For the fullest experience, the Yosemite High Route is best completed as an end-to-end thru-hike.
For most backpackers, however, it will be more practical to undertake the route in more bite-sized pieces. These section-hikes are:
- More compatible with family and work commitments;
- Loops, and therefore logistically simpler than point-to-point itineraries; and,
- Less physically difficult, due to relatively short durations and lighter food loads.
The horizontal distance of a Yosemite High Route thru- or section-hike is almost irrelevant. It’s all about the vertical. When creating your itinerary, consider the total vertical change on the route in relation to the vertical change that you can handle each day. Add some cushion to account for off-trail travel, altitude, and perhaps weather delays.
For a thru-hike, allow yourself:
- 11 to 15 days, if you can sustain about 6,000 vertical feet of change each day; or,
- 7 to 9 days, if you can sustain about 10,000 vertical feet of change per day.
The shortest section-hikes can be completed by endurance athletes as very long day-hikes or adventurous trail runs. But generally they will be multi-day efforts, ranging from two to ten days.
In the chart below, I have provided details for featured thru-hikes and recommended section-hikes.
If the listed itineraries do not match perfectly your ideal mileage and vertical, you can shortcut and/or extend most of them. This is not difficult, since Yosemite has an extensive trail system and blissful cross-country terrain. Thru-hikes can be additionally modified by using different approaches to the Core Route.
I have assigned a difficulty rating to reach thru- and section-hike. The rating is a function of its most difficult feature (e.g. a Class 3 pass) and its stats, notably the total distance, total vertical change, and off-trail percentage.
Moderate. Best for strong on-trail hikers who want limited moderate off-trail travel.
Difficult. Best for strong and experienced hikers ready for more extensive moderate off-trail travel.
Extreme. Best for very strong and highly experienced backpackers who can manage difficult off-trail travel.
Of course, I expect some backpackers to take on more than they probably should, because they want to get the full experience and/or to accelerate up the learning curve. This is common and entirely understandable, but it’s not on me.
The Yosemite High Route is not suitable for backpackers who have little backpacking experience, poor fitness, or heavy packs.
In the Yosemite High Route Guide, I have included route descriptions, topographic maps, and datasheets for all recommended itineraries.