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