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Park Itineraries

4 Heart-Pounding Yosemite Adventures

Hike, climb and backpack your way through this incredible park.

Get your adrenaline pumping on these four challenging Yosemite adventures. From climbing to the summit of granite domes at El Capitan and Half Dome to hiking cliffside on Four Mile Trail and Clouds Rest, Yosemite National Park has so much to offer for those looking to take it to 11. If you’re someone who prefers coming back from a vacation feeling well-rested, then these activities aren’t for you. But if you love to push your body, see remote and wild places and come back home feeling that good kind of sore, keep reading.

Hike Four Mile Trail in Yosemite

Hiking Four Mile Trail in Yosemite National Park
Hiking Four Mile Trail in Yosemite National Park (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Don’t let the name fool you. Four Mile Trail, especially in 2022, is a long adventure. This trail leads from the valley floor near Sentinel Rock and climbs 3,200 feet over 4.8 miles to reach the stunning Glacier Point. Along the way, you’ll catch incredible views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. The road to Glacier Point is closed to all traffic in 2022 because of construction, which means hiking both up and back down is the only way to access one of the park’s most iconic viewpoints. When Glacier Point Road is open, you can take the hiker’s shuttle to the top and hike one-way down.

Since this trail is steep and can be dangerous when wet or snowy, it’s closed in the winter months beginning in November or December and re-opens sometime in May.

Start early and pack plenty of water and snacks as this 9.6-mile roundtrip hike offers little shade and can get very hot midday. Wear closed-toed shoes with good grip as the trail can be sandy and slippery.

Rock Climb El Capitan

Climber's headlamps glow on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park
Climber’s headlamps glow on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

While El Capitan may be known for its strenuous and long big-wall climbs, there are plenty of routes for mere mortals here.

Ranging from 5.4 to 5.14 (for reference 5.0 is an easy-to-climb ladder and 5.5 is generally where the average person begins to need ropes), there’s something for all levels of experienced climbers on El Capitan.

Explore the climbing community’s best-rated routes on mountainproject.com. Almost all the climbs on El Capitan are trad (short for “traditional”), meaning you place your own protection, as opposed to sport climbing where routes follow pre-fixed bolts that are drilled into the rock. If you’re not an experienced trad climber or don’t have your own rack, Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service at www.travelyosemite.com/things-to-do/rock-climbing/ offers lessons and private guiding services, including of El Capitan.

Backpack Clouds Rest

Reaching the summit of Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park
Reaching the summit of Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

The 14.5-mile roundtrip hike to Clouds Rest makes it a perfect destination for an overnight backpacking trip. You’ll gain 2,300 feet in elevation as you climb to one of the park’s most stunning views. From here, you’ll get a unique perspective on the iconic Half Dome. Bring binoculars to watch climbers ascend the cables.

The Clouds Rest trail leaves from the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead off Tioga Pass. Get there early as parking often fills up. There are no designated campsites, so choose a site that looks like it has been used before and camp at least 100 feet from water. Bear canisters are required.

Backpackers must have a wilderness permit to camp anywhere in the park. There is a quota of 15 people per day to backpack from Sunrise Lakes Trailhead. Nine permits are reservable online starting 24 weeks in advance of your trip dates on recreation.gov and six of the permits are available two weeks in advance.

Learn more about Hiking or Backpacking Clouds Rest

Summit Half Dome

Hikers using the assistance of cables to scale Half Dome in Yosemite National Park
Hikers using the assistance of cables to scale Half Dome (Photo: Grant Ordelheide)

Scaling Half Dome is one of the park’s most popular and daring adventures. The 14-16-mile hike gains nearly 5,000 feet in elevation and ends in 400 feet of incredibly steep cables leading up the side of the rock, allowing hikers to summit without ropes. Those who manage to summit are rewarded with jaw-dropping views and, of course, bragging rights. This summit is no joke and has killed hikers. Only very experienced, physically fit hikers should attempt it.

Permits are extremely competitive, and only 300 are issued each day. Apply for the permit lottery on recreation.gov in March. There is a daily lottery held two days before your desired hike date for any remaining permits. If you score a permit, be sure to start well before sunrise as the hike can often take 10-12 hours and when crowding occurs on the cables, it can be very dangerous. Bring a headlamp and plenty of food and water. Many people also find gloves helpful for the cables.