The Best Illilouette Fall Trail Guide

NOTE: Glacier Point Road and all facilities will be closed for the entire 2022 season. This hike will be accessible either by first hiking up to Glacier Point or in reverse starting from Yosemite Valley (which is a full-day hike).

When you think of hiking in Yosemite, what comes to mind? Waterfalls, glacier-carved valleys, panoramic vistas? I think of all those things AND crowds! This hike is a gem because it combines all the best things with fewer crowds. A day hike to Illilouette Fall from Glacier Point on the Panorama Trail is step-for-step one of the most stunning hikes available!  

Half Dome towers above glacier-carved granite valleys with Nevada Falls in the background.  Pine trees dot the foreground.
The epic views just steps into the Panorama Trail!

Essential Info

Parking

Parking is available at the Glacier Point Parking Lot accessible via Glacier Point Road. This road typically opens in late May/early June and closes in October, depending on snowfall. Check the park website for details. When it is open, the lot can get full, especially on weekends or holidays. Arriving early is the best way to increase your chances of getting a spot.

Note: A major road improvement project is underway for Glacier Point Road. It will be closed for all of 2022 and delays of 30 minutes are predicted for 2023. Get more details from Park’s website here.

Logistics

The Glacier Point trailhead notes this hike as 2.0 miles out, making it a 4.0-mile roundtrip hike. My Samsung watch tracked it closer to 2.5 miles out and 5.0 miles roundtrip. 

One of the most important factors of this hike is that it has 1400’ of elevation loss on the hike to the Illilouette Fall, meaning you will be going downhill most of the way, and then you are coming uphill on your return trip. The steepest part of the hike has minimal shade and no water source. If you’re like me, hiking down to come back up is probably not your favorite thing to do but these two tips will help enjoy your hike anyway: 1. Start early to beat the heat. 2. Pack enough water!

Water & Bathrooms

There are no water sources on this trail. You can either bring water with you before you arrive at the trail or purchase water from the gift shop if it is open when you arrive.  

There are several bathroom buildings available throughout the Glacier Point Parking Lot. There are no bathrooms on the trail and nowhere go to hide if you need to use the bathroom on the trail. 

Getting Started

This hike starts from Glacier Point, an area known for its incredible scenery. This gives you a preview of what to expect on this extraordinary hike. Follow the sidewalk past the gift shop from the Glacier Point parking lot. When the walkway splits, veer to the right following the signs for the Panorama Trail. Once you come to the top of the hill, you will then see the Trailhead marker for both the Panorama Trail and the Pohono Trail. Illilouette Fall is the first stop on the Panorama Trail.  

Trailhead marker for the Panorama Trail noting distances to various landmarks, including Illilouette Fall at 2.0 miles.
Trailhead marker for the Panorama Trail including Illilouette Fall

Let’s Hike

Heading down to Illilouette Fall

This hike will inspire you right from the start! From the trailhead, make your way uphill on the dirt path through giant granite boulders. Within just a few minutes one of the most breathtaking views in all of Yosemite will open up before you. Get used to views like this along the way. This is why they call it the Panorama Trail! I couldn’t believe that a view like this is so close to the action of Glacier Point, yet felt miles away.

A green hillside with Glacier Point Overlook in the distance and Half Dome looming over Yosemite Valley.
Starting the trail near with views of Glacier Point

From here you’ll descend downhill on switchbacks while taking in epic views of Half Dome, Nevada Fall, and Vernal Fall. Yosemite’s waterfalls tend to flow the strongest in Spring and early Summer when snow is melting. If visiting later in the Summer or the Fall, the waterfalls may have limited to no flow.

The trail then leads you into a forested area. Enjoy the shade here! This is the only truly shaded area on the trail. Leaving the forest, you’ll get your first view of Illilouette Falls in the canyon to the left as you start to descend more steeply. In this section, you’ll pass through dense brush. Beware that you may hear a deep booming sound coming from the brush in this area. Initially, I was concerned it could be a bear, even though I had my bear spray at the ready. In talking with other hikers, I learned it was probably a type of bird native to the Sierra Nevada Mountains called a Blue Grouse. We never saw it but the other group and I both continued on our way past the brush where the sound came from without incident.

The trail to Illilouette Fall winding down hill through thick brush.
Heading downhill towards Illilouette Fall

Continue downhill until you come to a split and the trail turns to the left sharply as switchbacks lead down to the waterfall. From here, the overlook for Illilouette Fall is a little less than a mile away.  

A metal sign posts with letters cut out indicates the distances to  various destinations, including Illilouette Fall in 0.9 miles.
A marker as the trail splits towards Illilouette Fall Overlook.

Illilouette Fall Overlook

At the overlook, there is more shade and more granite boulders. This makes for the perfect spot for a lunch break. Illilouette Fall is visible from the front area of the overlook, however, it can be difficult to get a good view. Please use caution as there is no guardrail. What I liked most about this overlook was seeing Illilouette Fall combined with the back of Half Dome. It was a new take on one of my favorite icons. If hiking Half Dome is on your Bucket List, check out my Tips for Hiking Half Dome and Half Dome Lottery blogs for everything you need to know. 

Illilouette Fall cascades down a cliff with the back of Half Dome in the background
Illilouette Fall cascades down a cliff with the back of Half Dome in the distance.

Additional Options

From the overlook, there are two main options if you would like to continue a bit further before turning around. Both will add distance and elevation loss/gain to your hike. I did not continue to either of these, but here are the details you need to know

  • Illilouette Creek Bridge
    • I read multiple reviews noting that the views of Illilouette Fall are better from the lookout than the bridge. You would be going further downhill and need to come back up.
  • Panorama Point
    • This spot is known for spectacular views from a unique perspective. To see them, you’ll need to go downhill, cross Illilouette Creek Bridge, and work uphill to Panorama Point; then reverse that to get back to your car. This is roughly another mile in each direction and another 400 feet of elevation change.

The final option is to complete the full Panorama Trail from Glacier Point through to Nevada Fall and down into Yosemite Valley via the Mist or John Muir Trails. This is a full-day hike and should be thoroughly researched in advance.  

Returning to Glacier Point

To return your car from the overlook, you will go back the way you came. Soak up the last bit of shade you can in the overlook area and start your way up the switchbacks. At the confluence with the Pohono Trail, you will turn right to go back to how you came. This portion of the trail is completely exposed to the sun, all uphill, and can get hot. Pace yourself and drink plenty of water. Depending on the time of year, reaching the shade of the forest may feel like pure bliss.

A panoramic view of Yosemite icons - Half Dome, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.
Why it’s called the Panorama Trail – Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall (L to R)

No matter what, the amazing views will help you power on. As you wrap up your hike, take a few moments to observe how the weather may have changed since morning. What was a cloudless sky around Half Dome in the morning, may later be a moody sky full of character.  

I stood in silence enjoying the peace and gorgeous views. As I turned to leave, I knew there was only one thing that could make this beautiful, hot, and difficult adventure complete. Ice cream! Thankfully, the Glacier Point gift shop has plenty of food and drink options, including several ice cream choices. Post-hike ice cream cookie sandwich acquired!

My personal experiences on this hike

Heat

I visited in early June and hiked on Saturday morning with temperatures in the low 90s in the Yosemite Valley. This was an unexpected heat wave for that area. While the temperatures did not get as hot at the higher elevation of Glacier Point, the direct sun exposure on this trail had me feeling the heat. I started my hike around 11 AM, which is later than normal for me. This was a poor decision. The return incline in the heat kicked my butt. I drank a lot of water, stopped often in any patches of shade, and dug the cold compress out of my first aid kit in case I needed it for emergency cooling down. I am generally fairly sensitive to the heat, so what bothers me, may not bother everyone. Know yourself and be prepared.  

Falling

Another unexpected challenge on this hike was that I took a hard fall on the switchbacks on the way down to the Overlook. There was a massive fallen tree across the trail and the only way around it was over it. As I slid over the top, I did not take enough time to properly place my trekking poles for stability, and instead of bracing myself with the poles, I fell five feet down. Thankfully, I was ok overall but did gash my upper thigh and cause major bruising, snapped one of my poles right in half, and ripped an ill place hole in my pants. I took a long rest during lunch to recover and clean up what I could with the first aid kit.  

Final Thoughts

The way back was slow going from the fall and the heat. I was hiking solo on this adventure. There were a few times on the way back up that I struggled with my motivation and mindset. This was the hardest hike I’d done since the pandemic started and I honestly wasn’t in the right hiking shape for it, however, I was prepared and had to remind myself of that. I had with me everything I needed to take care of myself or call for help in an emergency (such as The 10 Essentials and my Garmin InReach). Once I reminded myself that I had what I needed, I knew how to stay safe, and I needed to just go at my pace, I was able to finish out the hike and soak up every last bit of the incredible scenery.  

Mountains in the distance are framed by pine trees.
Stunning views in every direction!

Illilouette Fall Highlights

Conservation Considerations

  • There are no bathrooms on this trail. Due to the terrain, it may be difficult to try to find a good place to go off the trail, if needed. There multiple bathrooms around the parking lot (more than just the crowded ones in the front) that are by far the best option.
  • Click here for current road conditions in Yosemite National Park, including details on Glacier Point Road.
  • In 2022, Glacier Point Road will be completely closed to vehicle traffic. In 2023, the road will be open with 30-minute construction delays. Full details can be found on the park’s website here.

Expeditions with Evelyn Exclusive

My favorite place to stay in Yosemite is easily Scenic Wonders. The rental community is located inside the park, less the five minutes from the entrance to Glacier Point Road. I’ve stayed there three times in recent memory and once as a child and have positive memories for every visit. There are a variety of options from studio and loft condos, cabins, and single family homes. I enjoy staying here for the convenient location, the perks of having a kitchen and fireplace, and the peace of the surroundings.

Illilouette Fall – Final Thoughts

Have you hiked to Illilouette Fall before? Let me know your thoughts. Are you considering it? If you have questions, let me know!

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