Hiking Yosemite’s Panorama Trail - Behind Half Dome with Generation Z

Overlooking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, California.
I look to my left. Half Dome rises out of the grey Sierra Wilderness and Maddie, my epic Generation Z hiking partner for the day who also happens to be my kid, scrambles up onto a mammoth rock to enjoy the view. We’re just feet from the world famous Glacier Point, a towering cliff hovering over Yosemite Valley where 3,000 feet down below, a lazy-in-August but deeply powerful Merced River carves it’s way through the landmarks.

We’ve decided to tackle the 8-plus mile sweeping Panorama Trail, which, according to the author of YosetmiteHikes is one of those hikes where “…One day you’ll look back on your life and split it into ‘before Panorama Trail’ and ‘after Panorama Trail’…” Our drop off at Glacier Point is the start of our Yosemite journey today and will take us down into the Nevada, Illilouette and Vernal waterfall depths and onto the footprints of early pioneers and a man named John Muir and his Trail.

Panorama of Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Fall as we hike down towards Illiouette Fall, Yosemite.

Stop. Turn up your volume. Natural acoustics courtesy of Mother Nature, we hear the roar of all three falls from 7,000 feet up.

The gentle descent from the ridge leads us down towards the gorge of Illiouette Falls and Maddie and I connect without a single ubiquitous iScreen her generation was brought up mastering. We chat about wildlife, rocks, hair products, back-to-school outfits, and the future of water on the planet. 

As a “Generation Z-er”, the use of technology for her is a tool or appendage that she was born with. The use of an iScreen for her is just about as comfortable as the use of an arm or a leg. However, also as a “Gen-Zer”, valuing the importance of caring for the stunning wilderness we are treking through is a deep part of how her generation is also defined. According to a recent article in the New York Times, she and her generation are mindful of the imprints their footsteps will make on the planet. Although they are seeped in technology, they aren't driven by it and they are “...conscientious, hard-working, somewhat anxious and mindful of the future." And that, honestly, makes me happy and relieved and eager to continue to share my passion for the outdoors and nature with her. There is hope!

Pools of water above Illiouette Fall in Yosemite National Park on the Panorama Trail.
At Illiouette Fall, the low California water table leaves us gorgeous, hot rocks above the falls to lay on for a snack break. Pools to dip in our feet are irresistible and we make plans to come back here someday soon with a huge picnic and wouldn’t the other kids love this.

We begin the climb out of the valley towards the back of Half Dome and the base of Nevada Fall via a seemingly eternal series of switchbacks on a hot day. Trail magic happens when you connect over switchbacks, and passing back and forth leftover Hershey bars from s’more fixings as we trek along, up-up, makes our bonding via chocolate and hard, switchback-breathing more true.

Back side of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park.
There now before us is the glowing monolith of the backside of Half Dome. We’re so close now I can almost feel the weathered cracks on it’s exposed dome and I find myself on a high that has nothing to do with the chocolate. This is why we preserve wilderness. This is the gift I want to leave my Maddie and her generation of Zs. And this is why I’m so thrilled to know that these kids feel the exact same way. They just have more brilliant tools to manage it.

Celebratory stop at Nevada Falls, Yosemite. 

Coming back down, both in my head and on the trail, we bump into the renown Mist Trail and lead ourselves over to Nevada Fall. In the shadow of the massive Liberty Cap, the falls are a wild combination of raw hydro-power and interesting people watching. Maddie is awed by the group of likely-Europeans sunning themselves in tighty-whitey bathing-suit type gear on the rocks above the falls.

After having hiked mostly alone for most of the morning, it’s impossible not to notice we’ve now hit one of the most popular hikes in the park. The crowded trails are worth it as the views continue to overwhelm the “awe” senses for Maddie and me as we begin the 2,000 foot descent and end of the Panorama Trail via the John Muir Trail.

Half Dome, Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall as we descend on the John Muir Trail, Yosemite.
No pain no gain. Screaming feet, toes crushed to the front of our boots in the last mile make us laugh with tears in our eyes and break out into a jog and I’m having a blast going through this with a young gal who finds me mostly embarrassing at home these days. I may be embarrassing, but I am deeply honored to have my 10 year old respect the restraint, humility and incredible benefits that preserving this wilderness can bring to an individual and to the crowds around us.

That sort of speech may make her roll her eyes. “Embarrassing Mommmmmm.” But inside, I know she’s feeling the essence of that truth. Embarrassing or not.

90 degree heat we are HOT & covered in dirt at the end of the hike. Merced River. Yosemite Valley.
Our final steps to the bottom of the valley towards Happy Isles and the last grunt to our awaiting pick-up at Curry Village are a mix of tiredness, dirt, and giddiness. Maddie is a true adventure partner. She kicks it on the trail and she’s part of a generation who will actively engage in taking care of the land we were blessed to pass through today. 

As I look at the Merced River’s winding path below the grandeur of the granite walls we’ve just hiked down, I see a bright, panorama of our future.

For more conversation and photos find me on Instagram, facebook, and twitter.

-Outdoorsy Mama  

Trip Report:
Location: Panorama Trail. Access via Glacier Point (descending) or Happy Isles (ascending). Yosemite National Park.
Length: between 8-9 miles
Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevations: @ 3,200 feet
Exposure: Mostly sun.
Kid Friendly? For experienced kid-hikers. Exposures around waterfalls are extreme and deadly. Know your kids. 
What to Wear/Bring: Layers. Sun protection. Water & filter. 
Tip: Low to no cell service. Be prepared.

Where to Eat: After the hike head straight to the closest source of food at the base of the trail in Yosemite Valley - Curry Village's Pizza Deck. Outdoor seating with a festive outdoor crowd & all the right food to cure the salty, sweet, crunchy cravings we've been having all day. Pizza Deck in Curry Village 

For More Yosemite Articles:


  1. I enjoyed this post so much! I love hiking with my 8-year old daughter and can't wait to take her to Yosemite. You're so lucky to have such amazing natural beauty so close to home! Adorable picture of the two of you:)

    1. thanks katey! love to hear you're out with your 8 year old --- these little ones are keeping up now and soon i'll be left in the dust ha! hope you get to yosemite -- it's magical :) -a

  2. That’s great news! Thank's for tips & nice pic sharing with us. It’s a very useful post. thanks for the efforts. It helps me with my story writing. You are truly to be commended. Your blog posts are very good about.

  3. What an unforgettable hike! We were lucky enough to do this in early May due to the low snowfall this year. Great views all around, I high recommend pairing this with the 4 Mile Trail if you have the energy.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.