Yosemite Overnight Big Wall Climbing Wilderness Stewardship

View of El Capitan from the Valley floor
El Capitan

Overnight big wall climbing is a valued opportunity to experience Yosemite's wilderness. Overnight big wall climbing includes climbs of length and technical complexity that require typical parties to take more than one day to complete. It was developed in Yosemite beginning in the 1950s and has risen in popularity since, expanding across areas within Yosemite and beyond. The 1984 California Wilderness Act designated Yosemite's big walls as Wilderness, requiring protection of the physical and experiential values inherent in wilderness stewardship.


In 2023, Yosemite National Park transitioned from the Wilderness Climbing Permit Pilot Program (in place in 2021 and 2022) to a long-term solution to address wilderness stewardship through management of overnight climbing on Yosemite’s big walls and other rock formations. The overarching goal is to protect the wilderness character and natural conditions of Yosemite’s big walls and other climbing areas while providing the public with continued opportunity and access to overnight climbs.  



Cumulative effects of overnight big wall climbing have led to severe impacts to wilderness values. Issues include: proliferation of litter, human waste, abandoned property, improperly stored food, illegal fire rings and wind breaks, and preventable accidents. In response, the park increased education, outreach, and law enforcement efforts. Despite these efforts, the park fails to meet legal requirements for protection and enhancement of Wilderness character.

The purpose of this project is to accomplish the following:

  • Protect and enhance the wilderness character of Yosemite's climbing areas while providing the public the opportunity to continue to climb big walls.

  • Preserve the natural conditions for wildlife, vegetation, and water quality at the base of walls, on the walls, and on their summits. This requires reducing the amount of litter, abandoned property, fixed ropes, fire rings and other structures, and improperly disposed human waste.

  • Improve opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation by educating climbers on best practices for Leave No Trace (LNT) principles and preventative search and rescue.

  • Provide climbers with information to enhance opportunities for solitude in wilderness areas.

  • Further develop a collaborative relationship between the National Park Service (NPS) and climbing community to promote shared objectives of stewardship and safety.

Public Outreach

Engaging with the public was an important part of this project and was essential when exploring management alternatives. Initial stakeholder meeetings and scoping began in April of 2022, with a management review of the permit pilot program taking place in summer of 2022. Park managers accepted and integrated feedback received from the public during the open comment period in fall 2022 as rangers worked to adapt the pilot overnight climbing permitting system into a long-term program for the stewardship of overnight climbs in vertical wilderness. The following options were available for the public to share their thoughts.




Virtual Town Hall (recording of live event)

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

5:30 to 7:30 pm PDT

Live Event at Yosemite Facelift in the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center Auditorium

Thursday, September 22, 2022

3:00 to 5:00 pm

Virtual Town Hall (live event)

Sunday, October 16, 2022

3:00 to 5:00 pm PDT

Informal outreach at the “Bishop High Ball-Cragging Classic” Climbing Festival

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Public comments were analyzed during the winter of 2022 and a management decision and implementation strategy was developed in spring and announced in summer of 2023.

Management Decision and Permit Information

Climbers spending the night on big walls will be required to get a permit. The permits are free and no quotas are in place. Based on management review and feedback from the public during the pilot program, permits will be issued as follows:

  • Climbing Permits will be available by self-registration year-round. This provides for mandatory education for climbers to help preserve Wilderness character while maintaining flexible access to primitive and unconfined recreation on Yosemite big walls. Permits will be available at kiosks or other locations still to be determined. Climbing Management may install self-registration stations at the El Capitan climbing information sign or have additional self-registration options at existing Wilderness Centers.

  • In accordance with policy, Climbing Management will look into the possibility of a paperless/online self-registration permitting system.

  • At their discretion, climbing rangers may issue permits in the field or at Ask a Climber, climber coffee programs, etc.

  • Climbing permits will continue to be free.

  • Based on observed conditions, permits will continue to not be limited by an overall or per-route quota and attempts will be made to continue offering current route-use information for climbers who may want to self-disperse.

  • The "trailheads" established during the pilot will continue to be managed with the climbing permit system, but they will be renamed formations/route name instead of "trailheads."

  • Climbing rangers will continue to offer office hours and other in-person opportunities for climbers who want more information about their intended routes and additional in-depth wilderness stewardship and safety education.

  • Wilderness permits will be required by all persons spending the night on the wall, at the base (if open for camping), or at the summit of walls.

  • Climbing management will continue to collect user data from the permit system, regularly check for permit compliance in the field, and monitor conditions in Yosemite's climbing areas.

Wilderness and Climbing Management will continue to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the permit program and make necessary changes.

Learn more about this project.

Last updated: June 29, 2023

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