EL CAPITAN and EAGLE PEAK (from Big Oak Flat Road)

Trail Information Photos 1 2 3 4

the view from the top of Eagle Peak into Yosemite Valley (Yosemite National Park) -- © 2018 Joe Braun Photography

A Long Trek to the Top of the Famous Peak:

El Capitan is one of the most famous and recognizable granite monoliths in Yosemite, with its intimidating 3000-ft tall sheer vertical wall that stands across from Bridalveil Falls and welcomes awe-struck visitors into Yosemite Valley. While famous climbers like Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell have made careers out of climbing up the face of El Capitan, mere mortals can take the long hiking trail to get to the top of the formation. A through hike from Big Old Flat Road up to El Capitan and nearby Eagle Peak and down the Yosemite Falls Trail makes for a long and rewarding trek though some beautiful backcountry scenery.

Strenuous to very strenuous hike
Old Big Oak Flat Trailhead (along Big Oak Flat Road west of Yosemite Valley) to Yosemite Falls Trailhead (Camp 4/Yosemite Falls Parking, Stop 7 or E2 along the Yosemite Valley shuttle system)
Time Required:
10-15 hours
18.8 miles (including side trips to the two peaks)
Elevation Change:
2900-ft gain from Big Oak Flat Road to Eagle Peak (with many ups and downs along the way), 3800-ft descent into Yosemite Valley (Old Big Oak Flat Trailhead: 4850', Top of El Capitan: 7569', Summit of Eagle Peak: 7779', Yosemite Falls Trailhead: 4000')
Late spring to fall. (Lower portions of the trail are open year-round, but snow on the rim can be treacherous.)

WARNING: This is a long and strenuous hike though some very remote terrain. This hike is not suitable for casual tourists who are not in good hiking shape.

El Capitan and Eagle Peak topo map El Capitan and Eagle Peak Map 1:
Big Oak Flat Road to Ribbon Meadow
El Capitan and Eagle Peak topo map El Capitan and Eagle Peak Map 2:
Ribbon Meadow to Yosemite Falls

Big Oak Flat Road to El Capitan:

The Old Big Oak Flat Trailhead is located along Big Oak Flat Road roughly 3.7 miles west of the junction with El Portal Road. The small roadside parking lot has room for several cars. From the parking lot, follow the trail northeast into the arid open hills. In a mile, you get a wonderful view through the Merced Gorge into Yosemite Valley. The trail crosses several forested gullies including Tamarack Creek which may require some troubleshooting to cross in high water.

nice early morning view near the Devil's Dance Floor hiking to El Capitan (Yosemite National Park) -- © 2018 Joe Braun Photography

After roughly four miles, you will reach the junction with the abandoned Old Big Oak Flat Road. (This old road used to connect Yosemite Valley with Tioga Road, but it was abandoned due to the constant rockfalls that covered lower sections of the road. The road now functions as a connector trail between the Tamarack Flat Campground and the El Capitan Trail.)

From the junction, follow the old road across the sturdy footbridge over Cascade Creek and continue along the road for another half a mile until you see the sign on the left for the El Capitan Trail. It's all uphill from here! Leaving the old road, we now follow the trail up a ridgeline to gain almost 2000 feet over the next 3 miles. After escaping the dark forest, the ridgeline is mostly open near the top before descending into Ribbon Meadow, a wonderful grassy marsh where wildflowers are usually abundant. (In early summer, your feet may get wet.)

Continuing southeast after crossing Ribbon Creek, the trail gets closer to the edge of Yosemite Valley and we start to get some good teaser views of the backside of El Capitan. Near El Capitan Gully, take a careful peek down into the impressive crack. The trail then circles around the gully and soon enough, we are standing on top of El Capitan! Take the short spur trail south to stand on the summit block proper. Note that while standing on top of the dome formation, you don't really get a sense of the 3000-ft sheer wall directly to the south, but you do get a great view of Half Dome to the east!

continuing along the El Capital Trail to Eagle Peak (Yosemite National Park) -- © 2018 Joe Braun Photography

Continuing to Eagle Peak and Yosemite Valley:

Continuing along the trek, it's roughly another 2 miles to Eagle Peak. Along the way, Eagle Peak will come into view; it's a scraggly ridgeline with numerous boulders sprinkled over it. (While crossing a few sections of open rock, you may lose the actual trail, but it should be easy enough to pick it up again at the other side.) The trail gets siphoned in the Eagle Creek gully and after a bit more uphill, we reach the spur with the trail to Eagle Peak. If you have the energy, take the 1-mile round trip hike up to Eagle Peak; the summit ridge is covered with interesting rock formations and the top-of-the-world views of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome are spectacular.

Now it's time to start heading out. The main trail continues another 2 miles through the forested Eagle Peak Meadows and then at the trail junction, turn right (south) to head towards the Yosemite Falls Trail down into the valley. While you may be thankful that there is no more significant uphill left to the trek, going down the Yosemite Falls Trail is still a 2500-ft elevation drop along 3 miles of cobblestone trail that will give a good beatdown to your legs. When you're back in the touristy Yosemite Valley, pat yourself on the back; that was a long hike!

a lovely forested section of trail heading to El Capitan (Yosemite National Park) -- © 2018 Joe Braun Photography

Tips and Variations:

Joe's Spin:

This is a long and challenging hike, but the rewards are great views and the taste of solitude while wandering around in some remote Yosemite scenery. It's amazing to think that as well-known as El Capitan is, its summit and the surrounding trails really feel remote. You aren't likely to bump into more than a handful of people until you get to the popular Yosemite Falls Trail final section of the hike.

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