El Capitan Trail (historical)

HARD 46 reviews
#19 of 212 trails in

El Capitan Trail (historical) is a 13.3 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Mariposa, California that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from April until October.

DISTANCE
13.3 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
5,226 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

birding

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

forest

views

wild flowers

wildlife

no dogs

22 days ago

Lay down and look over the edge!

hiking
2 months 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 with Half Dome in the background is amazing (especially in late spring when the Falls are at full force--I did this trail on June 5, 2018).

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.

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. Compared to the Yosemite Falls Trail, this 5-mile portion of the hike 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 Capitan.

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 500 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 rock climbers that day. 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!

hiking
2 months ago

Clocked 15.8 miles from Camp 4 to the summit of El Cap and back with no detours and little dilly dallying (was trying to beat a thunderstorm). What a sensational thing to say that I hiked to the top of El Capitan. I hope my knees will forgive me someday. Would’ve liked more guidance at the top. We all just sort of parked where we felt safe after it leveled out, but there wasn’t really a clear “you made it” spot, or if there was I missed it.

hiking
2 months ago

This hike was just under 10 miles for us going from Camp 4 to the edge of El Cap (one way). The mileage at the top screwed us over a little bit, but it is crazy beautiful. Do it, if you have the chance. Safe Travels!

hiking
2 months ago

This is a pretty challenging trail and definitely earns its “strenuous” reputation. The first few miles to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls is the most difficult and once done with that it’s another few miles to El Capitan, but from start to finish there are some amazing views. It was a busy day with a lot of visitors stopping at the top of the falls so be prepared to share the trail. Start early, where comfortable shoes and bring lots of water and snacks to keep you going.

7 months ago

hiking
8 months ago

The first 3.2 miles are the toughest. The following 4.7mi are a slight breeze except there’s a steep draw though, I’d say about 3.4mi of that 4.7 in with a 9-10% grade for about a 1/4 mi going down. I started at 6:30am and made it back by 4:15pm. You shouldn’t take any breaks longer than 2 minutes a piece and take as many as 20. If you’re an amateur hiker, bring lots of water and food. The last 2 miles towards El Capitan are not as well marked due to the fact that you’re basically on rock but just look for the small man made rock piles and you’ll be fine. The view is breathtaking. Though I didn’t find a geo marker, it was well worth the work.

hiking
11 months ago

Great hike
It's 15.8 miles according to the trail markers plus more if you side track to see the views on top of the falls or eagl peak.
Views were great despite the haziness from the fire smoke...
there are no signs on top of El Capitan but the geological marker is on the rock at the very end befofore you can slid off
The first 3.2 miles is pretty all up and switchbacks is the hardest part of the hike...
start early if you are on the slower pace and give 10-12 hours

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Very rewarding but challenging

hiking
Monday, June 26, 2017

En somme, l'une des plus belles randonnées que j'ai jamais faite ; Une randonnée superbe pour une journée ... on a commencé à 8h du mat et on est revenu au parking vers 19h du soir ; donc 9h en somme y compris une pause d'1h30 au sommet de el capitain. Comme tout le monde dit, c'est les premiers 3-4 miles (5-6 km) qui sont les plus durs à cause du gain d'élévation rapide de 1 000m pendant cette partie je crois. Heureusement la suite était beaucoup plus faisable. Le début de la randonnée fait partie d'une autre randonnée qui s'appelle "upper falls trail" (celle qui correspond à la partie la plus dure de toute la randonnée de el capitain). C'est aussi pendant cette partie où on a vu plein de randonneurs. Dès la fin de ce point-là, on est rarement passé par d'autres randonneurs allant vers el cap. Au sommet il faisait super beau malgré le vent et on n'a rencontré que quelques campeurs. En gros, on vous conseille fortement de faire cette randonéé si vous êtes en forme et aimez bien une randonnée gratifiante. N'oubliez pas d'apporter beaucoup de l'eau et de petites choses à grignoter !

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Awesome hike views are breathtaking. Take mosquito repellent you will need it.

hiking
Friday, April 21, 2017

tough one because the first 3.5 is the upper falls trail, after that it's not bad, once you get there it's unbelievable made me feel accomplished it was breathing

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Very difficult, bring extra water and a spare sweater- temperature changes quickly!

hiking
Sunday, October 23, 2016

Wonderful hike. Great views, intense workout if you huddle. The end is a bit tricky, so heads up on that. It's a fairly steep downhill to the edge of El Capitan. I went during a fairly wet time, so it was a bit slick. After the long day, it can be pretty grueling to go back up the slick rock hill at the summit.

Views are nice. Solid, but not phenomenal. I give 4 stars instead of 5 because I did Clouds Rest on the same trip, and the view on El Capitan doesn't even come close to comparing. If you have to pick one or the other, Go the Clouds Rest route. That said, if you have the time, do both!

I did the other peaks in the area. All said and done it was about 22 miles and 10,000 feet of gain. Took about 7 hours or so, though you may want to budget a bit more if you don't have a lot of experience.

Check out some of the photos from this hike on Instagram: ahaler1

hiking
Monday, September 26, 2016

Accidentally deleted my trail recording up to El Capitan. Boo. Luckily, I remember the statistics by memory:

Mileage: The trail is roughly 16 miles, and it turns into 18 miles w/ Eagle Peak Summit (which we did)
Elevation: 4,616 feet of elevation from trailhead to El Capitan, 5,730 feet w/ Eagle Peak Summit

Preparing for this trail had the makings of disaster. Last-minute hotel reservation in a quaint town called Groveland, unorganized and frantic purchasing of supplies at REI, outdated hiking boots... it's not the perfect scenario when you're preparing for an 18* mile hike.

Somehow, it went well.

My father and I departed from Groveland (stayed overnight at Big Creek Meadow Ranch) at about 4:30 in the morning, for the trailhead for Yosemite Falls is roughly an hour away from our hotel. We were fortunate enough to begin hiking at around 6:00 AM. The visitor parking spot is virtually empty before sunrise, and there's few souls on the trail.

The first set of switchbacks (before Colombia Rock) is located within a forest. The trail itself is what you'd expect in Yosemite: granite dust and rocks protruding from the trail. Fortunately, the trail up to Yosemite Falls is extremely well maintained; there are granite "staircases," properly placed switchbacks, and landmarks to guide you. My father and I were able to navigate it in the dark easily (with headlamps, of course.)

Just before the second set of switchbacks, you'd usually hear a roaring Yosemite Falls and see a cascade of water free falling from a cliff. But since the snowpack has long since receded, and the precipitation levels aren't high yet, the falls are completely dry. All that remains are streaks of black indicating where water falls in the spring.

The Yosemite Falls trail is easily one of the best in California, if not the nation, when the falls are active. The falls are active intermittently, but the trail's other attraction- the views- are available year round. On the second set of switchbacks, we witnessed the sun rising over Half Dome and illuminating the valley (see "photos" for this picture.)

The total climb (according to my since-deleted recording) is roughly 2,700 feet from the trailhead to the top of the falls. This is best done in the morning, preferably just as the sun rises, so you don't overheat in the sun-drenched second set of switchbacks. We breezed through this section of the trail in ~50 (Fahrenheit) degree weather.

The hike up to Yosemite Falls is strenuous enough for most. However, my father and I wanted to make this hike a full-day adventure, since we had driven a couple hundred miles to Yosemite. The choice between North Dome and El Capitan was tough, but I ended up choosing El Capitan because I had watched people try to scale it when I was young, and I never envisioned I could one day stand at the top of the peak.

The traverse over to Eagle Peak Junction (1.6 miles from El Cap) is strangely unique for Yosemite. The general rockiness you see in Yosemite's trails fade into lush, green meadow with various types of vegetations and trees. Moreover, the trail is mainly flat the entire way to the Eagle Peak Junction. It offered amazing diversity and a welcome break from the relentless Yosemite Falls Climb.

The rest of the way to El Capitan is either on slide granite rock or through a similar meadow. It's an easy stretch of trail (compared to the first section of this hike) with one or two tough ascents. Before you know it, you'll be standing at the highest point of El Capitan, with 180 degree views of the valley- including Half Dome- below you.

Our summit took about 4 hours : 15 minutes, or 3:30 if you do not include breaks. Due to slippery conditions (not "wet" slippery, just "loose rock" slippery) you won't be able to travel much faster on the descent back from El Cap. Hiking shoes are indispensable and hiking poles make it exponentially easier to descend the Yosemite Falls trail.

Additionally, while El Capitan has jaw-dropping views from the top, Eagle Peak is simply unbeatable. If you have the time, it's definitely worth the extra mile (literally) to summit. We shared El Capitan's summit with three other people, but we had Eagle Peak's summit to ourselves.

Bring four liters of water per person, minimum. My father and I brought 7.5 liters of water and 2 liters of gatorade- and we were down to just 1.5 liters during the final descent. It may or may not have had something to do with the fact that we consumed the saltiest beef jerky possible, but still, bring a lot of water.

hiking
Monday, July 11, 2016

Wonderful trip, nice view over Yosemite. It's good to start very early

hiking
Sunday, June 05, 2016

Amazing hike. Hard-but worth the effort. Took the trail from our camp at Tamarack. It starts off easy, then steadily climbs. And climbs. And climbs. Beautiful views everywhere, not to mention the exhilaration of walking in the middle of Yosemite. For all your climbing efforts, you end up at the summit with views that will make your jaw drop. My husband and I enjoyed the view and sat under the ancient trees-older than I can imagine, and watched as an eagle flew over us no higher than the tree top, and glided close for quite a while. Amazing experience. Will do it again. But this time I will pad my shoes/toes for the hike back down.

trail running
Sunday, May 29, 2016

Brutal but wonderful

hiking
Friday, October 10, 2014

Started my ascent from tiago road on the north side of the mountain. Brought 1.5 liters of water, 2 gatorades, and 5 protein bars per person. Begins easily and then passes through a campground. After that our hike became more advanced once we left to trail and did some alternate routes, which include some pretty decent rock climbing. Eventually, reached the summit after 5.5 hours. In October, unless you plan to camp on the mountain, it is crucial to begin decent before 2 pm. Or you will end up like we did and lose to trail in the dark and wonder around the forest blindly in the dark. Which actually got pretty intense. (HINT: If lost in dark follow wolf creek north until you eventually reach tioga road.) Very beautiful and physically intense hike from north end.

Friday, June 27, 2014

pretty good trail. amazing views, easy hike, found a bass jumpers pack on the nose. it was pretty cool. :)

hiking
Friday, April 20, 2012

We hiked to El Capitan from Tamarack Flat Campground and I must say this was a very enjoyable hike from beginning to end. The hike starts off very easy with a lot of flat or slight downhills then gradually picks up to a demanding hike towards El Capitan itself. You'll pass many water sources, the rim of El Capitan to the breath taking view over the Yosemite Valley below and either proceed on towards Upper Yosemite Falls or back track back down. This hike was one of my favorites and I intend to go back there again this year and include a few new people on the trip.

Highly recommended!

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