With the ever-growing popularity of the national parks, it becomes increasingly difficult to see these iconic landmarks while still experiencing serenity. The backpacking trip from Big Oak Flat Road to Mirror Lake provides hikers with both a quiet outdoors experience and the iconic views that draw droves of people into Yosemite National Park.
The North Rim hike is one of the earlier backcountry hikes outside of the Hetch Hetchy area to become free of snow, making it an accessible late spring/early summer or fall option for a short backcountry experience. This hike can be completed in three days and two nights, with the best campsites on top of El Capitan and on the North Dome Ridge. Backpackers have the option to camp one night before and one night after their scheduled backcountry hike in the "backpackers campground" located in the North Pines Campground. At $6 a night, the backpackers campground is a great deal.
There are a few transportation options for this hike. The trailhead offers a small parking lot, which is rarely full. Alternatively, the "Backpackers Bus," operated by Aramark, is a convenient option. Additionally, there are private tour vans that can be hired. If you'll be taking public transportation to the trailhead, private cars can be left in the Happy Isles Trailhead Lot or with a permit from the ranger station in the Half Dome Village overnight lot.
From Big Oak Flat Road to El Capitan, hikers will climb steep, rocky, exposed trails to the top of El Capitan. Enjoy camp while experiencing stunning views of the valley below and California starry skies. On day two, take an optional 0.5-mile spur trail to the top of Eagle Peak for an expansive view of the valley floor. The trail then picks up more traffic as it passes over the top of Yosemite Falls and climbs to Yosemite Point. Continue climbing to the second campsite just west of the trail junction to the North Dome Peak spur trail. If it is already occupied, additional campsites are located on the climb up Indian Ridge. Day three provides the first sustained downhills, but first hikers will have to climb to the top of Indian Ridge, with an optional 0.3-mile spur trail to Indian Rock. Do not underestimate the difficulty of the final descent along the Snow Creek Trail. Dropping 2,600 feet in 1.7 miles, the trail is a true workout. Reach the trailhead along the flat and paved Mirror Lake Trail. From the trailhead, pick up the shuttle back to the North Pines Campground. Enjoy a well-deserved pizza and cold beverage at Half Dome Village.
Alternative trailhead entrances include Tamarack Flat Campground and Tamarack Creek.
While camping near El Capitan and North Dome provide the best views of the valley, there is no water available near these peaks, so plan accordingly.