The El Capitan Trail is a popular hike to the top of Yosemite’s famous rock formation. El Capitan is popular especially amongst climbers as its iconic granite walls provide many options to test their abilities. The good news is that thanks to the El Capitan trail you don’t need to attempt to climb the granite monolith in order to get to the summit! The wall’s highest point from the valley floor is 914m while its altitude is around 2,300m.
Note, I found the original trail a bit short so I made it slightly longer (and more interesting) by including a detour to Eagle Peak and Lower Yosemite Fall. In total it’s about 24km long. If you don’t have time to hike both you definitely should prioritise Eagle Peak as its views of the valley are unbeatable (see the post’s main image). I also wanted to make it to Upper Yosemite Fall but unfortunately I was running out of the day light. It was probably a good call not to go there as I had to walk the last 2 or 3 kilometres in the dark wearing my head-torch.
The trail starts in Camp 4. You can either drive there or take the shuttle bus from Yosemite Village. If you do the hike in the winter be prepared for lots of snow once you gain some altitude. My micro spikes came in super handy as the snow on top of El Capitan was frozen and often not easy to walk on.
In the first 4km of the trail you’ll be walking up along El Cap’s east wall. Pictures really don’t do justice – wait to see the pale granite monster for yourself! Get ready for lots of switchbacks on your way up (and down on your way back). They might get exhausting but you’ll be rewarded by amazing views in every direction – on your left it’s El Capitan, whilst on your right it’s Yosemite Valley and Yosemite Fall!
Once you get to the top of the switchbacks you’ll be only a few minutes away from the Lower Yosemite Fall. I did the fall as the very last thing but the choice is yours. Anyway, to get to El Capitan you’ll need to take the trail that goes slightly up into the woods. For the next 5km the epic views will be replaced by a picturesque forest! I was lucky to be there in the winter so I literally met no one there and was able to enjoy the peacefulness of the place!
The top of El Capitan is cool but it’s rather flat and the edges are not as exposed as I expected. Still, it’s worth going all the way there, in my opinion. However, fear not! Eagle Peak is where you’ll get your viewgasm! I took a detour to Eagle Peak on the way back but again, the choice is yours. Once you properly enjoy the views from Eagle Peak you’ll take the El Capitan trail back to the crossroad above the switchbacks. If you have enough time and energy you should definitely hike to either Lower Yosemite Fall (8 minutes) or Upper Yosemite Fall (approx. 25 minutes). From there make your way back to the carpark, whilst enjoying the valley views!
It’s a great hike and if you combine it with Eagle Peak and Yosemite Fall you’ll tick several boxes at once! You can download the GPX coordinates for your GPS device below the map by clicking on “Download”. Enjoy and feel free to share your experience in the comments at the bottom of this post!