El Capitan

  • Big Hikes rating: ★★★☆☆
  • Difficulty: Strenuous
  • Summit: 7569 ft / 2307 m
  • Distance: 16.8 miles / 27.0 km
  • Elevation gain: 1269 ft / 386 m
  • Time: 6 – 10 hours

Please be aware
This hike is closed in winter due to the access road up to the trail head at Tamarack Flat Campground being closed from December to May. You can find more information about the trail head below or on the NPS Tamarack Flat Campground website.


Stunning views over Yosemite Valley and Half Dome
Stunning views over Yosemite Valley and Half Dome

El Capitan is often overlooked as a day hike but it's maintained trail climaxes in jaw dropping views over Yosemite Valley and Half Dome. A popular destination for climbers, around the summit you can often hear voices below – even if you can't see them.

River crossing near start of trail
River crossing near start of trail

Although well trodden, the trail is very quiet so bear encounters are possible (as the author discovered). A bell or similar is recommended so not to startle bears and be prepared.

Starting at Tamarack Flat Campground the first 3 miles / 4.8 km is a disused road which gradually descends through forest, home to enormous pine cones as big as your head.

The El Capitan trail is mostly through forest
The El Capitan trail is mostly through forest

The trail then turns into a moderately steep uphill path through forest, breaking into more exposed terrain before descending back into forest.

You can see El Capitan through the trees before you walk around and up onto the big exposed summit.

The trail flattens out near the top
The trail flattens out near the top

The return journey retrace your steps back to the Tamarack Flat Campground.


Best lunch Spot: At the summit there is a makeshift stone bench built under the shade of a tree.

Highlight: Great views over Yosemite Valley.

El Capitan Trail Head

The El Capitan trailhead is located at the Tamarack Flat Campground which is accessed by taking the Tioga Road (Highway 120 – close December to May) away from Yosemite Valley and then turning right on to Big Oak Flat Road. This should take you around 45 minutes from Yosemite Valley.

Please refer to the map below for directions on how to get to the Tamarack Flat Campground.

Once at the Tamarack Flat Campground you can park in the parking lot. To find the trail head, walk through the parking lot and past the WC. You should then see a track going off into the woods with a barrier across it, and the following sign nearby, this is the trail head.

El Capitan trail head sign
Big Oak Flat Road: 6.4 miles, Foresta Junction / El Capitan: 8.4 miles /
Yosemite falls 11.0 miles / Yosemite Valley: 16.2 miles

Yosemite Valley Map

Big Hikes Yosemite trail map or Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Point and Glacier Point
Click map for larger version

El Capitan Variations

You can extend this hike by continuing East from the El Capitan summit to Eagle Peak. To extend even further from Eagle Peak it is possible to hike down to the valley floor via the Upper Yosemite Fall trail.

See the trail head sign and Yosemite Valley map above for distances and routes.

Photos

A nice shady spot for lunch at the top of El Capitan
A nice shady spot for lunch at the top of El Capitan
A US Geological Marker at the top of El Capitan
A US Geological Marker at the top of El Capitan
The view down to the bottom of the valley
The view down to the bottom of the valley