Places to take photos of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (includes maps)

El Capitan (once known as Tu-toch-ah-nulah and “The Great Chief of the Valley”), rises 3,593 feet above Yosemite valley and can be seen from many viewpoints, nine of which are described here. (Elevation at the top of El Capitan is 7,569 feet.)

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:

NPS photo of Yosemite valley including El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall and a mass of clouds

This was painted by Andrew Melrose in the vicinity:

painting of landscapes

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

road map with Merced river

tunnel view NPS photo.: El Capitan on one side, Half Dome in the center and Bridalveil fall on the otherComing 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.

people at edge of a parking lot with view beyond

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:

https://www.nps.gov/customcf/webcam/dsp_webcam_image.cfm?id=81B464D8-1DD8-B71B-0B27F29DCD4CE913

More photos of the view from the parking lot at tunnel view:
photos below by Quang-Tuan Luong/terragalleria.com
, all rights reserved.

QT Luong Yosemite valley from tunnel winter snow: QT Luong valley from tunnel view winter fog: QT Luong Yosemite Valley from tunnel view: terragalleria Yosemite valley winter glorious pink sunset: terragalleria photo of Yosemite valley winter glorious pink sunset

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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 at Bridalveil Straight on both sides of the road with a view of El Capitan on the left

El Capitan and roadway

and Bridalveil Fall on the right, where a long trail to Bridalveil fall comes out to the road.

waterfall

Watch out as you drive through here for people standing in the roadway to look at the view, get a picture, often not looking at oncoming traffic:
people in road

aerial photo of road section with note that it is a heavily congested area
Bridalveil Straight is being redesigned and will eventually look like this, with tour bus parking and a better viewing area away from traffic:

simple map

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From some of the east end of Yosemite valley , rooms and out on the grounds at the Ahwhanee Hotel, you can see a little of the top of El Capitan:

tree, cliffs and sunset

and the top of El Capitan (on the left, to the right of the trees) with upper Yosemite Fall (lit up on the right):

clouds, cliffs, waterfall

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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.

map with roads, river cliffs

El Capitan crossover (name of the road section) goes over the Merced River on the El Capitan bridge in the right hand section of the map above.

El Capitan with river and bridge below

Just past El Capitan crossover, there is lots of parking along El Capitan meadow on the left.

And this view of El Capitan:

El Capitan

The Merced River Plan, has projects to improve views by removing trees. It says about the view from El Capitan Meadow (see page H-33):
“The El Capitan Meadow vista is in the northeastern portion of El Capitan Meadow. The vista includes a large portion of the Yosemite Valley with iconic natural landmarks such as El Capitan, The Three Brothers, Cathedral Rocks, and the Cathedral Spires. The viewpoint is part of the Yosemite Road Guide (marker V8). Views from Northside Drive to El Capitan are also listed as a contributing vista to the Yosemite Valley Historical District. The Meadow is a popular location for visitors to watch climbers ascending the Yosemite Valley walls. The Merced River Plan proposes constructing a If a boardwalk is built, the vista should be managed from that location. No trees should be removed from within the rockfall hazard zone.”
247 trees (152 Ponderosa, 97 Cedar and 1 Fir) are in the plan to be removed.

This is the view to be improved, shown in the plan:

El Capitan with trees in foreground

And also note
“Ahwahnee Meadow, El Capitan Meadow, Big Meadow, and Tuolumne Meadows are closed to kite flying regardless of size. This restriction is necessary to ensure the safety of low flying aircraft being used in SAR (Search and Rescue), medical, fire, or other emergency situations.”

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A bit further along usually one-way Northside Drive, at Valley View also known as Gates of the Valley, (the small parking lot is on the left hand side of the road, restrooms on the right hand side of the road).

road map with Merced river

A Thomas Hill painting from 1871 (photo courtesy of the Library of Congress) looks to be the same angle of El Capitan as from near Valley View:

El Capitan and Merced river

This (1885 +/-) painting by Thomas Hill (photo courtesy of the Library of Congress) is in the vicinity.

painting of Yosemite Valley cliffs, waterfall

panorama spring and winter:


photos below by Quang-Tuan Luong/terragalleria.com
, all rights reserved.

terragalleria valley view panorama spring: terragalleria yosemite valley winter:

El Capitan bathed in sunset light, rivet in foreground

If you are lucky you might see a Water Ouzel (also known as a Dipper) swimming in and out of the ripples very near you, any time of year, including this photo taken in December:
bird sitting on a low rock in the river

The N.P.S. Merced River Plan, (see page H-35) has projects to improve views by removing trees. It says about the view from Valley View:

“Valley View is at the west end of Northside Drive. This is the vista on the 2010 quarter from the US Mint’s “America the Beautiful” series. The viewpoint is part of the Yosemite Road Guide (marker V11) which describes it as being a view of the “gates” of Yosemite with El Capitan on the left and Cathedral Rocks on the right. The landscape of the surrounding Yosemite Valley is reflected in the calm water of the Merced River. The primary objective in managing the vista is to open the mostly obscured view of Bridalveil Fall, and to reduce the number of conifers encroaching on the meadow. There are a large number of dead trees from a controlled burn in 2007. The area from which trees will be removed is approximately 4 acres. There are 117 snags within this area, and of these, those less than 12” dbh will be removed and larger snags of greater habitat value will remain.” 519 trees will be removed.

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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.

NPS map with roads, topography

This panorama from Taft point has both El Capitan (on the left) and Yosemite Falls:

view from Taft Point Yosemite

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):

cliff edge with railing

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?)

man holding the strap on the back of a daypack

   

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Looking down at El Capitan from the south rim of Yosemite Valley:

rows of peaks

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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

parking lot with Yosemite view beyond

El Capitan and Half Dome

Google maps 365 degree street view of this parking lot and the view.

row of rocks carved into brick shapes

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

Places to take photos of Staircase Falls in Yosemite National Park

row of rocks carved into brick shapes

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

And see shots of Yosemite valley from Glacier Point.

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The Yosemite National Park 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 1 (209) 372-0322.

If you can, in all the excitement, try to notice if the bear has a tag (usually on the ear), the color of the tag and if possible, the number on it (the tag is large enough that with a telephoto you should be able to read the number).

bear with ear tag

NPS bear tracks: bearlogo: from the Keep Bears Wild program NPS bear tracks:

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row of rocks carved into brick shapes

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Drivers should note that there are sections of road in Yosemite Valley with two lanes (usually) in the same direction, with the right lane ONLY for the free shuttle buses, ambulances, ski bus, commercial vehicles with ten or more passengers. The NPS says: “The bus lane ensures emergency vehicles can respond to incidents when traffic is backed up and provides preference for mass transit.”

Parking and traffic jams in Yosemite valley tips and tricks has the above advice, with maps of each of the three major day-use parking lots, with advice to help you NOT get a Yosemite National Park traffic or parking ticket, and not contribute to preventable traffic backups. And some details of where you can’t park in Yosemite, or can’t park without a permit.

sign that says camp 4 parking permit required 24 hours

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Hotel, cabin and tent cabin choices in Yosemite valley are at: Yosemite Valley overnight accommodations.


Restaurants, cafeterias, coffee bars, pizza, grocery stores in Yosemite valley are at: Yosemite valley restaurants,

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)

map of Yosemite valley shuttle bus stops

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?

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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”.”

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The NPS photo below of a climber on El Capitan is from the Yosemite park webpage:

https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/climbing.htm

climber on cliff

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, fine dining on El Capitan:

climber sitting on a ledge on a cliff, with sleeping bag nearby

Scroll around the almost 3,000 foot El Capitan Dawn Wall to look up close at climbers, a base camp of tents secured to the rock and follow their ropes during a 2015 free climb:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/01/14/sports/the-dawn-wall-up-close.html

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