El Capitan rises over 3,000 feet above Yosemite valley and can be seen from many viewpoints.
NPS photo of Tunnel View (the massive rock form on the left is El Capitan, in the background in the center is Half Dome, the waterfall on the right is Bridalveil Fall:
Coming into Yosemite valley on Highway 41, just before the valley, about 7 miles after Wawona, you go through a long tunnel just above the valley floor. Or you can get to Tunnel View from Yosemite Valley by driving on Northside drive until the Pohono Bridge, then making a left over the river and continuing until a right hand turn ( almost U-turn) then up the Wawona Road towards Wawona and Glacier Point road, (this almost u-turn is the same as you would take entering the valley on Highway 140 / El Portal Road to go to Tunnel View) as in the map below
Coming from highway 41, after going through the tunnel, slow down and put on your right blinker at the end of the tunnel and pull carefully into the small parking lot. Walk across the road (watch out for drivers watching the scenery and not seeing you) to the main viewpoint. Coming from Yosemite Valley, watch for the parking lot on the right before the tunnel.
This view is worth stopping for even if you are running late and even if there is rain or snow falling. The Yosemite Fund (now called the Yosemite Conservancy) and the National Park Service funded a remodel in 2008 with educational exhibits, expanded handicap accessible viewing area and improved traffic flow. Thousands of people stop each day in the summer.
Webcam view of El Capitan near Tunnel View, located on a dome near the Wawona Tunnel:
More photos of the view from the parking lot at tunnel view:
photos below by Quang-Tuan Luong/terragalleria.com, all rights reserved.
Going back down into Yosemite Valley on (usually one-way) Southside drive (0.25 miles east of the intersection of Southside Drive and Wawona Road) there are long paved turnouts on both sides of the road with a view of El Capitan on the left
and Bridalveil Fall on the right, where a long trail to Bridalveil fall comes out to the road.
From some of the east end of Yosemite valley you can see a little of the top of El Capitan:
and the top of El Capitan (on the left, to the right of the trees) with upper Yosemite Fall (lit up on the right):
Exiting Yosemite valley on usually one-way northside drive, (top of the map below) there are three stops many people take to see El Capitan.
El Capitan crossover (road section) goes over the El Capitan bridge in the right hand section of the map above.
Just past El Capitan crossover, there is lots of parking along El Capitan meadow on the left.
And this view of El Capitan:
A bit further along usually one-way Northside Drive, Valley View the small parking lot is on the left hand side)
panorama spring and winter:
photos below by Quang-Tuan Luong/terragalleria.com, all rights reserved.
From Taft Point : (2.2 miles round-trip hike from the Glacier Point road, 2 +/- hours). Road closed in the winter. See a map of the trail to Taft point at: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/glacierhikes.pdf and see the Glacier Point road on this official park map.
This panorama from Taft point has both El Capitan (on the left) and Yosemite Falls:
At the upper left is the railing at the official Taft Point, with El Capitan across Yosemite Valley (but do be sure to carefully explore the area, there are different, some say better views from further to the left of the official Taft point):
And a man held the back of a woman’s daypack as she took photos at the edge of the Taft point viewpoint, (perhaps to protect her from falling over the high railing?)
Coming down to Yosemite Valley from Crane Flat on new Big Oak Flat road (the extension of Highway 120) on the right hand side, after the road to Foresta, but before the tunnels, there is a small parking lot with a view of El Capitan and Half Dome seemingly right next to each other
Google maps 365 degree street view of this parking lot and the view.
The Yosemite Assn used to have a page of photo tips from photographer Michael Frye which included:
“November, December, and January are the best months to photograph Half Dome and El Capitan. From late afternoon until sunset, low-angle sunlight highlights the texture on the face of Half Dome. Late in the day, El Capitan is also flushed with warm light.”
Didn’t get quite the photo you wanted? You can buy a El Capitan or other Yosemite t-shirt, calendar, poster or art work online from the Yosemite Conservancy https://shop.yosemite.org/
and see: places to take photos of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park (with maps)
Places to take photos of Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park (with maps)
places to take photos of Yosemite Falls
Selfies can be great, OR dangerous. The use of cell phones for photography (with or without a selfie stick) has made preventable injury or even death by selfie common. They were only taking a selfie
Using a drone for your photography is illegal in Yosemite Nation park. See an index of rules and regulations webpages.
Yosemite trail conditions info is at: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildcond.htm
The Yosemite rangers would like you to call them if you see a bear in Yosemite, no matter where it is or what it is doing, at (209) 372-0322.
Parking and traffic jams in Yosemite valley tips and tricks
The most current route map for the free Yosemite Valley shuttle bus is in the Yosemite Guide newspaper https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/guide.htm , which you will be offered a copy of as you enter the park, or can print in advance.
It looks something like this when there is no road construction, rock slides, excess snow affecting the times/routes:
(Map below courtesy of NPS)
Hiking Advice has HIKING SECRETS and etiquette including hiking in the heat, preventing and/or dealing with blisters, logistics of hiking, a day hike gear list, Half Dome hiking advice, winter hiking and the answer to the question: When is the best time of day to cross a mountain stream?
A study, Detection of rock bridges by infrared thermal imaging and modeling, published in Sept. 2019, says, in part:
“Over the past 150 years, rockfalls have been intermittently documented from the southeast face of El Capitan, with 45 rockfalls recorded between 1857 and 2017. Exfoliation sheets are characteristic of the Yosemite landscape and are ubiquitous on El Capitan. Boot Flake and Texas Flake are particularly impressive exfoliation sheets and are famous features given their location along the popular rock climbing route “The Nose”.”
The NPS photo below of a climber on El Capitan is from the Yosemite park webpage:
Read about climbing regulations, the reasons behind them and practical advice on how to follow the rules, including fixed ropes, permits and sleeping on big walls, food storage, trash and human waste while climbing, bouldering, slacklining, and bolting ethics at: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/climbing_regulations.htm
and see also permits and logistics of sleeping on Big Walls at: http://www.climbingyosemite.com/services/regulations/
There is fascinating reading on how Yosemite climbers can avoid injuries / stay alive, by Search and Rescue (SAR) Ranger John Dill, (including sections on environmental dangers, descents, big wall bivouacs, unplanned bivouacs, loose rock, climbing unroped, leading, falling, learning to lead, the belay chain, helmets, states of mind, rescues, and risks, responsibility and the limits of climbing), at: https://www.friendsofyosar.org/climbing
also from the park service: