Images only begin to tell the story of the beauty that Yosemite National Park has to share.
This was my first trip to Yosemite and backpacking the North Rim of the valley was absolutely breathtaking. From camping atop El Capitan on Night 1, to seeing sweeping views of Half Dome on Day 2, and finally a knee and sole-crushing descent (for some of us) on Day 3, I highly recommend it.
Here's a breakdown of our three-day, two-night trip across Yosemite's North Rim.
We began on August 4 and ended August 6.
SIGHTS TO SEE
- El Capitan
- Half Dome
- Eagle Peak (Optional)
- Upper Yosemite Fall (Optional)
- North Dome
- Indian Rock Arch (Optional)
- Porcupine Creek — Will mark a spot that is so good for a break.
- Everything in the Valley looking TINY
OUR PLANNED ROUTE
OUR ACTUAL ROUTE
Yes! Any overnight stay in the Yosemite Wilderness requires a permit. During our August 4 - 6 trip, we nabbed them at the end of May. By that time, our first-choice trailhead for a different hike was completely full! Plan early, especially if you're going with a group.
Start: Tamarack Flat / Tamarack Flat Campground
Consider nabbing a spot in the first-come-first-serve Tamarack Flat Campground the night before. This proved tricky for with every spot taken that day, so we camped on the other side of the Wilderness border — after all, we had permits!
Alternatively, there is the Backpackers' Campground in Yosemite Valley, but plan out your logistics beforehand. Having two cars among your group will make this much easier. Parking is available just outside of the campgrounds and we were able to store our vehicle there with no issues.
The shuttle service will not take you to Tamarack Flat, but there is one to Crane Flat. Just keep in mind this will add additional, uphill distance whether starting this way, or ending your trip.
End: Wherever you want in the Valley.
For our trip, this was at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, where one of our friend's cars was parked.
It seemed like a decent spot.
Distance: 30+ miles
Expect to cover more distance than the Planned Route getting to your destination in the final day. There are also some additional places to explore, such as hiking out onto North Dome, or up to top of Indian Rock
Ascent: 5400+ feet
Descent: 7800+ feet
Minimum Elevation: 4000 feet
Maximum Elevation: 8000 feet - 8500 feet (Depends on how far up Indian Rock you go.)
Time: 3 days, 2 nights; adjust accordingly — We came across another group doing the same route in 4 days, 3 nights, so plan around what feels good for you!
FWIW, Gaia put our moving time at 17.5 hours.
Dog Friendly? There are no dogs permitted in Yosemite Wilderness areas.
Our fur-babies have to miss out on this one.
Trail Condition: Mixed; wooded and shaded to rocky and exposed
Overall, well-maintained. Though there were a few areas along the exposed rocks where trail markers were toppled over, it wasn't a big deal. All fallen trees in wooded areas were cleared from the path, making for speedier travel in those sections.
If this is something you'd like to explore further, check out the satellite map layer on the above routes!
Aside from your typical backpacking load out, here are couple of things to consider bringing along:
Your knees will thank you on that killer descent.
We got our Fizan poles on a killer deal from Massdrop. (Feel free to use my referral link to help fuel my hopeless Massdrop addiction.)
- Water resistant / waterproof shell
Check the weather before embarking! Storms brew swiftly and we did find ourselves in the midst of one on our trip.
- Err on the side of more fuel, not less
This will depend on your stove situation, but as we learned, when those winds are picking up, water takes a lot longer to boil! And it can get windy on El Cap.
(So glad we're upgrading that for the next trip.)
Leaving from the wilderness boundary in Tamarack Flat early in the day felt great! For the first few miles, the trail is so gentle and soft underfoot, it can be tempting to sprint through it. We enjoyed the wooded areas and the beautiful, vibrant moss that was scattered across the surrounding trees.
Then it got steep.
We were huffing and puffing through this section, but we knew once it was over, we'd be greeted by Ribbon Meadow and Ribbon Creek. Ribbon Creek was a great spot to catch our breaths and chow down on some extra snacks.
The water quality at Ribbon Creek was great and deep enough that our friends could use their gravity filter easily. Pumping was quick and relaxing on its bank.
At this point, we weren't certain how far the next water source from El Capitan was going to be. Although there were a few streams on the map marked past the epic landmark, the general intel gathered from rangers is that things were starting to dry up.
We almost stopped and camped nearby. Although there was a nearby campsite (marked on the Track), we all decided to head on. At this point, some chose to fill up reservoirs, while Ed and I decided that we'd venture around without weight on once we got our campsite situated on El Cap.
As soon as we got to El Capitan, we made a new friend!
This raven had no cares in the world that we were on his turf. In fact, I'm pretty sure he was happy about our presence. His plump appearance and waddle told us there were many, many benefits of having visitors on this rock.
While chatting away about the possibilities of cowboy camping, the once bright sky turned awfully gloomy. A storm was cooking in the distance. Shortly after pitching our tents and heading out to the next marked stream for water, the thunder began.
Words can't begin to describe the way it seemed to echo throughout the area. It was enveloping. So cool.
Luckily, the stream we were going for did have water, after all! Slightly downhill and off the trail, it was just a trickle, but ran clear and was easy enough for more zen pumping action. Bringing 6L of water and firewood back to camp, we were ready to brace for whatever the weather had in store for us.
We could see the wall of rain headed towards us, but we had food that needed eating and a fire that needed to be enjoyed, okay?
And this is where my first and second regrets were made. The lid to our pot was at home and we brought a smaller than normal fuel canister. And the wind? Well she didn't give AF.
All of these elements combined made for the most inefficient water boiling situation. (On the morning of Day 3, we ran out of our fuel, but our friends had a bit to spare. Praise be.)
Ed got a killer fire going, our windbreakers were on, and there we were — huddled around this pit determined to last through the rain. We had s'mores to eat.
The next morning was beautiful.
Setting our clocks so we could watch the sunrise from the top of El Cap was one of the best decisions we made!
We spent quite a while that morning exploring the rest of El Capitan, stumbling upon many established camp sites while taking in the views. But eventually, we had to depart.
The next planned stop was Eagle Peak! While this can be skipped, the hike up is worth it.
Looking ahead, we identified Eagle Peak Creek as our midday resting spot. We ladies had a nice foot soak, while the boys insisted on skipping out. (Anyone else experience this dynamic? It was common theme, haha.)
The water here ran clear, cold, and replenished our supplies.
Next up... Upper Yosemite Falls! It was shocking seeing so many people again, but not surprising as this is extremely accessible for day-hikers.
We also experienced the tragic activity of burying someone else's waste covered TP.
It was practically on the trail. Don't be the person that leaves this sort of thing behind, please!
Our planned camping destination for the evening was near Lehamite Creek. It looked like the perfect spot from the topo and it was. So much so, there were already a few groups with tents pitched here, haha! If you can nab a spot in this location, you'll be pretty pleased — it's a great location.
We, however, had to continue on. Midway between Lehamite Creek and Royal Arch Creek, we came upon a flat clearing. While the numerous ant holes we came across made this place seem unwelcoming at first, we found a few locations to pitch our tents and a nearby fire mound.
Half of us went to refill our water reservoirs at Royal Arch Creek, and the others made our discovery an overnight home.
(Royal Arch Creek was fairly small and a bit tricky to dunk and scoop in, if that's what your water filter situation requires, as it kicks up a lot of sediment.)
We faced our tent west, enjoyed our second campfire, and the last of our s'more rations that night.
How bittersweet it was waking on our third day knowing that by the end of it, we would be far away from this magical place.
In the meantime, we still had a lot to do!
Pitching up towards North Dome was the smokiest and hottest section by far. The wildfire we spotted from the top of El Cap was sending in a thick layer of smoke and no wind was around to disperse it. It hung in the air giving our view of Half Dome a decidedly moody appearance.
Wanting to ditch the smoke, we did end up skipping the mile out-and-back detour of North Dome, but Indian Rock offered us something a little different.
Although the detour to the summit of Indian Rock may be a bit much, a third of the way up sits Indian Rock Arch. According to a few blogs, this is the only natural arch above water that exists in Yosemite, and it is a beauty!
Now for the best midday lounge spot: Porcupine Creek. When referring to our track, you'll see my recording walk around all over a small area near this creek. That's the spot.
Aside from Upper Yosemite Fall, this was the first time along this route we had come across this much water. It was magnificent! And the boys still didn't want to get their feet wet.
This nook also offered ample shade and was the perfect spot to make sure those feet felt good before descending to the valley floor.
Snow Creek Trail is something else. Do 100% read that link if deciding to travel up this trail as it's known as the most difficult leading out of the valley.
Thank goodness we're going down, right?
Even if your knees and the soles of your feet hate you, look up. The views from Snow Creek trail are majestic.
After over 100 switchbacks, a backpacker's bath in a restroom, a delicious latte, and logistic maneuvering back to our car the trip had come to end.
The drive out of the Yosemite was filled with a sense of accomplishment. We had an epic journey with old friends, new friends, and took home so many fond memories.
But that's just the first story of many to come from this wilderness.
I can't wait to hear yours!
Please share your experience or let me know if you have any questions in the comments.