Hiking an Abandoned Road out of Yosemite Valley to the Rainbow View Gate

Wanna scramble over some boulders? I mean a LOT of boulders? How about along an old abandoned road? An unmarked trail? Ever wonder what it’s likes on the other side of the Tunnel View corridor? Maybe you want to scramble straight up for a bit. Have we got the secret hidden Yosemite trail for you!

Watch our full adventure here!

Due to Covid, Yosemite is only open 8AM to 5PM these days, the perfect excuse to take a day trip and hike/run/climb to the Rainbow View Gate (and beyond).

We first learned of the Rainbow View Gate from our favorite old timer, Eric. Eric is one of the climbers who hands out assignments at the annual volunteer clean up of Yosemite called Face Lift. He likes to give us out-of-the-way, just dangerous enough, not in the tour books, trails. He says things like, “You should probably have ropes <insert dramatic pause> but you’ll be fine.”

We parked at El Cap and hopped on the Yosemite Valley Loop running away from the Valley until we picked up a service road. It’s kind of confusing because there is a four way intersection of trail and road, but you need to head up/right on the road. This trail follows what once was the Old Big Oak Flat road, developed and used in the 1800’s and early 1900’s that has since been washed out and abandoned.

Gorgeous view of El Cap and Half Dome not far into the run

Here’s what you need to know. The first half mile or so is easy peasy. Then the road starts to wash out and you hit your first sign of boulders. Easy enough to get around the first lot but your short lived run is then disrupted by fallen trees. For the next 3.5 miles you ebb and flow between massive boulder fields, the remains of the old road, and a few lovely trails. You often have to navigate around and take your best guess.


I love climbing rocks and don’t mind heights. We lost the trail at one point and had to scramble and climb our way straight up. It took me a solid 15-20 minutes. I got stuck at one point. I ended up turning around and using my arms to push myself up and over. Think crab walk, but vertical. This is not the only way to climb the section. Scott literally ran up it in about 90 seconds. He outran the rolling rocks and sliding dirt. I was a big chicken and took forever.

We lost the switchbacks and just went up

If you’re smarter than us, you will be able to find the switchbacks and avoid this climb.

More Rocks

Shortly after our detour up, we found the famous Rainbow View gate. Eric told us it’s where Ansel Adams took his famous photo of the Valley but no way is that true. By this point you can’t see the iconic landscape of Tunnel View.

Rainbow View Gate!

Surprisingly, after all the stressful climbing and hanging out at the at the gate, the trail turned beautiful and totally runnable. It was snow covered, soft, full of lovely trees and a peaceful creek and waterfall.

A normal trail!

Hidden trails of Yosemite are soooooo fun because you don’t see anyone else (something we appreciate even more right now as mask-wearing Covid isolationists), they challenge your navigation and offer a little adventure.

Our total mileage was around 8 with 1800’ of climbing. Anyone not afraid of heights who has moderate trail running or hiking experience should be just fine.

Happy adventures, everyone!

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