Indian Canyon is the deeply carved, tree-laden canyon found on the north side of the valley between Yosemite Falls to the west, and Royal Arches to the east. It is the oldest known ascent route between the valley and the surrounding high country, used for many ages by the Indians who lived in the area.
The climbing is stiff class 3 in a few places (vertical obstacles requiring branch grabs to surmount), enjoyable class 3 for about a third of the time, and easier class 2 for the rest. It is highly enjoyable whether ascending or descending. During much of the year (outside the spring runoff) the route can be followed along the boulders lining the streambed, with little or no bushwhacking required, unlike most of the other scramble routes in the valley.
If you are new to scramble routes, an enjoyable dayhike is to climb up Indian Canyon, head northwest until you meet the North Dome Trail, and follow it back to Yosemite Point and down the Yosemite Falls Trail. If you find yourself uncomfortable on the class 3 route, you can simply climb back down the canyon at any point. If you are more experienced with such climbs, this route can be combined with a climb of North Dome Gully
or the Ahwahnee Ledges
for an enjoyable day of scrambling.
The approach is very straightforward when approached from the valley floor. Park at the picnic area between Yosemite Village and the Ahwahnee Hotel. Head for the wide canyon north of the parking area (a large meadow is found south of the parking area).
It is fairly easy to find the correct drainage when approached from above as well, following along the North Dome Trail between Yosemite Point and North Dome. If coming from Yosemite Point, follow the trail northeast downhill until you reach the bottom of the drainage, which is Indian Canyon Creek. Leave the trail, following the creek south. The easiest route follows the east side of the creek, staying higher on that side under the forest cover to avoid traversing across the steeper banks of the creek. Once the canyon narrow and the descent begins, move into the creekbed.
If approaching from above and from the east, the only error (and a most serious one) is if you follow the Lehamite Creek drainage down (a serious cliff awaits you). This creek empties into Indian Canyon in a dramatically steep gully on the east side. A topo map is helpful here, as you need to follow the trail west down and out of the Lehamite drainage, over to the Indian Canyon Creek drainage. There is a trail junction on the west side of Lehamite Creek that you can use to note your location. The divide between the two drainages is shallow along the trail, so be aware. If you find yourself looking down a very narrow gorge with an impossible cliff below you, backtrack a short ways (you don't have to go back to the trail), and head northwest up and over the divide into the correct drainage.
In the canyon proper, the scrambling is 90% over boulders that line the streambed, following back and forth from the west to the east side depending on which side is easiest. At no time should you be climbing on class 4 or higher - take the time to find the easier route unless you enjoy a bit more challenge. Descending the route offers better views into the valley, particularly at the top of the route where the views are best. Descending is also easier, as you can use gravity to allow yourself to drop down onto the boulders below in many places, decreasing the need for careful route-finding.
There is water in the canyon nearly year-round. In the fall, the lower half of the canyon is dry, as the water goes deeper underground, but you can generally find water again in the upper reaches. During late fall and into winter there can be ice in places along the upper part of the route. It requires just a bit more caution to avoid slipping in such places. The ice formations actually add to the charm of the climb in the intricate displays they project. Because the canyon is south facing, snow rarely stays long in the canyon after a winter storm. Ice will form regularly in winter however, and with high water flow the canyon should be avoided.
An interesting feature found in the canyon is the presence of a partially buried telecommunications cable that was installed many years ago in the canyon. It lies along the eastern most end of the canyon, exposed in places where it is secured with chains and steel cables to the rock. The most exposed section is found about halfway up the canyon. While it seems a travesty that such a thing was put here in the first place, it must have been a phenomenal engineering effort to place it in such a difficult location. I have no idea if it is still functional or exactly what purpose it serves, but if anyone knows please post some information here.
No special gear needed. If crampons and axe are required in wintertime, you probably shouldn't be in the canyon.