Yosemite's North Rim Trek: Domes, Canyons, and Waterfalls, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14121A, Backpacking


  • Hike to the summits of North Dome and El Capitan
  • Camp above Yosemite Falls
  • Enjoy alpine meadows filled with early summer wildflowers


  • All cooking equipment and bearproof canisters
  • Lightweight group equipment and delicious backcountry food
  • Information on menu planning and food preparation for future individual trips


DatesJul 1–5, 2014
Difficulty2 (out of 5)
StaffThomas Meissner

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Trip Overview

The Trip

The North Rim trek provides easy and convenient access to Yosemite’s most spectacular backcountry gems, but at the same time avoids the large crowds in Yosemite Valley.

Our trek starts from Porcupine Flat on Hwy. 120 and travels across the summits of Indian Rock, North Dome, Eagle Peak and El Capitan.  All of them offer spectacular vistas of Yosemite Valley with its waterfalls, Half Dome, and the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada.  We will make camp near the top of thundering Yosemite Falls, which will be at peak flow in early summer.  On our last day, we walk through the deep granite gorge of Yosemite Creek with its countless waterfalls.       

In addition to experiencing some of the highlights of Yosemite’s high country, this trip will provide an opportunity for novices as well as experienced backpackers to improve their current backpacking skills, in general, and to learn gear selection and menu planning/food preparation for future individual trips, in particular.


Day 1: We will meet in the afternoon of Tuesday, July 1 at a campground in western Yosemite National Park (at approximately 7,000 feet elevation).  We will spend the rest of the day getting to know each other, getting our gear ready, and splitting up the commissary equipment before we have dinner at the campground.

Day 2: We start our trip with a light breakfast at the campground before setting up a short car shuttle between the two trailheads near Yosemite Creek and Porcupine Flat along Hwy. 120, where our hike begins. This first hiking day will be a relatively moderate seven-mile walk with several up and downs that approximately amount to a 1,000-foot total climb. Two spectacular summits, Indian Rock and North Dome are within easy reach of the trail. We make camp at the shores of pleasant Lehamite Creek (at about 7,000 feet elevation).

Day 3: An easy four-mile traverse along the north rim of Yosemite Valley with only minor elevation changes brings us to Yosemite Falls, which is the destination of numerous day hikers from the valley.  We have lunch at the observation platform before enjoying a free afternoon at our nearby camp along rushing Yosemite Creek (at about 6,500 feet elevation). 

Day 4: Layover day. Leaving our gear at camp and carrying only a light day pack, we swiftly ascend to Eagle Peak, another spectacular viewpoint, before reaching the summit of El Capitan (at 7,600 feet) after about six miles.  It is the ultimate destination of rock climbers from all over the world, who set out from Yosemite Valley to climb its sheer vertical granite face.

Day 5: We ascend gradually for about 1,200 feet along the countless cascades and waterfalls of rushing Yosemite Creek, which has carved its way through a deep granite gorge.  Along the way, we enjoy early summer wildflower growing at the canyon’s walls and in the meadows at its floor. A short car shuttle between the trailheads at Yosemite Creek and Porcupine Flat, where we started our hike, completes our trip.         

The route and itinerary are a general plan and may need to be changed due to unforeseen conditions or circumstances.  Snow conditions and runoff are always a big uncertainty at an early season trip. In addition, weather, progress of the group, camp site availability, and other factors may require the leaders to make adjustments. Participants need to be flexible.



Getting There

We will meet at one of the campgrounds in western Yosemite National Park. The closest airports are located in Fresno (about a 3-hour drive), Oakland (about a 3.5-hour drive), and San Francisco (about a 4-hour drive).  It is possible to use public transportation to get there, though options are limited (http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/publictransportation.htm).  Participants who plan to do that need to arrive in Yosemite at least one day before the trip starts. A more flexible option for out-of-state participants is to rent a car. The leader will periodically send out a roster of approved trip participants well in advance of the trip to assist those who wish to share rides and/or rental cars.

We expect to get back to our cars by mid-afternoon on Saturday, July 5. However, we cannot guarantee a specific time. To be safe and allow enough time for the drive out, we advise that participants do not plan their return flights before the next day, which is July 6. 

Accommodations and Food

The trip price includes first night’s (July 1) car camping.  Our first meal will be dinner at the campground that night. Our last meal will be lunch on the last day (July 5).

Food and drinks for all meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) will be a hearty combination of meat, fish, and vegetables, including soup as the first course of each dinner. Every effort is made to accommodate vegetarians, however other special diets can be very difficult to accommodate on this length and type of backpack trip. If you prefer vegetarian meals or have other special dietary requirements, you are encouraged to contact the leader to see if your needs can be met. 

Unlike regular Sierra Club National Outings ‘central commissary’ trips, this trip will be mostly run as a ‘hot water commissary’ trip. It is the same experience that leaders enjoy while trekking through the mountains on private trips when they prepare hearty and healthy meals by simply adding hot water to food packets prepared before the trip start. The leaders, working with each participant to ensure sufficient calories and selecting from a pre-set menu, will prepare individual food packets for all meals for each participant, who will be responsible for carrying their food packets/drinks/snacks and, as a Leave No Trace camping experience, their own trash. Trip members will share the responsibility of performing various camp chores and carrying all group gear—pots, stoves, fuel containers, etc.

Trip Difficulty

The rating of our trip is 2 on a scale between 1 and 5.  Unfortunately, it turns out that all too often some participants misunderstand the meaning of that rating.  It reflects an average and it also needs to be put in relation with the whole spectrum of backpack trips that the Sierra Club National Outings program is offering.  The total distance of our trek is about 30 miles.  Daily hiking distances range between 4 and 12 miles.  The total elevation gain, including all up and downs, is about 4,000 feet, which is pretty much evenly spread about between the hiking days.  All of our hiking will be on established trails, though some sections are steep and rugged. There will definitely be creeks to ford.

Carrying a heavy (40-45 pound) pack for several days, especially on prolonged uphill stretches, is a strenuous aerobic activity and is not suited for everyone.  In order to enjoy this trip, participants need to be in excellent physical condition.  Regular aerobic exercise (such as treadmill, running, swimming, biking, or hiking) during the 3-4 months before the trip is essential.  The best physical preparation for a backpack trip is doing serious day hikes.  Make sure your hiking boots are well broken-in. Include in your conditioning plan an occasional long walk, while carrying weight on unstable terrain.  In addition to endurance, you need leg strength; be able to lift yourself and your pack the equivalent of two stairs at a time.

As the elevation range of the trip is only between 6,000 and 8,000 feet, high altitude problems are less of a concern than heat.  In order to avoid heat-related problems, we plan to start hiking early in the morning after a short and light breakfast most days.  It is always a good idea to get acclimatized to an environment that is different from what you are used to.  If possible, try to arrive a couple of days early and go on easy day hikes in the park. There is plenty to see and to do.

Participants who are new to backpacking, but otherwise strong and fit, are encouraged to apply. The leaders will work with you and help with appropriate gear selection and trip preparation.

Equipment and Clothing

In addition to all of the food, the Sierra Club will also provide all cooking gear (stove, fuel, lightweight pots, and pans), chlorine tablets for water treatment, group first-aid kit, tarp and the bear-proof canisters, which we will use to store our food.

The following is a list of the gear and clothing you will need to provide and carry for the trip. More details will be provided in pre-trip bulletins. The leaders will be more than happy to give advice on selecting the proper equipment, so please feel free to contact us before you go out and spend a lot of money. Novices who need to purchase all or most of their equipment should be aware that this might be a considerable expense.


  • Backpack (internal or external frame)
  • Comfortable hiking boots. They should provide good ankle support and need to be well broken-in.
  • Sleeping bag (temperature rating 25°F or below)
  • Sleeping pad (foam or ThermaRest)
  • Tent with rain fly and ground cover
  • Rain gear (pants + parka)
  • Fleece or wool jacket
  • Warm hat
  • Gloves or mittens
  • Hiking shorts or pants (1-2 pairs), no cotton (e.g. jeans)
  • Light - midweight long-sleeved  shirt (no cotton)
  • T-shirt (cotton ok)
  • Comfortable clothes for camp
  • Change of underwear (cotton or synthetic)
  • Long underwear
  • Change of socks (hiking socks and thin liner socks underneath to prevent blisters)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses + sunscreen with SPF-20 or above and sun hat)
  • Personal first-aid kit (moleskin or adhesive tape for blister treatment, Tylenol)
  • Personal toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, biodegradable soap, your own toilet paper). Women should bring extra tampons, even if it is not the time of your regular period.
  • Eating utensils (plate, cup, spoon, fork)
  • Insect repellent
  • Water bottle(s) or canteen (2 quarts total recommended)
  • Lightweight headlamp or flashlight
  • Map
  • Whistle


  • Sandals or Tevas (nice in camp or for stream crossings)
  • Bandana (handkerchief)
  • Bathing suit
  • Hiking poles
  • Lightweight camera
  • Water filter or purifier if you do not want to use the chlorine tablets that we provide
  • Fishing gear

All clothing needs to be stored in waterproof stuff sacks or plastic bags. Sleeping bags need to be wrapped in a plastic bag to stay dry.  If your tent is not freestanding, we recommend bringing some cord to tie it down, because staking might be difficult in some places.  If you have a large tent (for more than one person), you might want to consider sharing it with another trip member in order to keep your pack weight down.

All participants should try to keep their personal pack weight below 25 pounds (not including hiking boots and water).  The weight of the commissary gear is about 15 pounds per person.  We will weigh all packs before we start, and people whose personal gear is too heavy might need to leave some non-essential items behind. Please think ahead about what you want to bring.

Please also keep in mind that you must have the additional capacity in your pack for about 1.5 large grocery bags. This will be the volume of the commissary gear for each person.  Most of it is sturdy (non-compressible).

Your gear will be much easier and safer to carry if it is tucked away inside your pack and not dangling on the outside.




The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity.  We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.

Many consider Yosemite National Park to be the crown jewel of the national park system.  John Muir's struggle against the devastation of the sub-alpine meadows surrounding Yosemite Valley by flocks of domestic sheep ("hoofed locusts") led to the establishment of the park on October 1, 1890.  But Muir realized that an organization would be necessary to ensure Yosemite's protection.  Two years later, he joined with others in the San Francisco Bay Area to form the Sierra Club. The Club was instrumental in expanding protection for Yosemite in the 1890s, in the establishment of Kings Canyon National Park in 1940, and more recently in passing the Wilderness Act of 1964, whose 50 year anniversary we are celebrating this year. It established the National Wilderness Preservation System and afforded much of the High Sierra the highest level of protection possible. As Club members, we have reason to be proud of this accomplishment when we hike through the region.

The Sierra Club Outings program provides an excellent opportunity for us to discuss current problems while also celebrating past conservation victories. You are encouraged to come prepared to discuss issues affecting your home communities. We will follow Leave No Trace principles on our hikes and in camp.  Since any traveling leaves a carbon footprint, check out the information that the Sierra Club offers about carbon offsets at: http://www.sierraclub.org/outings. Finally, on this trip we will spend some time discussing the National Park Services’ blueprint for its second century—A Call to Action—focusing on its goals related to Preserving America’s Special Places.  A Call to Action may be accessed on-line at http://www.nps.gov/calltoaction/PDF/Directors_Call_to_Action_Report_2012.pdf.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Yosemite National Park. 



Thomas Meissner has been hiking and backpacking all over the US, Canada, Europe, Africa, South America and New Zealand since he was a child. This includes a through-hike of the John Muir Trail, and large sections of the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He has led Sierra Club trekking trips into Europe and more than 150 backpack trips into California's High Sierra and coastal mountains. In 2011 he received recognition as outstanding leader for the Sierra Club National Outings program. Thomas has also been organizing and teaching the annual backpack beginners course of the local San Francisco Sierra Club Bay Chapter since 2001.

Assistant Leader:

Aleta Beaupied began her backpacking adventures during the summer of 2000. Over the ensuing years she has taken many hikes in the Sierra Nevada and in other areas within California. For the past several years she has been a backpack leader with the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter. She has also backpacked in the Southwest U.S. and done hut-to-hut trekking in the European Alps. As a leader, Aleta claims no special knowledge of flora, fauna or geology. What she loves about the Sierra is the beauty and serenity of it all, and being able to share her enjoyment of the wilderness with others.

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