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Alone in a Crowd: Hiking Yosemite’s North Rim

Yosemite Valley may be popular–rightfully so–but it still holds secrets. Hike this long-forgotten trail on the North Rim, and you'll have the granite icons to yourself.

The North Rim: A Valley Tour de Force
Savor Yosemite’s icons in solitude on this 4-day exploration.

Hike it This 31-mile shuttle hike pieces together several trails and spurs for the best views and remote campsites in and above Yosemite Valley. From Rockslides trailhead (1), follow the now-defunct roadbed of Old Big Oak Flat Road Trail (OBOFRT). In the first few minutes, you’ll see the shaved granite wall of El Capitan piercing the skyline. At mile 1.7, where a massive rockslide blocks the road, follow cairns uphill (2) to the next intact section of roadbed. The upcoming 2.5 miles pass through dense manzanita; peek out at Bridalveil Fall, and end at a campsite near Cascade Creek (3). Top off water bottles and backtrack .6 mile the next morning to the North Rim trail (4). Turn left and climb through sugar pines, contour around El Cap Gully, and take the .3-mile spur trail to the 7,569-foot granite prow of El Capitan (5). Backtrack and head northeast for 1.8 miles to another spur up 7,779-foot Eagle Peak (6). Swing north, then east to Yosemite Falls Trail (7). Turn right and hike south to end this big 12-mile day at your second campsite (8). Catch the sunset glow at a nearby overlook of Yosemite Falls (9), a high-decibel whitewater ribbon falling almost 2,400 feet. On day three, see the sunrise from Yosemite Point (6,936 feet), then continue east for four miles to North Dome (10) for a front-row view of the cleaved granite face of Half Dome (see page 15 for photography tips). Hike north for 3.5 miles, passing a side trail to Indian Rock (11), a rare granite arch. In 3.8 miles, turn right onto Snow Creek Trail (12) and camp on a gravel bench (13) with oh-my-God views of Half Dome. The last day, descend 100-plus switchbacks over 2,500 feet into Tenaya Canyon (14). Follow the north side of Tenaya Creek, pass Mirror Lake, and pick up the free park shuttle (15) back to your car.

The Way To reach the unsigned Rockslides trailhead from Yosemite Village, take the Valley Loop road west to milepost 9 and park on the right, by the metal gate.

When to go Early summer for big, fat waterfalls (ask at the Wilderness Permit Station about creek crossings) or fall for thinner crowds and pockets of amber-colored leaves.

Go Guided Join Pete Devine and the Yosemite Association on a four-day, naturalist-led North Rim trip June 17-21, 2009. $340 per person ($289 for YA members);

Guidebooks and Map Yosemite National Park: A Complete Hikers Guide, by Jeffrey P. Schaffer ($20;; National Geographic Yosemite National Park map ($12;

Permits Required backcountry permits are issued based on your originating trailhead, and a quota system limits the number of permits issued each day. Sixty percent of each trailhead’s daily permits can be reserved up to 24 weeks in advance and cost $5, plus $5 per hiker. Download the application at, then fax to (209) 372-0739. Walk-in permits are free and available the day of or the day before your hike at any of the five Wilderness Permit Stations. Park entrance fee: $20 per vehicle.

Vacation Planner For travel beta inside and around the park, including hotel links and driving maps, visit

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