Thru- and Section-Hike Itineraries

Rock Island Lake, a rarely visited alpine basin that is part of three section-hikes: the full North Loop, the Northern Canyons out of Twin Lakes, and Roosevelt Riviera.

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.

Time management

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.

Route difficulty

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.

More information

In the Yosemite High Route Guide, I have included route descriptions, topographic maps, and datasheets for all recommended itineraries.

For an approximate topographic reference, view this map and read the route overview.

Recommended thru- and section-hikes

Questions, or have an experience to share? Leave a comment.


  1. Nathaniel Sousa on December 2, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    This looks awesome. Thank You Andrew

    I did 9 days on the Sierra High Route 3 years ago, thanks to your guide. Would that trail also rate as “extreme” in your measurement system?

    • Andrew Skurka on December 3, 2018 at 6:25 am

      Yes, definitely. If you have done a sampling of the SHR, the YSR is within your wheelhouse.

  2. Brad R on December 5, 2018 at 10:11 am

    I did the Wilson-Dixon version of the WRHR this September in 7 days and am looking for something of similar difficulty. Would you have anything in particular you would recommend from your trips (Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Phiffner, or other)? I don’t want anything over class 3, and though I have crossed glaciers in Alaska and WRR, and have Microspikes, I have never used an ice ax. I could do the trip any time in July or August.

    • Andrew Skurka on December 5, 2018 at 10:37 am

      Overall, if you were able to do Alan’s route in the Winds you should be able to do these other routes, too. You might find them marginally more challenging, specific sections or overall, but you’re also more experienced and confident now; you could also find them to be marginally less challenging. My guess, you’ll conclude that it will still hard, but just different. There is nothing on these routes that exceeds Class 3 (and most of it is Class 2).

      In July and August, the Pfiffner usually has afternoon weather issues, similar to the Winds (although if you were there in Sept you might have avoided that).

      The Pfiffner has one pass that is probably hairier than anything on that Winds route, the Northeast Gully, After a normal winter it’s full of snow through July. The pass immediately before it, Paiute, is no gimme either, but I don’t think it’s that much worse than some of those on the Winds. Northeast Gully can be bypassed, but I’d discourage it.

      In July the High Sierra can be buggy. It’s not Alaska, though, and it can be successfully managed.

      The KCHBR has one pass that hangs people up, too, King Col. Sometime in July the “plug” melts out and you can get around the cornice that blocks the entry. It remains steep and loose though.

      I have only seen a little bit of the Yosemite High Route in early-season conditions, so I’m not sure where all the snow hazards are. I’m speculating that none of them will be as bad as Northeast Gully or King Col, at least at the same time of year.

  3. Ben Wells on December 5, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    Two Summers ago I planned and completed an 18 day trip summitting New York’s 46 high peaks. The mileage added up to 200 and elevation gain just shy of 70,000. Undergoing planning for this magnificent looking trip now for next Summer! Looking at the longest itinerary as of now. Thanks Andrew I’ll email or comment somewhere if I have any questions. Looking forward to purchasing your guide later in the winter.

  4. max on September 2, 2020 at 9:12 pm

    andrew. inspired by you we just did five days out of Twin Lakes exploring horse creek pass into Spiller canyon around to Matterhon, burro pass, slide canyon, rock island lake then down past Snow Lake and back to Twin Lakes. good times. highlights were Piute creek and off trail to Rock Island from there. hungry for more up there now

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