Hike Old Big Oak Flat Road

Rate this Adventure 4.1 miles 1070 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Julie Cash

Amazing valley views and rock scrambling with no crowds.

Old Big Oak Flat Road used to be one of the main entries into Yosemite Valley, before HWY 120, 140 and 41. It was a dangerous road which had to be realigned, reconstructed and maintained continuously and was eventually closed in the 1940’s after a giant rockslide made it completely irreparable. The road is still accessible for a good distance from the Valley and, though not a formal trail, is fairly easy to navigate. The views definitely rival Tunnel View and you won’t be fighting for a good spot with 100 other people.

Access to the road can be gained near the base of El Capitan on a utility road where firewood is cut. Not far after you walk inward you will begin seeing signs of the old pavement and the road is pretty easy to find and follow. The trail starts out in a fairly covered wooded section with occasional views of Bridalviel Fall through the trees. It’s pretty cool to see the pavement being overtaken by nature though there are several spots where you can see remnants of the road as well as the man-made retaining type walls. I loved imagining what it must have been like to drive a car on this in the 1920’s!

After a short distance the road becomes exposed and you quickly get your first payoff: amazing views of El Capitan. If you aren’t looking for a long walk you could stop here, take some photos and make all your friends at Tunnel View jealous. I recommend you keep going though as it never really gets strenuous. There are quite a few rockslides you will need to scramble over, though none felt unsafe and the trail was easy to find on the other side. In one area someone has painted arrows to help find your way but I didn’t think it was necessary. These are what I would consider the hardest part of the hike, mostly because you are working more muscles climbing rocks but it’s never for very long.

Once you are on the road for probably 3 miles or so, almost directly across from Tunnel View (wave to the tour buses!) the road becomes harder to find and would require more advanced route finding skills. I believe this part of the road actually should be further up and contained switchbacks but I was quite happy with the hike and decided to turn around. The hike back is actually even more enjoyable because you get to enjoy the amazing views of El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall without constantly turning around.

While this trail isn’t maintained by NPS it does look like maybe some volunteers are helping maintain it because there were many trees that had been trimmed and not a lot of things blocking the path which I had read could be an issue. I would highly recommend this hike for gaining some hard to find solitude in Yosemite Valley without a lot of work. You can make the hike as long as you like and even venture further than I did if you are more skilled. Search the route on Google if you want more details on how to take the road from the Valley to Tamarack.

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