If you’re visiting Yosemite National Park in California, you’ve undoubtedly heard how climbers regard El Capitan as one of the world’s most challenging ascents. However, you may not have realized that it is possible to hike this mountain. So, how long does it take to hike El Capitan in Yosemite National Park?
The hiking route to the summit of El Capitan is around 19 miles long and takes ten to fifteen hours to hike. You can hike it in a day; however, it is more usually done as a backpacking route due to the challenging terrain. The most popular way is the Yosemite Falls Trail.
Located on the north side of the Yosemite Valley, the summit of El Capitan affords spectacular views of the Valley with the Merced River, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome. This landscape is one of the most magnificent in the US, and this hike should be on your bucket list.
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How Long It Takes To Hike El Capitan In Yosemite National Park
The route to the summit of El Capitan is 15.4 miles long out and back, with an optional mile and a half extra to reach Eagle Peak. Because of the terrain’s challenging nature (4,800 feet of elevation gain), it takes approximately eight to nine hours to reach the summit.
This translates to at least fifteen hours for the round trip, possibly more. If you are less fit, you will take longer and may have difficulty completing this hike.
Even if you are an experienced and fit day hiker and do not doubt your ability to complete the fifteen hours in a day, we still recommend leaving the valley floor before daybreak to complete the hike safely. Ensure that you are not descending in the dark.
Many hikers choose to do the El Capitan hike as a two-day backpacking trip, camping at the campsite on the summit of El Capitan.
If hiking in October, we recommend departing the summit of El Capitan no later than 2 PM to make the valley before nightfall.
A Brief Review Of The Hiking Route Up El Capitan
Begin at Camp 4, on the Valley Loop Trail, near shuttle stop #7, and El Capitan Shuttle stop #E2. Camp 4 was previously known as Sunnyside Campground and is still marked as such on many maps.
Take the Yosemite Falls Trail, which rises 2,700 feet over 3.6 miles. The trail climbs in switchbacks through oak woodland and onto exposed plateaus affording excellent views of Yosemite Valley.
Take care not to deviate from the marked trails, as there are steep drop-offs along this route.
Columbia Rock will afford you spectacular views of the Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock. From there, it is another half a mile to Upper Yosemite Fall. Be prepared for steep and arduous climbs.
The climb to the falls will take you six to eight hours.
From the top of the Yosemite Falls Trail, head west toward Eagle Peak (part of the Three Brothers rock formation) along the trail signposted ‘El Capitan.’
This trail is relatively easy and will only take an hour or two.
The summit of El Capitan affords spectacular views of Dewey Point, Taft Point, Half Dome, North Dome, and Clouds Rest, although tacking on the extra three-mile round trip to Eagle Peak is worth it as the views are even better.
Remember to budget extra time for the extra distance to ensure that you make the valley safely before nightfall.
For a variation of the route on your descent, head east to North Dome from Yosemite Falls and then descend the Snow Creek Trail.
You can also access the summit by starting from Tamarack Flat. This route is around a seventeen-mile round trip.
Tips For Your Hike Up El Capitan
To see the waterfalls of Yosemite (Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls, among others) at their peak, visit in the spring when snowmelt has them roaring down the rock faces. They may be little more than a trickle at other seasons, particularly in fall.
Because it receives direct sunlight in winter, the lower part of this trail generally remains free of snow. However, the upper portions of the Yosemite Falls Trail and points beyond are liable to be under snow and ice in winter, making conditions dangerously slippery.
We recommend doing this hike between April and October or in November at the latest. We do not recommend hiking it in winter unless you are an experienced winter hiker.
Be aware that the slippery conditions in winter will add to the length of time it takes to complete this hike, and you will have fewer daylight hours. We do not recommend doing this hike as a day hike in winter. Hike with caution.
Hiking boots are an absolute necessity, and you will also find trekking poles a great help. Bring plenty of water. Bring mosquito repellent in summer.
Don’t go too near the summit’s edge, as loose rock could send you sliding you over the edge and falling a long way.
Ensure that you wear layers to be prepared for the quick changes of weather that the Sierras can dish out.
There are bears about; protect yourself by packing your food and toiletries in a bear-resistant canister. You can rent them in Yosemite if you do not wish to buy one. Ensure that you know how to use one.
Some areas have fire restrictions; we recommend taking a stove or going no-cook. Fires are allowed but discouraged at the summit, and the light from a fire will dim your view of the stars (which is well worth preserving).
Additional Information You Will Need About Hiking In Yosemite
To enter Yosemite National Park, you will need to pay an entry fee for your vehicle or a fee per person if entering on foot, on a bicycle, or horseback. Alternatively, an America the Beautiful pass will give you access to this park.
To stay out overnight, you will need a wilderness permit. These become available at 11 AM before the day for which they are issued and are issued on a quota system. In other words, you are not guaranteed to get one for the day you want.
However, if you camp out without a wilderness permit, you will face a fine and expulsion from the park.
Yosemite offers some spectacular hikes, and the trek to the summit of El Capitan is one of the most rewarding. The hike is around fifteen miles for the round trip, although it may be slightly longer depending on which route you take.
The round trip takes about fifteen hours, and although some people do it as a day hike, it is best done as a two-day trip, with an opportunity to camp at the summit. Be sure to get a wilderness permit to do so. You should make this hike, as it is one of the world’s most iconic peaks.