Located in Yosemite National Park in California, El Capitan is one of the most iconic and recognizable natural landmarks in the United States. The granite monolith rises 3,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. It’s no surprise this majestic geological feature beckons hikers and campers from all over the world.
Any trip to Yosemite National Park should include hiking and camping at El Capitan. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your perfect El Capitan adventure.
Table of Contents
1. Hiking at El Capitan
El Capitan has numerous hiking trails that range from easy walks to challenging hikes that require technical skills.
All of them offer an unforgettable experience with stunning views. We’ve broken down the best El Capitan hiking trails for you below.
Yosemite Falls Trail: Despite being one of the most strenuous hiking trails in Yosemite National Park, the Yosemite Falls trail remains one of the most popular. The challenging 7.2-mile round trip hike is more than worth it for the stunning views from atop Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in North America. Along the way, you’ll enjoy incredible views of El Capitan and the surrounding area.
Four-Mile Trail: Another challenging hike, the Four-Mile Trail takes you from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point. Only 4.8 miles one way, the steady climb gains 3.200 feet in elevation until you’re rewarded with spectacular views of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome. It’s not for the faint of heart, but the Four-Mile trail is well worth the effort.
El Capitan Trail: If you’re looking for a hike that’s more vacation mode, The El Capitan Trail is perfect. The shorter trail is only 3.5 miles round trip and takes you to the base of the monolith. This trail is a great option if you want to get up close and personal with El Capitan without tackling a more challenging hike and get a more unique view of it.
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2. Camping at El Capitan
The best way to explore the beauty of El Capitan is over the course of several days. This makes it an ideal camping destination and several area campgrounds offer a variety of amenities. The different campsites range from more rugged sites to fully equipped RV camping spots. Here’s everything you need to know to choose the perfect El Capitan campground for your trip.
Upper Pines Campground: Upper Pines Campground is located in the heart of Yosemite Valley and is one of the most popular campgrounds. It’s easy to access and serves as a gateway to all of the park’s top attractions, including El Capitan. The campground has 238 sites to choose from and is open year-round.
North Pines Campground: North Pines Campground is a bit smaller than the Upper Pines campground with only 81 sites, but still has plenty to offer. Located just across the Merced River from Upper Pines Campground, these campsites are open from mid-April through mid-October. It has great access to all of Yosemite’s most popular attractions.
Camp 4: Camp 4 is a more rustic campground popular with rock climbers. The campers on this site are using it primarily as a home base as they prepare to tackle the challenging routes on El Capitan, so the campsites are quite rustic. However, they’re also open year-round.
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3. Tips for Hiking and Camping at El Capitan
Hiking and camping at El Capitan can be an incredible and memorable experience, but one that needs to be properly prepared for. Below you’ll find some useful tips and guidelines for staying safe and having fun while visiting El Capitan.
Be prepared for changing weather conditions. Yosemite National Park is known for its unpredictable weather, so it’s important to be prepared
Practice Leave No Trace principles. Camping and hiking at El Capitan is no different than doing so anywhere else: rule number one is Leave No Trace. That means you should leave the environment exactly as you found it, including taking trash back with you and avoiding damaging plants and wildlife. The easiest way to Leave No Trace is to stick to the designated campsites and hiking trails.
Get your permits and reservations in advance. Yosemite National Park is a popular destination, so check on what permits and reservations are required for your trip well in advance. Camping reservations can be made up to five months in advance. Some hikes, including the Half Dome Trail, do require permits. Check the Yosemite National Park website for more information on permits and reservations.
Plan for crowds. El Capitan is a popular destination, so it’s always crowded. Expect plenty of company on your hikes and campsite neighbors. Consider visiting during the shoulder season, which is typically in the spring or fall, when crowds are smaller. If you want a secluded getaway, El Capitan is probably not the best choice so just be prepared for that reality when you go.
Bring the right gear. When hiking and camping at El Capitan, it’s important to bring the right gear. This includes sturdy hiking boots, appropriate clothing for changing weather conditions, a reliable backpack, and plenty of water and food. If you’re camping, be sure to bring a high-quality tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad, as well as a camping stove and utensils for cooking.
Follow safety guidelines. Yosemite National Park is a beautiful but still rugged wilderness area with plenty of wildlife and other natural dangers. Follow all safety guidelines at the park, including staying on designated trails, avoiding dangerous areas such as steep cliffs, and carrying a map and compass. Be sure to research potential hazards and wildlife in the area ahead of time and take appropriate precautions.
Respect wildlife. Yosemite National Park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes. Though majestic to witness, these are not animals you want to have close encounters with. Store food and trash in bear-proof containers, make noise while hiking to alert wildlife of your presence, and keep a safe distance from all animals.
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The stunning views, challenging hikes, and rugged wilderness environment of El Capitan make it a must-visit destination in Yosemite National Park. By following the tips outlined in this guide, you’ll have a memorable — but also safe — trip to this geological wonder. So pack your bags, grab your hiking boots, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure at El Capitan.