Ledge Trail

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 37.74000°N / 119.58°W
Additional Information Route Type: Scramble
Additional Information Time Required: Half a day
Additional Information Difficulty: Class 3
Sign the Climber's Log


Starting from the Curry Village parking lot, head south towards Glacier Point, hiking through Curry Village and the tent cabins. It's a pretty simple approach. There is no one right starting point, all of them converging on the same route further up.

Route Description

The Ledge Trail is the shortest route between the Valley floor and Glacier Point. At first glance it seems improbable that a hiking trail could be built on the northwest face of Glacier Point. But upon further inspection, one notices what looks like a thin shelf running diagonally up and to the right (west) starting directly behind Curry Village. This thin shelf is actually a fairly wide ledge that runs 2/3 of the way up to the Valley rim. It intersects a steep gully that angles up and to the left, taking one to within a 1/4 mile of the Glacier Point lookout. Due to severe slide conditions, it was abandoned many years ago, and only vestiges of the once impressive trail remain. In the gully, buried under brush and ferns are many of the stone steps painstakingly constructed by the CCC in the 1930s. In many places there are markings of yellow and orange paint, a common technique of yore utilized by the Park Service to mark trails. There are two signs along the route warning visitors "Trail Closed" due to loose rock and slick granite. This of course adds to the charm.

You can start directly from Curry Village, going through the wooded area behind the tent cabins heading south and following the forest cover as it angles up and to the right. For a less woodsy start, you can begin at the JMT parking lot between Curry Village and Happy Isle, hitting the Glacier Point apron in a much quicker fashion. You can't really go too far to the left - you will smack into the Glacier Point walls and be forced to the right. Too far to the right and you will encounter an extremely loose gully that at first annoys you, but then gets a bit dangerous as it steepens. If you are really too far to the right, you may see John and Craig aid climbing on the left side of Staircase Falls, but you are definitely off-route.

Follow the ledge as it takes you up and to the right, avoiding the loosest parts by shifting to the left or right. You can climb almost the entire way up the ledge hugging the cliffs on your left if you like - just be aware that there are often many visitors directly above your head at Glacier Point, and not all of them may be aware of the dangers of tossing rocks over the side.

The junction with the Gully is obvious, and one of the two signs mentioned above will be found here on the west wall of the gully. Water is often coursing down the center of the gully and this is where you'll encounter some slick granite spring through summer (the water makes an easterly turn here, following the ledge down for about 100 feet before cascading over the cliffs to form Staircase Falls). In places you need to push through fern covered stairways - the old trail can be found in several places here. Climb the gully to the top.

Once at the Valley rim, continue due south until you intersect the Four Mile Trail (about 100 yards), or angle left(east) to head directly to Glacier Point. Either way, you are a short distance from the top. The large number of tourists you may suddenly encounter there will contrast sharply with the feeling of being all alone you'll have on the route. In more than half a dozen climbs of this route, I have never encountered another party along the way. For a fine loop hike, you can take the Panorama Trail down to Nevada Falls and back to Happy Isle & Curry Village. The Four Mile Trail makes for an even shorter loop return.

If you are heading down without having first climbed up, the route-finding is not difficult. Head west from Glacier Point following the Four Mile Trail for about a quarter mile. The very first gully encountered is the correct one. While heading down, enjoy the fine views of Yosemite Falls. The junction with the ledge should also be obvious. There is a faded steel sign bolted to the wall ("Trail Closed") on the left. The water turns right here showing you the start of the ledge. Cross to the southeast side of the stream when you can to keep from following the water down over the falls.

Because there is little sun along this route, it makes an ideal scramble during the summer when temperatures are frying the Valley floor along with the hikers on the Yosemite Falls Trail.

Winter brings another angle to this route. Because it is north-facing, the gully is usually filled with snow starting in December, and rarely melts out until spring even in dry years. The route has been skied, but be warned that in the best skiing conditions it is also an avalanche hazard. Once consolidated, the snow can be very hard (crampons, axe recommended). A climb to Glacier Point in winter can be very rewarding. While you will still see visitors (it is a popular ski tour from Badger Pass), they are much fewer, and the views of the high country blanketed in winter white is worth the climb. It is actually faster and easier to climb to Glacier Point from Curry Village via this route than to ski from Badger Pass (11 miles one way!)

Winter temperatures can be very chilly, and you should carry warm clothing. The entire route sees the sun for only a short period of time each day. The ledge sees the sun right after sunrise for about an hour, the gully sees the sun for about an hour around noon.

Essential Gear

Sturdy shoes in summer; axe, crampons, & warm clothes in winter if snow is present.

Miscellaneous Info

If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.

Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

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DayHiker2011 - Mar 12, 2011 10:16 pm - Voted 10/10

Ledge Trail History

Bob, Great essay that you wrote on the Ledge Trail above Curry Village in Yosemite. I wanted to point out that I first became aware of the trail while reading the book titled, "Off the Ledge: Death in Yosemite." Its written by a retired US Forest Ranger who compiled all the fatalities from all the various categories (falls, drownings, murder, suicides, etc). In his book, he explained that the Ledge Trail was originally used by the local Indians back in the mid 1800's. It was a natural pathway back then. The Forest Service improved the trail with markings and some maintenance. However, so many hikers fell to their deaths from the literal ledge that the rangers initially closed the trail to downhill hikers as most accidents happen when moving downward. But, that only partially alleviated the deaths so the rangers closed the trail altogether in the 1920's I think it was. Yet, to the present day, hiker-climbers such as yourself continue to traverse whats left of the trail as a challenge. Ironically, the trail crosses directly above and behind the mountaineering school there in Curry Village. I spoke to a woman who worked there about the trail and her eyes grew large with fear as she thought I planned to hike it. I'm not sure how the rangers enforce the "closure" when they can see hikers up there, but apparently its not a strict enforcement. Anyway, you stated that the trail was closed due to rock falls and I wanted to clarify what the retired Yosemite ranger had written in his book regarding the closures as a direct result of people falling to their deaths.

Bob Burd

Bob Burd - Jul 18, 2013 11:17 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Ledge Trail History

I just finished reading the same book which counted 14 deaths on the trail. Some corrections to your posting - I don't think it was ever an Indian trail. The text says it was used as early as 1870, but that was well after the white folk came in and kicked out the Indians. The trail was not closed until the 1960's, I believe, the text stating that in 1952 downhill travel was prohibited. I still suspect that rockfall damage played at least as important a role in closing it, but certainly it was well-known to the Park Service as a dangerous route.

DayHiker2011 - Mar 27, 2016 9:37 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Ledge Trail History

Long absence! I just came back on and its March 2016. I don't have the book handy as I loaned it out. But I specifically recall that the author said the trail was originally used by the local Indians. I know its popular to bring in the atrocities of the white settlers, but in this case, the Indians were using the trail first. According to the book. In any case, I'd not try it. I'm afraid of heights in such a big way that the entire globe moves around as I look out near any exposed fall area.

Marc&KT - Sep 29, 2014 3:43 pm - Hasn't voted

Ledge Trail Update

Bob, Thanks a bunch for your description of the Yosemite ledge trail. My wife and I are frequent visitors to Yosemite and have lately taken to exploring its abandoned trails. This past weekend (September 27th, 2014) we decided to check out the beginning of the ledge trail to see for ourselves how difficult and dangerous it really was. To make a long story short, we made it to the turn in almost exactly 2 hrs and were at the top in another 1 1/2 hrs. It was quite a challenge, but not as dangerous as other posts have described. If you just take your time and pay attention to what you're doing, its a fantastic experience. To put it into perspective, my wife and I are both 51 years old and are quite active. My wife is also afraid of heights, and there were a few times when her legs got a bit wobbly (part being slightly afraid and part just plain tired!). A few helpful hints to anyone interested. First, we started in Curry Village and went straight up until we met the face of the Glacier Point wall. Next time I would begin either from the John Muir Trail parking lot (to the left of Curry Village) or further to the right where the rock fall has cleared the forest. Second, we hugged the Glacier Point wall nearly all the way to the top where you make the sharp left turn up the gully. This was a great way to go but found that there's actually a 30 foot slab of granite running parallel to the ledge near the top which is impassible if you're on the left hand side against the Glacier Point wall. We had to descend a bit to find a place where we could cross the loose talus field. This was by far the most dangerous part of our trip. In retrospect, there was an orange arrow (part of the original trail marking) on a large boulder about a third of the way up on the left hand side of the ledge. I would cross the talus field somewhere around that point or shortly thereafter. Once we crossed over to the right hand side of the ledge, we found continuing upward fairly straightforward and found many rocks bearing the orange marking of the original trail. Third, once you've made the sharp left turn up into the gully, the original trail tends to meander upwards generally on the right hand side of the gully as you ascend. The dogwood (we're pretty sure that's what it was)is starting to overtake the gully...along with a fair amount of poison oak. My guess is that in another handful of years, that growth might make the trail completely impassable. So anyone plans on making the trek, I would recommend doing it sooner rather than later. Last, while descending the trail is clearly possible, I wouldn't recommend it. We went back down via the 4 mile trail (took us 1 1/2 hrs) and were pretty much spent by the time we got down. You'd need to have a fresh set of legs and a clear mind to attempt the ledge trail going down. Anyway, thanks again for your post and insights...extremely helpful!

DayHiker2011 - Mar 31, 2016 10:10 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Ledge Trail Update

Certainly you took a few photos that you could share ??? !!

markandrewwilson - Sep 23, 2019 8:35 pm - Voted 10/10

Update Sept 2019

Thanks Bob for the notes on the trail. I didn't actually find this information until after I hiked the trail. Everything you mentioned seems to still be the case with the trail. To reiterate some of what was noted and I feel pertinent to future climbers, I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND DESCENDING THE LEDGE TRAIL. As a climber I feel this is on par with some of the harder descents down scree I've seen. Near Staircase Falls there are some active slides, likely similar to what was there years back.


klass7 - Jan 2, 2022 10:32 am - Voted 6/10

Comments on the danger

The NPS wants to discourage people from attempting the Ledge Trail, but if you go there, you are in the category of being a rock climber. You need to realize the danger, have proper equipment, have proper training and be ready for emergencies. That being said, this isn't a rock climb, but a scramble and hike. While people can debate if there are records of Native Americans using the trail, it's almost certain they did because for the Ahwahnee's, it offered a great, quick route out of their valley. I first did this scramble in 1972 while working for the NPS. As I am a rock climber, it was a fun scramble. As for abject danger, the Half Dome cables are a thousand times more dangerous. However, if you don't have good climbing and outdoor skill, the average person can lose their life on this trail. Be careful.

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