NotesEl Capitan can be reached two ways: hiking east from Tamarack Flat, or hiking north and west from Sunnyside/Camp4 (TF to EL or UF to EL in the Yosemite hiking map). The elevation gain is much bigger for the second way, which is also slightly longer.
Camp4/Sunnyside is in the Yosemite valley (the same trail that goes to the Upper Falls). Tamarack Flat is NOT in the Yosemite valley (it's off Tioga Rd). If you hike from one side to the other, you need to leave a car at the end, which is not trivial (it's a 45-minute drive).
Description from Tamarack Flat or Foresta
The road from Tioga Rd to the Tamarack Flat Campground is (very bad) paved road, and that's when the gate is open, which is rare. It's about 5kms to the campground. From the campground to El Capitan the trail is 13.5 kms.
From Tamarack Flat Campground to Cascade Creek the road is paved (closed to vehicles) through lodgepole pines (the "tamaracks") and white firs. Eventually, the road descends steeply and it intersects the trail coming from Foresta to the Cascade Creek bridge (4.5kms, about 1 hour).
The other option to get to this point is to start from Foresta. This trailhead, marked Old Big Oak Flat, is located on Tioga Rd about 200 meters west of the Foresta Road junction, on the south side of the road, just after the three tunnels if you are coming from Yosemite Valley. Cross the street and you'll see the very old sign announcing "10 miles" to the top. Like all signs in miles, this sign is not accurate and the distance is not 16 kms. After 1h30' you will reach a creek crossing. Note that the water can be pretty high in the spring when the snow is melting. After 7kms it connects with the Tamarack Flat road. Turn right into this road and after 500m turn left. Don't miss the sign pointing uphill for El Capitan.
If you are coming from Tamarack Flat,
cross the bridge and continue 800 meters down the old Big Oak Flat Road, but
watch carefully for a sign on your left (the semi-paved road continues
forever). The sign sends you uphill to El Capitan: it is no longer a semi-paved
road, but a real trail. You are 9kms from El Capitan.
Now you can return the same way (it will take you about the same time) or go back via the Upper Falls (faster, but harder on your knees).
If you continue the trail towards the Upper Falls, the hike will be a comfortable walk to Upper Falls through the forest. The trail goes up and down for about 8 kms. The last climb is to get to the Eagle Point fork. After that you will go down to the Upper Falls folk. Then the trail goes down steeply. This is one of the steepest trails in Yosemite and it is a curse on your knees, as most of it is steps.
Trail map from Sunnyside
Sunnyside to Upper Falls to El Capitan
Tamarack Flat to El Capitan to Upper Falls
2001 El Capitan hike
It was June and we were quite annoyed by mosquitoes.
If you want to see Eagle Point on the way to El Capitan, do not trust the sign that says "0.3 miles". That would be 0.5 kms. You'll find out that it is at least one km. And very steep. But you get great views of Nevada Falls and the Glacier Point trail.