Climbing Regulations


The Reasons

Stashed gear, food, water, and fixed ropes in particular, take away from the sense of risk and adventure that climbers and other Wilderness travelers expect to experience. Most of Yosemite’s climbing areas are in designated Wilderness and must remain “without permanent improvements or human habitation… with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.”

Wilderness, and climbing in particular, is not intended to be convenient or easy (ironically that’s why many are drawn to it). Please do your part to maintain Yosemite’s wildness. In 2001 volunteers and rangers removed over four thousand feet of trash rope from Yosemite’s walls, not including a few thousand feet of junk rope from the Heart Ledge rappels by conscientious climbers.

Climbers and their gear sleeping on the side of El Capitan

Permits and Sleeping on Big Walls

The Rules

A wilderness permit is required to camp anywhere in Yosemite’s Wilderness. All climbers staying overnight on big wall climbs in Yosemite are required to have a wilderness climbing permit. During this pilot, wilderness permits for climbers will be free and there will be no quotas or limits on the number of permits available.

All food, drinks, toiletries, and other scented items must be stored properly at all times to protect Yosemite’s bears and other wildlife. (Learn more about food storage while climbing.)

The Reasons

Yosemite’s wilderness permit system attempts to achieve two goals: limit the number of people in the Yosemite Wilderness to ensure a great wilderness experience, and educate wilderness users how to minimize their impacts while in the wilderness.

The pilot will help climbing rangers better understand use patterns on big walls. The pilot will also increase compliance with existing regulations (e.g., proper disposal of waste) and minimize impacts to wilderness character through improved education.

Yosemite’s big wall climbs occur almost entirely in designated Wilderness—the highest degree of protection available for public land. Both park management and park visitors have a special responsibility to protect designated Wilderness for this and future generations.


Human Waste and Trash

It is illegal to throw anything off a cliff in Yosemite.

The Rules

When climbing, all trash, including human waste, must be carried down from the cliff and disposed off appropriately.

“What should I do with my extra food and water at the top of a climb?”
Don’t leave it for the next party. It may be painful to pour out water you hauled three thousand feet, but our goal is to to leave Yosemite’s cliffs exactly as we found them so the next party can experience them the same way… even if that means being thirsty.

The Reasons

Anything thrown from the wall, no matter what the size, is litter and can potentially injure people below. Haul bags thrown from the wall have nearly struck climbers on the ground (really) and have been mistaken for falling climbers multiple times. Planning to pick it up later is NOT an excuse. If it leaves the road with you, it should come back to the road with you.

Most climbers planning to spend more than a day on a climb know they need to bring a “poop tube.”

Tips for vertical relief

The Basics

Go to the bathroom in a paper bag or wag bag, and then put that bag in some sort of container to carry off the cliff (a difficult process at hanging belays, but one that can be mastered with practice, determination, and flexibility).

What to use?

Bottom line: use something, anything. Everyone has their own technique, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • For the classic “tube,” attach screw caps to each end of a large PVC pipe. Glue one end shut, and tape on some webbing for easy hauling. Durable and reusable, but it takes time and a hardware store.
  • If you’re short on time but not funds, commercial versions are available (check the Mountain Shop at Curry Village). Dry bags work as well, and there are even a handful of commercial kits available to replace paper bags.
  • If you’re short on time and funds, anything from a five-gallon bucket to reusable plastic containers can work in a pinch. These are durable, possibly reusable, and cheap.
  • Abandon the “tube” altogether in favor of a single use solution: water bottles. Once you’ve emptied a water bottle, make a vertical slit down the side, toss in your bag of business, and cover the slit with duct tape. Cheap and one less thing to carry.

Where do I empty it?

However you haul it, getting it to the summit is only the first part; it has to come down as well. The summits of popular big walls in Yosemite are often littered with stinking tubes. Carry your tube down and empty it into a pit toilet like those at the base of the East Ledges descent from El Capitan. Paper bags are fine to go down the drain but plastic bags are not (they clog the pumps used to empty the toilets). Plastic bags must be disposed of in a bearproof trash can or dumpster.



Yosemite Valley boasts some of the best bouldering in Yosemite and the sport continues to grow in popularity every year. With increased popularity comes increased impacts.

Here are some things you can do to help out:

  • Take the time to find and follow established approach trails when hiking to bouldering areas.
  • Never cut or break tree limbs, remove excessive lichen, or damage vegetation to establish a boulder problem. Maybe some problems weren’t meant to be climbed… and there are many more still left that don’t necessitate gardening.
  • Keep bouldering areas clean. Pick up your trash, even the little stuff (cigarette butts, tape, wrappers, etc.)
  • Think twice before putting down the pads. Bouldering pads protect our ankles but trash fragile plant life. If the area looks fragile, maybe find an extra spotter and skip the pad.
  • Do you really need to chalk up again? Try to minimize chalk use and clean off chalked holds when possible, especially on overhung routes where rain doesn’t hit. If you tick holds, clean the marks when you’re done.


Slacklines are popping up all over the place. The National Park Service worked with local “slackers” to create a slackline policy:

The Rules:

  • All lines must be constructed so as to protect trees from any damage
  • Lines may remain in place within the Camp 4 boundary for the length of the owner’s stay
  • All lines constructed outside Camp 4 must be removed when not in use
  • Lines must not be constructed on oak trees in Yosemite Valley
  • Stay educated on closures related to peregrine falcons
  • Slacklines may not be set up over waterways

The Reasons

Anyone who has spent any time learning the art of slacking knows how damaging these lines can be to trees. There are many ways to pad and protect the anchor trees (carpet, sticks, sleeping pads, haul bags, clothing, etc.), but make sure whatever you do is working.


Bolting Policy and New Routes

The Rules

Drilling protection bolts for climbing is permitted in Yosemite as long as it is done by hand. Motorized power drills are prohibited. The National Park Service does not inspect, maintain, or repair bolts and other climbing equipment anywhere in the park.

Beyond this simple rule, there is a strong community bolting ethic in Yosemite. If you plan to bolt a new route or alter an existing one, talk with local climbers who are familiar with Yosemite’s route history and traditions before permanently altering the cliff face. No one wants to see the rock damaged by bolts being placed and chopped.

“Gardening” (the name given to removing plant life from cracks) is not allowed in Yosemite. Many climbers remove the occasional bit of grass or leaves to place protection or find a finger-lock, but this is nothing compared to the serious damage done establishing a new area.

New Routes

The damage caused establishing a new route is far greater than that caused by each subsequent party. If you are considering establishing a new route ask yourself, “Is this route worth the damage it will cause?” “Is it a classic line that others will enjoy climbing, or I am simply interested in putting up my own route?” “What will climbers fifty years from now think of this route or this bolt?” There are thousands of established routes in Yosemite already–maybe try a few more of those before making a new mark on Yosemite’s Wilderness.

The Reasons

Most of the Yosemite’s climbing areas are in designated Wilderness, and motorized items, including power drills, are not allowed in these areas. In addition to this Congressional mandate, the park has an interest in limiting the impacts from climbing while enabling climbers to enjoy the park. The resulting rule allows climbers the unusual privilege of permanently altering Yosemite’s granite cliffs by adding bolts in the location of their choosing, but inherently limits the number of those bolts by requiring that they be hand drilled.

Last updated: April 26, 2024

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