’s what to expect on your adventure along the Pohono Trail, including key viewpoints and insights into the trail’s difficulty.

Trail Route and Major Viewpoints: The Pohono Trail stretches approximately 13 miles from Glacier Point to Tunnel View, two of Yosemite’s most iconic overlooks. Starting at Glacier Point, hikers are immediately treated to expansive views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. The trail then leads to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point, offering unique perspectives of the valley and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. As you continue, the trail meanders through forests and past meadows, with elevation changes that introduce a variety of ecosystems. Key landmarks include Inspiration Point, offering a classic view of Yosemite Valley, and the serene Bridalveil Creek area, perfect for a restful break amidst the sounds of nature.

Difficulty in Pohono Trail: The Pohono Trail is considered moderate to strenuous, with its challenges arising from several factors. The elevation gain and loss throughout the hike can be taxing, with some sections featuring steep ascents or descents. The trail’s length, combined with Yosemite’s elevation, also requires a good level of physical fitness and endurance.

Preparation Tips:

  • Start conditioning well in advance, focusing on cardio and leg strength to handle the trail’s demands.
  • Wear sturdy hiking boots for traction and support, and pack layers to adapt to changing weather conditions along the trail.
  • Carry a detailed map and compass or GPS device. While the trail is generally well-marked, being able to navigate in the wilderness is crucial.
  • There are limited sources of water along the trail, so carry sufficient water and a way to purify water from natural sources. Also, pack enough high-energy food to sustain you throughout the hike.
  • To make the most of daylight hours and avoid afternoon thunderstorms in summer, start your hike early in the morning.

The Pohono Trail, with its varying landscapes and breathtaking views, offers a memorable experience for those who prepare adequately. It’s a testament to the rugged beauty of Yosemite National Park, challenging hikers to push their limits while rewarding them with some of the most spectacular vistas in the Sierra Nevada. Whether you’re seeking solitude, adventure, or the thrill of exploring Yosemite’s high country, the Pohono Trail delivers an adventure that resonates long after the journey ends.


Must-See Attractions Along the Pohono Trail

The Pohono Trail offers a treasure trove of natural wonders and awe-inspiring viewpoints that encapsulate the essence of Yosemite National Park. As you traverse this scenic route, there are several must-see attractions that stand as testaments to the park’s unrivaled beauty. Here’s a guide to the highlights and unique features that make the Pohono Trail a bucket-list hike for nature lovers.

Glacier Point: The journey on the Pohono Trail often begins at Glacier Point, an overlook offering panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra. This vantage point provides a breathtaking introduction to the wonders that lie ahead, making it a perfect spot for contemplation and photos.

Sentinel Dome: A moderate detour from the main trail leads to Sentinel Dome, where hikers are rewarded with 360-degree views of the park, including El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. The relatively easy climb to the dome’s summit is well worth the effort for the expansive vistas.

Taft Point: Known for its sheer drop-offs and the famous fissures — narrow cracks in the earth with dramatic drops — Taft Point delivers a thrilling perspective of the valley below. The view from the edge, with El Capitan rising prominently across the valley, is both exhilarating and serene.

Dewey Point: Dewey Point offers a less crowded alternative for those seeking solitude along with spectacular views. Here, the vastness of Yosemite Valley stretches out below, framed by the towering peaks of the Sierra Nevada, making it a favorite spot for photographers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Bridalveil Creek Area: As you journey along the Pohono Trail, the Bridalveil Creek area provides a peaceful respite with its gentle streams and the soothing sounds of water. This area is particularly enchanting in the spring when the snowmelt increases the creek’s flow, adding to the area’s tranquility.

Inspiration Point: Though slightly off the main trail, Inspiration Point is a detour worth taking. It offers a classic view of Yosemite Valley reminiscent of the first views that greeted early visitors to the park. This spot provides a different perspective on the valley, inviting hikers to reflect on the natural splendor of Yosemite.

Waterfalls and Valleys: Throughout the hike, the trail affords views of Yosemite’s famous waterfalls, including distant glimpses of Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in North America. The changing seasons dramatically alter the landscape, with spring bringing roaring waterfalls and blooming wildflowers, while fall ushers in a palette of warm colors.

Camping on the Pohono Trail

Camping on the Pohono Trail offers a unique way to experience the serene beauty and rugged wilderness of Yosemite National Park. To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience while preserving the natural environment, it’s essential to follow specific guidelines and practice Leave No Trace principles. Here are some tips and recommendations for camping along the Pohono Trail.

Guidelines for Camping on the Pohono Trail

Permits: All overnight backpackers on the Pohono Trail must obtain a wilderness permit from Yosemite National Park. Permits are issued on a quota system to limit the impact on the environment, so it’s advisable to apply early, especially for peak season trips.

Campsite Locations: While there are no designated campsites along the Pohono Trail, backpackers are encouraged to camp at least 100 feet from trails and water sources. Good camping practices include choosing sites on durable surfaces, such as rock or dry grass, to minimize impact. Key areas for setting up camp include near Bridalveil Creek and along the trail’s higher elevations, where views of the valley can be spectacular.

Water Sources: Plan your campsite location considering access to water sources. Bridalveil Creek is a reliable water source for much of the year, but always treat water before drinking to avoid waterborne illnesses.

Practicing Leave No Trace on the Pohono Trail

Leave No Trace principles are crucial for preserving the natural beauty of Yosemite and ensuring that future generations can enjoy the wilderness as you have.

Plan Ahead and Prepare: Understand the regulations, check weather conditions, and ensure you have the right equipment for a safe and low-impact trip.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stick to established trails and camp on durable surfaces to avoid damaging the ecosystem.

Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Use toilet facilities where available or bury human waste at least 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water sources, trails, and camp.

Leave What You Find: Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts. Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.

Minimize Campfire Impacts: Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. Keep fires small and only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. Always extinguish fires completely and scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them. Never feed animals.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Respect other trail users and protect the quality of their experience. Be courteous on the trail and at campsites, keeping noise levels down.

By adhering to these guidelines and principles, camping on the Pohono Trail can be an unforgettable adventure that harmonizes with the natural environment. Yosemite’s wilderness is a precious resource; by practicing responsible camping and Leave No Trace principles, you contribute to its preservation for future adventurers.

Pohono Trail Backpacking Tips

Backpacking the Pohono Trail is an adventure that rewards preparation and respect for the wilderness. To ensure a successful and enjoyable journey, here are essential backpacking tips, focusing on gear, food, water, and safety.

Essentials for Backpacking

Gear: A reliable backpack, a lightweight tent or shelter, and a sleeping bag suited for the season are must-haves. Pack a durable water filter or purification tablets, as you’ll need to source water from natural supplies along the trail. A portable stove is preferable for cooking, as fire regulations may restrict open flames.

Food: Opt for lightweight, high-energy foods such as trail mix, energy bars, and freeze-dried meals. Plan your meals to ensure you have enough calories to sustain your energy levels, and always pack a little extra in case your trip takes longer than expected.

Water: Hydration is crucial. Carry sufficient water and know the locations of water sources along the Pohono Trail. The ability to treat water is essential, as natural water sources can contain pathogens.

Safety Tips and Wildlife Encounters

Safety Tips: Always let someone know your itinerary and expected return time. Check weather forecasts and trail conditions before departing, and be prepared for sudden weather changes. Carry a basic first aid kit and know how to use it.

Wildlife Encounters: Yosemite is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including bears. Store your food and scented items in bear-proof containers or use park-provided bear boxes. Maintain a respectful distance from all wildlife and never feed them. If you encounter a bear, do not run; instead, make yourself appear larger and make noise to scare it away.

Navigating the Pohono Trail

Navigating the Pohono Trail requires preparation and attention to detail. With the right tools and knowledge, you can stay on course and enjoy the stunning landscapes Yosemite has to offer.

Maps and Navigation Tools

Maps: A detailed, waterproof map of Yosemite National Park, specifically covering the Pohono Trail, is essential. The National Park Service provides maps, or you can purchase topographic maps from outdoor retailers.

Navigation Tools: In addition to a physical map, a compass and a GPS device can be invaluable tools for staying oriented. Familiarize yourself with their use before hitting the trail. Mobile apps with offline maps specific to Yosemite can also be helpful, but don’t rely solely on electronic devices as batteries can deplete.

Staying on the Trail and What to Do If Lost

Staying on the Trail: Pay attention to trail markers and signs. The Pohono Trail is well-marked, but sections can become less distinct due to weather or overgrowth. Avoid creating new paths or shortcuts, as this can damage the ecosystem and lead to erosion.

If You Get Lost: Stay calm and stay put to avoid getting further off track. Use your map and compass to orient yourself. If you cannot determine your location, try to backtrack to the last known point on the trail. If backtracking is not an option, make yourself visible and audible to searchers. Always carry a whistle and a mirror or other signaling devices for emergencies.

winters trail

Key Takeaways

  • The Pohono Trail offers an immersive experience in Yosemite National Park, showcasing breathtaking views, diverse ecosystems, and historical significance.
  • Preparation is key for tackling the trail’s challenges, including its length of approximately 13 miles, elevation changes, and varying terrain. Proper planning regarding gear, food, and water is essential for a successful hike.
  • Seasonal variations significantly affect the trail experience, from snow-covered paths in winter to lush, vibrant landscapes in spring and summer. Understanding the climate and terrain helps hikers prepare for what they will encounter.
  • Leave No Trace principles are crucial for preserving the natural beauty and ecological integrity of the trail. Hikers are encouraged to minimize their impact by packing out trash, camping responsibly, and respecting wildlife.
  • Safety is paramount, with guidelines for navigating the trail, handling wildlife encounters, and ensuring personal well-being. Preparedness includes carrying navigation tools, understanding weather conditions, and knowing what to do if lost.
  • The trail offers unforgettable attractions, including iconic viewpoints like Glacier Point and Taft Point, and natural landmarks such as Sentinel Dome and Bridalveil Creek, making it a must-visit for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
  • Camping on the Pohono Trail provides a unique way to experience Yosemite’s wilderness but requires careful planning and adherence to park regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure.


  1. What is the length of the Pohono Trail?
    The Pohono Trail stretches approximately 13 miles.
  2. Do I need a permit to hike the Pohono Trail?
    Yes, a wilderness permit is required for overnight backpacking on the Pohono Trail.
  3. Can you camp anywhere along the Pohono Trail?
    Camping is allowed but must be at least 100 feet from the trail and water sources, following Leave No Trace principles.
  4. What are the major viewpoints on the Pohono Trail?
    Major viewpoints include Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, and Inspiration Point.
  5. How difficult is the Pohono Trail?
    The trail is considered moderate to strenuous due to elevation changes and length.
  6. What is the best time of year to hike the Pohono Trail?
    Late spring through early fall is ideal, to avoid snow and icy conditions.
  7. Are there water sources along the Pohono Trail?
    Yes, but all water from natural sources should be treated before drinking.
  8. How do I avoid getting lost on the Pohono Trail?
    Carry a detailed map, a compass, and possibly a GPS device, and stay on marked trails.
  9. Are fires allowed on the Pohono Trail?
    Fires are generally prohibited outside of designated campgrounds to prevent wildfires.
  10. How do I get to the Pohono Trailhead?
    The trail can be accessed from Glacier Point or Tunnel View, depending on your starting point.

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