It’s the Holy Grail of mountain climbing. Countless challenging climbs on several of the world’s most alluring rocks.
El Capitan, Half Dome, the Leaning Tower or Yosemite Falls?
Take your pick, all of them offer world-class ascents with the ultimate reward at the top – spectacular views of the most beautiful national park in North America.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is located in central eastern California about a three- to-four hour drive from San Francisco and Sacramento. The park covers 12,000 square miles (3,080 sq.km) and is famous for its towering waterfalls, huge granite cliffs and groves of giant sequoia trees.
Each year, more than 4 million people visit this park to take in the astounding natural beauty while thousands of climbers take on its formidable cliffs.
It’s the mother of all climbing walls. Ever since its discovery, it has fascinated mountain climbers the world over and hugely influenced the growth of the sport. The largest single monolith in the world is Yosemite’s El Capitan, with 3,593 feet (1,205m) of sheer rock face.
There are more than 80 established routes to the top and all of them are arduous. Possibly the most famous in the world is “The Nose” and if you want to conquer this one, expect to wait in line for a few days as its popularity draws the climbing masses. Once you get the green light, plan on spending a week on the wall, including sleeping on the face.
The most iconic feature of Yosemite has to be Half Dome with its rounded top and vertical face. While it’s not the monster that El Capitan is, serious climbing skills are required to reach Half Dome’s summit, which shoots up to 4,737 feet (1,444m) above the Yosemite Valley floor.
There are more than a dozen routes up the face with the most popular being the Snake Dike. It’s not the most challenging climb, but it does provide some of the most delightful views with waterfalls, lakes and sweeping views of the entire valley.
Best of the Rest
There are dozens of different climbing areas within the park offering a wide variety of climbing. Even Yosemite Falls, the third-tallest waterfall in the world at a staggering 2,425 feet (739 m), can be climbed on either side of the spills. The Leaning Tower, Sentinel Dome, the Royal Arches, Reed’s Pinnacle and many more await the brave ones.
How to Do It
Climbing neophytes can take some lessons at the Yosemite Mountaineering School. After you have learned the ropes, take it a step further by arranging a guided climb. You can even schedule a multi-day adventure, with your guide helping you to achieve heights you never dreamed of.
If climbing is too daunting, there are more than 800 miles (1,300 km) of trails, including an 8.5-mile (13.7 km) route up the back of Half Dome that gets you to the top with the aid of steel cables.
Other options abound, including hiking, biking, horseback riding or driving the scenic trails and roads. Take a walk through a giant sequoia grove to marvel at the world’s biggest trees and go in search of the hundreds of waterfalls that pepper the park.
You may come to climb, hike or simply drive through; but regardless of your intentions, everyone leaves the park with the same sense of awe and wonder at having just witnessed possibly the most beautiful place in the world.
Half Dome was perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of all the prominent points about Yosemite which has never been and will never be trodden by human foot. - Josiah Whitney, geologist in 1868
When To Go
The best time to visit Yosemite National Park is during the summer (June to September) when the weather is warmer and the majority of snow has melted. If possible, visit the park on weekdays when the crowds are much smaller.
Yosemite has moderate days and cool nights, but temperatures can vary dramatically depending on location, elevation and weather. At Yosemite headquarters, from June to September the average high temperatures range from 81.6 to 90°F (27.6-32°C), average lows from 49.5 to 55.5°F (9.7-13°C), and precipitation from 0.2 to 0.9 inches (5-23mm) of rain each month.
Getting There & Around
Yosemite National Park is in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which runs for 430 miles (690km) north to south through eastern California.
San Francisco and Los Angeles are the closest cities with international airports. Getting to Yosemite from San Francisco is 4-5 hours and from Los Angles is 5-6 hours.
The best way to get to Yosemite is to rent a car. Once inside the park, take the free shuttle buses that stop at scenic points.
- Mid-range accommodations: $100-150
- Meals: $15-20
- Bottle of beer: $3
- Stay on designated trails and inside roped walkways. Pay especially close attention to signs at Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. Taking a picture a few feet closer is not worth your life. Try the zoom feature instead.
- Try a beer from Sierra Nevada Brewery. While the brewery is located in Chico, California, the pale ale hits the spot after meandering in the woods of Yosemite.
- Visit the Mobil gas station on the east side of the park at the intersection of Highways 120 and 395. It’s one of the best food spots around the park, offering delicious bites like mango fish tacos, BBQ chicken pizza and gourmet sandwiches. Many of Yosemite’s employees frequent it.
- Underestimate the threat of lightning storms. Granite rocks act as magnets for lightning bolts and people get killed or injured each year. Check with local visitor centers for weather conditions and necessary precautions.
- Miss Tuolomne Meadows. It’s stunning scenery is often skipped by tourists who only visit Yosemite Valley. There are lakes, rivers, meadows and incredible views of Half Dome all without the crowds in the valley.
- Forget to put your food into a bear box that you can get at campsites and parking lots. It’s highly recommended that you move food from your car and into a bear box.
- The Sierra Nevada mountain range includes Mount Whitney – the highest point in the continental United States at 14,505 feet (4,421 m).
- El Capitan is a granite wall towering nearly 4,000 feet (1,220m) from Yosemite Valley.
- Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America.
- There are 37 species of trees in Yosemite including pine, fir and giant sequoias.
Feature Image Credit: Allie_Caulfield