Eagle Peak trail might be one of the most underrated trails in Yosemite especially if you’re looking for a quick overnight backpacking trip.
While the Clouds Rest trail is by far the more popular backpacking choice in Yosemite, Eagle Peak trail also offers incredible panoramic views – minus the crowds. In fact, we were the only people camping at the Eagle Peak overlook during our backpacking trip in Yosemite, something that is almost hard to believe.
So why isn’t this trail more popular? Because it’s hard and it kicks your butt. Truly.
This trail consists of endless switchbacks that gain almost 4000 feet in elevation in less than 3 miles. It’s not easy and it will push you to your physical limits. But in the end, you will be rewarded with one of the most epic camping spots overlooking the valley.
With an early head start, it is also possible to do the Eagle Peak trail as a day hike. For those that plan to tackle the Eagle Peak trail as a day trip, our guide has a lot of helpful information for you too – like where to start, how long it takes, available water sources and other tips.
If you’re thinking about hiking or backpacking the Eagle Peak trail, here is our guide covering everything you need to know:
- Quick Trail Facts
- Trail Description
- Wilderness Permits
- Where To Park
- What To Bring
- Water Sources
- When To Go
- Photography Tips
Quick Trail Facts
Before we dive into the details, here is a quick overview of the Eagle Peak trail in Yosemite:
- Length: Around 12 miles out and back
- Trail difficulty: Hard
- Starting point: Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley
- Starting elevation: 4000 feet
- Destination point: Eagle Peak Viewpoint
- Destination elevation: 7700 feet
- Trail: Upper Yosemite Falls To Eagle Peak
- Where to camp: At Eagle Peak (wilderness permit required to camp)
The Eagle Peak Trail is a 12 mile out and back hike in Yosemite National Park that is relatively short but very tough.
The trailhead for The Eagle Peak hike starts at the Camp 4 campground in the Yosemite Valley.
The first 3 miles of this hike follow the Upper Yosemite Falls trail which consists of steep switchbacks that are by far the hardest part of this hike. These switchbacks lead to the top of the mountain where, thankfully, the hike flattens out a bit and continues through a mossy forest.
At the 3 mile mark, there will be a junction going west towards the Eagle Peak overlook. But before you take the turn, there is a spot to fill up on water by the Yosemite Creek slightly to the right. This is the only spot along this trail to get water so I highly recommend doing that here.
From the turnoff, it’s another 3 miles before you reach the Eagle Peak overlook. As an option, some people choose to continue on to El Capitan located 2.5 miles west from Eagle Peak.
We chose to stop and set up camp near the Eagle Peak viewpoint for the night and watched an incredible sunset from our tent. The next morning we ate a quick breakfast and headed back down to the valley before it got too hot.
The trail is only 6 miles each way but it took us 6 hours to get up to the Eagle Peak overlook and 4 hours back down the next day. You’re hiking straight up most of the time so the hike is steep and slow. Coming back down isn’t much faster because the trail is full of rocks and sloped steps that are equally tough on your legs and knees.
For those who plan to do any backpacking trips in Yosemite, you will need to arrange a permit before heading out into the wilderness. These permits are not required for day hikes but are required for any overnight backpacking trips.
Each trail has a quota on how many online and walk-in wilderness permits can be issued per day. Most of the online permits get booked up quickly so unless you plan your trip months in advance you’re better off getting a “Walk-In” permit.
The Eagle Peak trail is one of the less-traveled trails for backpacking in Yosemite, at least in September when we went. There were plenty of walk-in permits available for the weekend so we just picked up a permit in the morning before heading out on the trail.
You can get the walk-in permits as early as 11 am the day before – in the busy season I would highly recommend getting the permit as soon as possible to secure your spot. Most days there are even lines of people waiting outside the Wilderness Center when the doors open at 8 am to reserve a permit or talk to the rangers.
Before you head out on the trail you will also need to pick up a bear canister. Bears are very active in Yosemite so anything with a scent like food and toiletries will need to be stored in a bear canister during your backpacking trip. You can rent one at the same Wilderness Center in the Yosemite Valley and it costs $5 for the week.
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Yosemite is pretty far from any major cities so before you arrive in Yosemite you will need to think about where to spend the night before your hike.
Thankfully Yosemite has a designated backpacker’s campground set up specifically for people that are planning to do an overnight backcountry trip in Yosemite.
This campground is located behind the North Pines campground and backpackers are allowed to stay here one night before their backpacking trip and one night after their backpacking trip. BUT you will need to show a valid wilderness permit to stay here. Which means that if you don’t have one already reserved online, you will need to stop by the Wilderness Center and pick up a wilderness permit before coming to this campground.
Once you arrive at the backpacker’s campground you will need to fill out a slip at the registration board, pay $6 per person (in exact cash) and leave a copy of the slip by your tent for the camp host to see.
It’s pretty awesome that Yosemite has this option since getting a regular camping spot in Yosemite is really hard as they get booked up months in advance. The nice part about this campsite is that it’s only used by backpackers so there won’t be any loud people drinking all night by their campfire.
Once you’re on the actual trail, you can camp on any flat surface around the Eagle Peak area as long as you are 40 steps from a water source and not disturbing vegetation. We spotted a few different established camping spots around the Eagle Peak and got one with a pretty incredible view overlooking the Yosemite Valley.
Where To Park
Although the Eagle Peak trail starts at the Camp 4 campground, we were not allowed to park our car there. Instead, we had to park in the Curry (Half Dome) Village and take the bus to Camp 4 in the morning to start out hike. If there are no spots in the Curry Village parking lot you can also check the Yosemite Valley Trailhead parking lot.
It actually worked out pretty good since Curry Village is walking distance from the Backpackers Campground. We just left our car at the Curry Village parking lot for the entire weekend and didn’t move it once. Yosemite National Park offers a free shuttle service that runs every few minutes and makes it super easy to get around.
What To Bring
We hiked this trail in mid-September and the weather was still hot during the day (around 80° F) but chilly at night (around 40° F). If you’re wondering what essentials you should bring on the Eagle Peak Trail, here is our packing list for the trip.
Our favorite ultralight tent for backpacking trips like this is the MSR Carbon Reflex 2. We have written a detailed post on why we love this tent for backpacking here but essentially it’s extremely easy to set up, it is surprisingly roomy inside, and it is the lightest tent that we’ve ever used.
The MSR Carbon Reflex 2 weighs just under 2 pounds so it’s the tent we use every time we’re going on a backpacking trip when shedding any weight possible will help make the hike faster and more enjoyable. This is essential for any hike that has a large elevation gain and any extra weight we carry really gets our legs burning – especially during those crazy switchbacks leading up to the Yosemite Falls.
The Eagle Peak viewpoint is located at 7700 feet in elevation so it gets pretty chilly up there at night. For sleeping bags, I love this one from REI because it keeps me warm during our backpacking trips but it also compresses super small, it’s easy to pack up and doesn’t weight too much. Overall it’s a pretty versatile sleeping bag so you can use it in all types of conditions from beach camping to high mountain hikes – perfect for California.
I’m not a very good sleeper when it comes to camping and backpacking trips, but one thing that has recently made a huge difference for me is using a blow-up sleeping pad with a pillow for extra cushion. Before, we used rollup sleeping pads that took up a lot of room and didn’t really make it that much more comfortable. After switching to a blow-up sleeping pad I am now getting a lot better sleep when camping.
For a multi-day trek, you want to keep everything as light as possible, including your pack. You want to go for a backpacking pack with a good solid frame but one that is lightweight. This 65 Liter Osprey backpack from REI has more than enough room for all of my gear, it is lightweight and has very comfortable padding.
On a long hiking or backpacking trip having a good pair of hiking boots is essential. There is nothing worse than a pair of boots that are too small, rub your feet or cause blisters. I highly recommend getting a pair of over-the-ankle boots like these Vasque ones.
Coming back down on those switchbacks from the Upper Yosemite Falls portion was pretty tough on my ankles and I slipped a few times. Over-the-ankle boots prevent your ankles from rolling and potentially getting injured when your feet become tired.
Cooking Set Up
If you plan to camp at Eagle Peak overnight, you will most likely need a small camping stove with a burner to make your dinner and breakfast.
We use this type of camping stove on our backpacking trips. It works pretty great and we use it to make quick meals like rice with chicken, oatmeal and coffee in just a few minutes. Note that you’ll need to buy the gas separately but you can get that at any outdoors store like Big 5.
Recently, I also started really getting into dehydrating my own backpacking food. It’s a lot healthier and often tastes much better than buying pre-packaged food. My favorite things to dehydrate are fruit snacks, especially bananas, kiwis and strawberries. It’s the perfect little snack on the trail and adds a bit more flavor to our breakfast oatmeal.
The weather during our Yosemite backpacking trip in September was hot during the day and cold at night. I highly recommend wearing shorts and breezy shirts during the day and bringing lots of layers for the night time. Your packing list might change depending on the season, but here are a few things that I recommend to bring clothing-wise:
- Shorts during the day. I ended up bringing only leggings on the hike and I was super hot during the day. If I had to do it again, I would have chosen shorts during the day.
- Leggins or sweats at night. It got really cold up at the Eagle Peak viewpoint at night so I ended up wearing two pairs of leggings at night.
- Thermal shirt and a warm jacket. You won’t need these during the day but will definitely want some warm tops and a jacket for the evening.
- Hiking socks. You want to get a good pair of hiking socks that won’t rub blisters on your feet and won’t make your feet sweat. I always bring an extra pair to switch out in the morning.
- Hat & sunglasses to cover up from the sun during the day.
- Beanie & gloves for the evening and nighttime.
- Most of this trail is super-hot and exposed to sun offering little to no shade so a strong sunscreen is a must.
- Wipes to clean off dust and dirt at the end of the day but don’t worry – hot showers are available in Yosemite Valley at the end of the hike.
- Backpacking shovel to go to the bathroom in the wilderness.
- Toilet paper. Note that all toilet paper in Yosemite needs to be packed and carried out – do not burry it.
- Travel toothbrush & toothpaste set.
- Headlamp for when it gets dark.
- Battery charger. To keep your phone charged for emergencies – there was actually a little bit of reception at the Eagle Peak overlook.
- First aid kit for emergencies & blisters.
- At the Eagle Peak campsite, there was a surprising amount of bees that swarmed our tent during dinner and breakfast. If you are concerned about bee stings, bring along some pain & itch relief swabs like these ones.
- Ibuprofen or aspirin in case you start feeling pain from the tough hike. My husband’s legs started cramping and hurting pretty bad during the switchbacks so it’s best to be prepared.
- Small trash bag to carry out any trash.
As I mentioned earlier, there is only one water source along this trail so that is something to keep in mind, especially if you go during the dry season in fall.
On the Eagle Peak trail, the only available water source is located 3 miles in at the Yosemite Creek by the Upper Yosemite Falls viewpoint. Make sure to bring along a water filter to filter the water from this creek.
We had already finished 4 bottles of water by the time we got here and there are no other sources past this point so you’ll need to fill up enough water for the evening and the hike back in the morning.
When To Go
The best time to hike or backpack the Eagle Peak trail is in early summer. Part of this hike follows along Yosemite Falls, the 20th tallest waterfall in the world. This waterfall is especially stunning in early summer when it gets extra water from the snowmelt in the mountains.
We did the Eagle Peak hike in mid-September and Yosemite Falls by then had completely dried out. The hike was still beautiful because you get amazing panoramic views from the Eagle Peak viewpoint, but if you want to see the waterfall, it’s best to go in early summer.
The upside from doing this trail in fall is that the air is getting a little cooler and the crowds are thinning out so it’s easier to get permits. Whichever season you choose, you’re guaranteed pretty amazing views at the end.
Backpacking in Yosemite is one of the cheapest ways to visit this park – if you plan it right.
- The current fee to enter Yosemite National Park is $35 per car.
- In order to backpack or camp in Yosemite’s wilderness, you will need to arrange a permit. These wilderness permits are free which means that with a valid wilderness permit you can camp in Yosemite’s backcountry at no cost!
- To backpack in Yosemite you will need to rent a bear canister which costs $5 per week.
- With a valid wilderness permit, you are also allowed to stay at the backpacker’s campground in Yosemite Valley the night before and after your backpacking trip for $6/pp which is pretty cheap.
- Yosemite Valley offers a variety of food options from cafes, restaurants, and grills (even a Starbucks!). But if you’re looking to save cost, I always recommend bringing your own food and making it at the campsite.
The Eagle Peak trail is one of the best photography spots in Yosemite that I have experienced, especially for sunset. The sun sets behind the Eagle Peak viewpoint so you’re likely guaranteed a colorful sunset in front of you.
I was also hoping to get some photos from this location in the morning but as soon as the sun came out from behind the Half Dome, the valley just looked like a dark shadow. So if you plan to take any photos at the Eagle Peak viewpoint, sunset is by far the better time to do it.
If you are interested in how I capture amazing photos on my trips, here is the camera gear that I use to create my photos:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for landscape shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur especially during sunset): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Wasabi Power battery charger and extra battery pack
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
Looking for other cool hikes and things to do in California? Check out our other California blog posts below:
- 6 Incredible Day Hikes At Kings Canyon National Park
- Backpacking The Trans-Catalina Trail: All You Need To Know
- 7 Best Beaches To Visit In Southern California
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