A Guide to Backpacking the Yosemite North Rim Route

The North Rim Trail in Yosemite National Park is incredibly beautiful! My partner and I recently completed this route and I’m excited to tell you all about it. Almost the entire route of this multi-day backpacking itinerary features jaw dropping views of Yosemite Valley, including many of the park’s most famous features; Half Dome, North Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Point, and Eagle Peak.  

Yosemite’s North Rim Suggested Itinerary

Difficulty: Hard

Distance: ~22 miles (through)

Elevation gain: 5,000 feet

Cost: $10 application fee, per night +$5 per person in your group.

This through hike can be done in 2 days if you’re ambitious, however I recommend 3 days for a more enjoyable experience. The route is somewhat challenging, and there is just so much beautiful scenery to take in! It was nice to be able to take more time to enjoy it.

The total distance is about 22 miles, with an elevation gain of about 5,000 feet. You will begin at Porcupine Creek Trailhead and finish at Tamarack Creek trailhead. 

Ideally you can park one car at Tamarack Creek trailhead and drive another vehicle back to Porcupine Creek Trailhead to begin the hike. However, if you only have one vehicle you can park your car at Tamarack Flat Campground and get a shuttle to the Porcupine Creek Trailhead. 

  • Day 1: Begin at Porcupine Creek trailhead. Hike 5 miles to spend the night at North Dome.
  • Day 2: Hike 8.7 miles to camp on top of El Capitan, where you’ll camp for the night.
  • Day 3: Hike 8.3 miles from the top of El Capitan to Tamarack Flat Campground.

It is possible to do this route in reverse (starting at Tamarack Creek and finishing at Porcupine Creek), but this way is more difficult and will add about 2400 feet of elevation gain onto your hike.

While this itinerary is fully loaded with plenty of sights, there are some additional worthwhile detours that will add a couple miles and about 500 feet of elevation to your journey. These include the largest natural granite arch in the park. and Eagle Peak. (Details in the trail guide below)

Backpacking The North Rim Route, Yosemite National Park, Special Considerations

Wilderness Permits

Backpacker’s Campgrounds

Parking

Food Storage and Bears

Weather

Trail Conditions

Fire and water

Getting To Porcupine Creek Trailhead.

After picking up your permits at the Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center, navigate to the Crane Flat Gas Station. You can stop here for fuel and any last minute provisions. Then continue on from the gas station heading east on Tioga Road. The road to the Tamarack Flat campground will be on your right about 3.8 miles from the Crane Flat Gas Station. Turn right on this road and drive another 3 miles until you reach the campground. Leave a car here (this is where you will finish your hike). Next, drive back out to Tioga Road and take a right, continue about 21 miles until you reach the Porcupine Creek trailhead on your right.

Note: If Tamarack Flat Campground is closed you will need to park your car at Tamarack Creek Trailhead on Tioga road. This will add about 2.5 miles onto your last day.

While two cars makes transportation much easier, if you only have one car, it is possible to use the Yosemite public transit system, called YARTS. If you choose to do this, you can leave a car at the Tamarack Flat campground, then catch the shuttle from the Crane Flat Gas Station. When booking the tickets, choose the Mammoth Lake Highway route, and book a ticket from Crane Flat Gas Station to White Wolf Lodge. When you get on the shuttle ask the driver to drop you at the Porcupine Creek trailhead. We did this, and the driver said he would be able to drop us there only if it was safe to pull stop, which it was.

North Rim Route Trail Guide

Porcupine Creek to North Dome ~5 miles

The trail begins heading down a gentle grade on a paved path. This area is heavily wooded with plenty of shade. You will encounter several junctions with other trails along this part, but keep following the signs to North Dome.

At about 2.8 miles, consider a 0.3 mile detour to your left leading up to Indian Rock. Here you can find Yosemite’s most famous natural rock arch. This is a great place to potentially stop for lunch, you can check out the arch as well as your first glimpse of Half Dome.

Once passed Indian Rock, you will continue onto an exposed ridge with limited tree cover, called Indian Ridge. The trail can be somewhat difficult to follow here, so look for cairns to guide you. The views here are incredible, with beautiful mountains in all directions and Half Dome looming large on your left. 

Around mile 4 towards the end of the ridge look for signage as the trail bends left and down steep stone steps into a small forested area. You’ll hike through this area before reaching the barren stone top of North Dome. We chose to set up camp in the tree cover and continued on a short way to the top of North Dome to take in the scenery after dinner.

North Dome to El Capitan ~8.7 miles

Climb back up onto Indian Ridge and follow the cairns down the opposite side of the ridge from North Dome. You will begin to descend into the forest again, and if hiking late in the season like we were, you will come to your first opportunity to collect water at Lehamite Creek (about 1.5 miles from North Dome).

The trail will wind through mostly forested areas and meadows until you reach the bridge at Yosemite Creek. If you are hiking late in the season you can cross via the flat stones in the creek bed and take in sweeping views below. Also, if it is late season, be sure to top off your water supplies here as you may not have another opportunity until tomorrow.

About 2.5 miles from Yosemite Creek you come to a trail junction with signs leading to Eagle Peak on your left. Known as the highest point on the North Rim of Yosemite Valley, it’s worth the extra 0.6 miles and 300 feet of elevation to the top. You’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of what seems like the entire park.

After the trail junction with Eagle Peak, you leave the forested area for some areas of exposed rock where the trail is again a little difficult to follow. But after about 1.7 miles you will meet the trail which branches to the left and leads to the top of El Capitan. 

The summit of El Capitan is just as vast as it looks from below, so choose a spot to set up camp and explore the sights. It slopes slowly down for a mile or two, if you are brave enough to get close to the edge you can peek at the valley below while surrounded by the tall peaks and ridges of Yosemite National Park. It’s truly awe-inspiring!

El Capitan to Tamarack Flat ~8.3 miles

Head back to the main trail and turn left. Follow the trail down the west side of El Capitan into a forested area that follows El Capitan Gulley and onward into Ribbon Meadow.

Once you’ve crossed the meadow you’ll begin your major descent, losing 1,900 feet over the next 3 miles. At the bottom of the descent you will reach Old Big Oak Flat Road. Turn right onto this historic logging road, and follow this path about a half a mile until you reach Cascade Creek. Here you can expect to find water. After you fill up, the trail continues a moderate ascent for about 2.3 miles until you finally reach Tamarack Flat Campground.

This hike was so rewarding and memorable! If you complete the route I would love to hear about your experience. Please leave a comment or email me! hi@beccathehungrynomad.com

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