Submitted By: Pete Devine, Resident Naturalist
All of us drive in and out of Yosemite Valley via the west end, but other than a quick stop at Bridalveil Fall or El Capitan Meadow, hardly anyone explores it. Lucky for you, there’s a terrific trail that loops the Valley floor and makes the west end very accessible. Between El Capitan Bridge and Pohono Bridge you can enjoy a walk on either the north or south side of the Valley.
The cultural and natural wonders of this area include the tallest single-drop waterfall in North America (Ribbon Fall), the vast and ever-changing face of El Capitan, two historic wagon roads, glacial moraines, evidence of dynamite, a strange stone chimney in the forest, a place where the President camped – and hardly any people. There is so much to see and learn here that Yosemite Conservancy hosts a day-long Outdoor Adventure program each spring to share some of these secrets (and others, even more mysterious.)
Since the trail runs along both sides of the Valley, and makes a loop, you can start anywhere. Our Outdoor Adventure workshop starts at El Capitan Bridge, descends west on the north side, and returns along the south side. In the summer you can take a free shuttle from the Valley Visitor Center to El Capitan Bridge (shuttle stop E3) and walk from there.
Tips for the Trail
The whole loop is about 5 miles, and has an elevation change of about 200 feet. The trail is partly paved so bring good footwear. Do bring sun protection and a daypack with a couple of liters of water, lunch, and an extra layer. Plan on 3-5 hours of walking, depending on your pace. You can do this hike in the winter, but the south side trail gets especially snowy and icy. There are a couple spots where the trail becomes indistinct (such as through Bridalveil Meadow and near Bridalveil Fall) so it’s not a bad idea to bring a topographic map of Yosemite Valley.
Photo: Ribbon Fall