DISTANCE
13.3 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
5226 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

birding

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

forest

views

wild flowers

wildlife

no dogs

hiking
16 days ago

This is a tough but worthwhile hike. To say you’ve hiked to the edge of El Capitan from the Valley Floor is very cool! I’d recommend taking at least 4-5 liters of water. I only took my 3-liter Camelbak, and I felt like I had to conserve my water the entire time.
The Yosemite Falls Trail is great for the first 2 miles or so. Columbia Rock has a beautiful view. The initial view of the Falls is breathtaking. The cryptic junction off to the right has a frightening, vertiginous drop, but it’s cool because it’s the only place in the park where you can see Yosemite Falls in its entirety. And even the first few hundred feet of switchbacks is nice because the view of the Falls and Half Dome in the background is amazing (especially in late spring when the Falls are at full force).
Then you have the dreaded switchbacks. They’re exposed to the sun in the morning, they have no view, and they’re steep. You just have to put your head down and power through it. It’s not fun, but you’ve got to do it if you want to get to El Capitan.
When you get to the top of the Yosemite Falls Trail, you can either turn right to check out the overlook of the Falls (I feel like this isn’t a very good view... the best view near the Falls is at Yosemite Point) or you can continue straight into the forest on the trail to Eagle Peak and El Capitan. This 5-mile portion of the trail is relatively flat (and buggy—bring insect repellent), but there is definitely some elevation gain. You have to keep going up if you want to get to the heights of Eagle Peak and El Cap!
I saved Eagle Peak for my return and hiked straight to El Capitan. The top of El Capitan is very barren and dome-like. But to get to the edge, you have to hike down about 400 feet in elevation down a slope. There’s no definitive trail, but you’ll know you’re close to the edge when you see the valley floor below you (duh). I got as close to the edge as I was comfortable and stopped for lunch to enjoy the awesome views. Didn’t see any climbers. Had the whole rock to myself!
When snooping around near the edge of the cliff, I saw some climbing gear and some leftover water from when Alex Honnold and his climbing partner broke the El Capitan speed record just a few days prior. That was cool.
From the edge of the cliff, you have to scramble back up the slope to the top of El Cap. Then you continue for another couple of miles until you reach the Eagle Peak junction. You may think to yourself, “Ugh, do I really want to do this?” But trust me, you do. According to the sign, it’s .3 miles to Eagle Peak, and it’s all uphill, but it’s totally worth it. When you get to Eagle Peak and scramble up to the top of the rocks, you’ll see what might be the best view of the Valley. It’s like the North Valley version of Glacier Point, but without the crowds. I had it all to myself! Amazing!
Enjoy Eagle Peak and the walk back to the Yosemite Falls Trail. Then, (knee) brace yourself for the descent. It’s a necessary evil when hiking that high in the valley, but with the sun in a different position later in the day, the views will still be lovely, and you’ll be happy you’ve endured the hike to El Capitan!