Devil’s Dance Floor: Hiking up Fire Scars and Brush Fields
Last month Curtis and I made the trek up to Devil’s Dance Floor for the first time, after both hearing about the spot and eyeing it on the map for awhile now. We could have gone there in the summer and easily approached the peak from Tamarack Flat Campground in the summer, but the snow free month and a perfect amount of wintertime cabin fever had us hiking up the long way from the Foresta/Big Oak Flat Road Trailhead. And by god, it was a trek worthy of the name Devils Dance Floor.
(Want to learn more about Why is Devil’s Dance Floor named Devil’s Dance Floor/Dance Hall? Check out Yesterdays post about the history of this place name.)
From the Big Oak Flat Trailhead there are two obvious options on the topomap for an uphill hike – and we choice to make a loop out of the hike and do both. Turns out that was a pretty poor decision.
Devil’s Dance Floor, Yosemite (Devil’s Dance Hall)
Distance: A little less than 8 miles total. There is a decent amount of elevation gain over the first 4 miles, ~2300 ft according to my GPS, but luckily the cooler winter weather makes this nicer. It is an off trail hike so account for that when budgeting time – as well as the shorter daylight hours if you are planning this as a snowless winter hike.
Trailhead: Old Big Oak Flat Trailhead, located near the Foresta turnoff on Big Oak Flat Rd, it is also the trail to El Capitan. It is pretty easy to spot the parking area on the South side of the road as you near Foresta. Map.
I am sure you could find other ways up from this trailhead, but looking at the map there were obvious two routes up that appeared to have easy “Handrails” that would lead us straight up to the summit:
- Up the trail until just before dropping down onto Tamarack creek, then turning left and paralleling the creek up to the peak. Or,
- Hiking a less than a half mile down the trail from the cars, then making a left to plow up and around the ridgeline, following this to the more assessable north side of the dome.
We did did our loop by following route 1 on the way up, and route 2 on the way down. Initially, just looking at the topo map it looks like route 2 should be shorter, it’s more of a straight shot to the summit & not as steep in portions. But while this route seems shorter in distance, it pays to know more about the fire history of this area rather than the geometry when pick a route.
In 1990 lightning ignited the Arch Rock (or A-Rock) fire from the Foresta area up to and around Devil’s Dance floor. The Arch Rock Fire was one of the largest fires in Yosemite at that time, threatening a number of homes and making national news. But the bigger new item was the 2009 “Big Meadow Fire,” a planned management fire that crews had lost control of. The double burn on the hillside here just off of Big Oak Flat Road looks pretty barren still 5 years later. Only it’s not just matchstick trees anymore, it’s also buck brush up to your chest.
The lack of forest canopy paired with the stream channel near the base of Dance Floor in this area has prompted the deer brush to grow like crazy, making the ridge almost impassable. Luckily we had planned this half of the loop (route 2) for the way downhill, and we were able to essentially crowd surf the bush with the help of gravity. It was a slow and often painful experience, that I would be no means recommend, but I do wish I had a picture of us walking on that brush. That would have been pretty bad ass.
The first half of our off trail hike (Route 1) did get pretty steep in sections, and it might still be a poor idea if there is any precipitation slicking up the granite. But because this was the edge of the burn the forest is still in tack, which is both beautiful and makes for lovely easy hiking. Bonus sightings includes some firefighter camps still identifiable by the nice log seats they made for themselves.
In the end we had Devil’s Dance Floor all to ourselves, which is a magical thing in Yosemite (btw way less busy Sierra Point, last year’s off trail winter hike of choice). The top of the dome offers views of snow capped Sierra peaks, ElCap, Bridal Veil Falls, and of course vistas of the Foresta Barn.