Northern Yosemite: Highway 120, Tioga Pass, and Hetch-hetchy
This is as good as it gets--the best part of the most beautiful park in California, possibly the world. And if you just get out of your car and walk, you will be amazed at how few people you actually see. It's like having the world's most spectacular garden as your playground. After decades of exploring, we're still not tired of it!
That said, if you've never been to Yosemite before, here are a few things to keep in mind:
We've had quite a few questions about this topic over the years so we've written this summary to help you find your way. Bear in mind that in August the waterfalls are going to be less impressive than they are in May...but they'll still be cool. And the High Sierra will be blanketed by snow in a normal year until the middle of June or so...but the mosquitoes will be fierce when the snow melts.
And September is lovely. Actually, it's always lovely.
With that in mind, when you first plan a visit to Yosemite:
1. Don't overlook day-hiking. Many of the truly stunning parts of Yosemite are easily available as day hikes, and you should make a real effort to see the following:
> Glacier Point and its nearby hikes of Sentinel Dome and Taft Point--and if you have time, Dewey Point for a stunning view. That's the view from Glacier Point at left. The view from Dewey Point is below.
> The Giant Sequoias at Wawona--also visible in the Mariposa Grove, although that is closed this year. Add in the hike to Chilnualna Falls for a real workout near the South entrance to the park.
> Tuolumne Meadows and its local hikes: Lembert Dome, Pothole Dome, Gaylor Lakes, and Elizabeth Lake. That's a shot from near Tuolumne Meadows below, on the trail to Young Lakes.
> A day in the Valley to watch the climbers on El Capitan, view Bridalveil, Yosemite, and the other falls, hike out on the trails into the main meadows, where you will be amazed at how quiet and peaceful it all is...in the middle of everything.
Longer dayhikes not to be missed:
> Merced Canyon past Vernal and Nevada Falls (Half Dome if you can get a permit).
> Clouds Rest from Tenaya Lake (a better hike than Half Dome, and when get to Clouds Rest you are looking down on the people on Half Dome--plus an amazing view of the Sierra crest.
> North Dome from Porcupine Creek--the best view of Half Dome in the Park
> May Lake and Mount Hoffman, one of the best views anywhere, period.
2. Now, once you've done all of that, you can look for a backpacking permit to some nice locations. You'll need a permit for a trip. The most popular sites fill up quickly, but I would recommend the following:
> Ten Lakes Basin is a great hike. And it's only two days---leaving you some time to explore the hikes above.
> Young Lakes, for the same reason.
> Cathedral Lakes, for the same reason---explore Echo Canyon from there, just over the pass, if you have time.
> Glen Aulin pass through permit to go downstream of the High Sierra Camp to see even more waterfalls.
>> What I would NOT recommend is a high up to LIttle Yosemite Valley where there are so many people. Not exactly a wilderness experience. But it's the most direct route to Half Dome. Which is why it is so crowded.
What you will need is a campsite, and those can be hard to find during the middle of the summer. A backpacking permit helps, because it allows you to stay in a backpackers campground the day before and after your backpacking permit. But you can probably find a site at Tamarack or Porcupine if you get there earlier in the day...
Does that give you enough to get started? We have photos of most of these hikes below...so feel free to poke around there. And now for the backpacking ideas:
Lyell Canyon and beyond: Lyell Canyon is the gateway to the John Muir Trail's path through the high country of Yosemite--and it's a beautiful hike on its own, even if you don't go beyond the canyon itself. You start at Tuolumne Meadows and head south along the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River...and you just keep going. About two or three miles in, you get to the open meadows of the canyon, and from there it just gets better. You can follow this all the way to the head of the canyon, over Donahue Pass, into some of the best scenery in the Sierra. Or you can do a nice loop by going up past Ireland and Evelyn Lakes and back down by the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp.
Did I mention that there are some nice trout in the Lyell Fork? There are, although by late in the season they are pretty spooky, at least during the middle of the day. And it is illegal to camp within four miles of the road, so some of the best fishing is only accessible by day hiking to it...and maybe hiking out after dark. Photo Log
And doesn't that sound like a good adventure some time? As a dayhike, you can also work your way up to the top of Mammoth Peak, just east of the meadows. It's a great climb with wonderful views--just don't try to come straight down the north face. We did, 40 years ago, and almost didn't make it! The JMT runs over 200 miles south to Mt Whitney.
Want more trips out of Tuolumne Meadows?
Nelson Lake: This is one of the secret locations in Yosemite. The trail leaves from the Elizabeth lake trailhead, but you can only get a wilderness permit for the area if you specify Nelson Lake. There is no overnight camping at Elizabeth Lake, and there is no maintained trail to Nelson Lake. But there is a non-maintained and easy to follow trail most of the way....and a good sense of direction and a map should get you the rest of the way.
The payoff? A beautiful lake with very few people. That's Nelson Lake at left. And a wilderness permit on one of those weekends when there is no other possiblity at all. This is a lovely hike, and when every other option is closed, there is still usually room for a couple of people at Nelson Lake. Even if you never find the lake, the hike over the pass and into Echo Canyon is delightful. And just steep enough to keep out the riff-raff.
And if you want an adventure, follow the canyon from Nelson Lake up past Reymann Lake and over the ridge---that will put you in Rafferty Canyon---and you can follow the trails there up to Tuolumne Pass for lots more adventure, and many more miles. Here's the blog entry from that trip: Yosemite's Less Visited Lakes. Or go down Echo Canyon all the way to Merced Lake (about eight miles?) and pick up the trails from there. Six miles one way from Tuolumne Meadows to Nelson Lake. Photo Log
Young Lakes and Mt. Conness: This is a very popular hike out of Tuolumne Meadows with an option to continue on into some of the best of Yosemite's back country. The trail leaves near Lembert Dome, and we like the route through Dog Lake (Photo at left.) From there it crosses Delaney Creek (some nice trout here for those who are interested) and then eventually works it way across a vast shoulder of exposed granite on Ragged Peak.
P was once caught in the thunderstorm on this shoulder, and he remembers it to this day! From there the trail wends it way over to Young Lakes--there are three lakes, and the fishing here is fair to good. It's a beautiful spot, the only drawback being that there are almost certainly going to be other backpackers nearby.
From Young Lakes its an easy climb up the canyon to the col southeast of Mt. Conness, and from there it's an easy walk up a narrow (almost knife-edge!) ridge to the summit of one of the most spectacular mountains in Yosemite. The views are unbelievable, and the valleys and peaks will call to you with invitations to explore this northern section of the park that gets very few visitors. Don't miss the bergschrund (the crevasse where the glacier separates from the cliff) on the north side of the ridge leading up to the summit.)
It's easy to see why this is one of the most popular backpacking destinations in the park! 13 miles rt?
Roosevelt Lake via Conness Creek: This one is a cross-country alternative loop that can also get you to Young Lakes via a start at Glen Aulin. Once at Glen Aulin, you'll need to leave the comfort and safety of a trail behind, and find your way up Conness Creek for about 6 or 7 miles. From there, follow a small tributary that leads left up a notch to the west of Roosevelt Lake...and from there, hike across the granite to the lake. The next day is an easy hike down from the east shore of Roosevelt Lake into Conness Canyon, and then right back up the other side to reach Young Lakes...and you hike out the main trail from Young Lakes back to Tuolumne Meadows. Not for those who like crowds---we saw one group of three people in three days on this hike. But it's a chance to see a part of the park that almost nobody else visits.
We figured that our total mileage for the loop was something over 25 miles, and more than half of that was off-trail. It took us four days, but we never really pushed it. And one final note---there are no fish in Roosevelt Lake, sadly. Photo Log
The full trip report on this one is here: https://sites.google.com/site/backpackthesierra/home/our-blog/thewholestory--ourrecenttripinyosemite
Cathedral Lakes: This is another really attractive destination that really only suffers from too much popularity. It's a lovely 3-4 mile hike from Tuolumne Meadows, and along the way you can muse about how P managed to climb up Cathedral Peak from this trail thirty-five years ago. When he looks at it now, he certainly has second thoughts. Perhaps that's maturity, perhaps it's just age.
Once at Cathedral lakes, you can entertain all kinds of possible extensions, from a trip over to the Sunrise High Sierra Camp, or a cross-country trek along the creek down to Tenaya Lake. We've never done the latter, but a ranger on top of Mt. Hoffman once pointed out the route, and spoke in glowing terms of the trip.
One aspect of this trip that always gives pleasure is Cathdral Peak itself--simply one of the great peaks of Yosemite, and well-deserving of its own range--the Cathedral Range. 8 miles rt. Photo Log
Thousand Island Lake and the John Muir Trail South: this is the very best part of the JMT, and you can reach via different trailheads. We've hiked up Rush Creek, in the June Lake area of Highway 395, and then explored all of the stunning vistas of the highest peaks in the Northern Sierra Banner, Ritter, and the Minarets.
Don't overlook the smaller lakes in this region. We love Ruby, Emerald, and Altha Lakes, and we will go back again to visit and get to know some of the others. Our trip was 36 miles in five days, and left Rush Creek to go up to Waugh Lake, then up to the JMT. We turned south to go to Garnet Lake, then down the use trail (very steep!) and up to Altha Lake for night two. Night three was over the ridge and up Shadow Creek Canyon to Ediza Lake--where we also found lots of people
Day four took us down into the canyon of the San Joaquin River, and then up to Agnew Pass and the small but charming Clark Lakes. And the last day went up over the pass to Spooky Meadow (there is supposed to be a ghost there!) and then down down down the canyon all the way to Rush Creek Trailhead again. Here is the trip report: thousandislandlakeandmore But there is no need to follow our route, just about anything works in this area--and everywhere you will see those peaks looming over you!
Jack Main Canyon: There are a couple of different ways to access this route.
We started outside the park, at Leavitt Meadows, and then hiked over Dorothy Lake Pass all the way down the canyon to Hetch-hetchy. You could also hike up from HH, or Lake Eleanor. Either way, the central part of this canyon, between Lake Vernon and Wilmer Lake, is absolutely wonderful.
The upper reaches of the canyon are classic Yosemite high country, with open meadows, lots of granite, and very few people on the trails. And the lakes around Dorothy Lake Pass are simply lovely. That's Stella Lake, at right, which is within a mile of the top of the pass. And yes there are nice trout in these lakes, too! Photo Log
But as you work your way down the canyon, and away from the Pacific Crest Trail, you find a more intimate landscape, with granite lined Falls Creek working its way through meadows, forest, pools and small lakes. It is a private garden, and you won't find any prettier anywhere in the world.
And then you come to Lake Vernon--either via the long trudge over Moraine Ridge, or down the steep granite slabs alongside Falls Creek. This is a wonderful place to explore---and you will have it mostly to yourself. What could be better?
Budd Lake and beyond: This is another of those "secret" hikes in Yosemite. Because there are no marked trails through here, this area gets a lot less traffic than trails just a mile or two away. And the scenery is simply spectacular. It's out of the Cathedral Lake trailhead in Tuolumne Meadows.
There are three use-trails that branch off the Cathedral Lakes trail to the left in the first half-mile. The first two really only take you to Budd Creek itself. The third one is now quite established, and has been recently (September of 2017) maintained by trail crews as the “climber’s” use trail to Cathedral Peak. It is in beautiful condition (far better than the trail to Cathedral Lakes) and leads you right up to the South Face of Cathedral Peak. A branch of this trail leads left over to Budd Lake. In each case, when there is a “junction” on these use-trails, the lesser trail always has some kind of minimal barrier across it. From the Cathedral Lakes trail, the use-trail to Cathedral Peak is blocked with a few pieces of wood. From the use-trail to Cathedral Peak, the use-trail to Budd Lake also has pieces of wood in it, to indicate that it is not the primary route. Photo Log
From there the route skirts the very southwest corner of Echo Peaks, and then heads straight down some steep granite until you can traverse over to the base of Matthes Crest. From there down, it's pretty easy hiking all the way to the lake. More Photos
And from Echo Lake, you can explore lots of fun places, from Matthes Lake to a circumnavigation of the Matthes Crest. Or just hang out at Echo Lake, knowing that you won't see very many people, other than a few climbers heading up Matthes Crest. Here's a link to our 2017 trip report: https://sites.google.com/site/backpackthesierra/home/our-blog/showingoffyosemite
Voglesang/Merced Lake Loop: This is one of the classic hikes of Yosemite, and it has everything; high peaks, alpine meadows, stunning lakes, lovely forests, cascades, and lots of people hiking the trail. It leaves from Tuolumne Meadows and goes up Rafferty Creek to Tuolumne Pass and then to the Vogesand High Sierra Camp. From there you can continue over Vogelsang Pass, and all the way to Merced Lake and another High Sierra Camp. If you want, keep going to Yosemite Valley, or turn back uphill (our preference) and hike up the granite slabs of Fletcher Creek to Tuolumne Pass again. Or go to Sunrise High Sierra Camp and do Half Dome on the way.
Do you want to avoid at least some of the crowds on this trail? Then take the time to hike to some of the lakes off the trail: Bernice, Babcock, Emeric. You will be rewarded with great scenery, some nice fishing in spots, and far fewer people than in those High Sierra Camps.
From Tuolumne Meadows to Vogelsang is about 7 miles. It's another 8 to Merced Lake.
Virginia Canyon: here's one that will really get you some solitude. the trail starts at Virginia Lakes trailhead off I-395, north of the Tioga Pass Road between Lee Vining and Bridgeport. Check it out on the page for Highway 395. One of our favorite hikes in the Sierra
About Those High Sierra Camps: There are six High Sierra Camps in Yosemite: Tuolumne Meadows, Glen Aulin, May Lake, Sunrise, Merced Lake, and Vogelsang. Think of them as being rather rustic hotels in the backcountry. They have tent cabins, a place to eat, showers, bathrooms, and of most interest to backpackers, pumped water that is already filtered! Backpackers can also get dinner or breakfast at these camps, but you have to reserve ahead of time. No drop-ins allowed.
You can pay a lot of money and stay at one of them...and if you do, you won't have to carry your own food or tent along the way. And they are set up about one convenient day's hike apart, so that you could do the whole set in a week of hiking. Some people do this. You'll see them on the trails in the backcountry, carrying very little and enjoying the hike. And that's great!
But we tend to stay away from them. For one thing, we go backpacking to get away from people. These camps are always full of people. And for another thing, because there are lots of people around, and some of those people are stupid, bears tend to hang around these camps. We don't like that equation. Photos Here
We've used Glen Aulin as a trailhead for a couple of our trips, but we always pass through to go up the Conness Creek Canyon. This is cross-country, there is no trail, but within a mile you leave the congested area of the High Sierra Camp behind, and pretty much have the place to yourself. Photos
You need a wilderness permit to use these camps, plus a reservation at each individual camp. As you can imagine, those are eagerly sought after by many people. They even have a lottery process. Some folks just hike to one of the camps and spend a few days hiking out of there as a base. It's a great system, particularly for those who have the money and may be flying in from far away...no need to drag along the whole backpack.
But we like a little more solitude than they offer. It's nice to get water there, though.
Ten Lakes Basin: This is one of the more popular destinations in the park, so you'll need to get your permit early. The trail follows the west side of Yosemite Creek canyon ( but not really the creek) up to Half Moon Meadow, with only a few sections that are steep. But from Half Moon Meadow to the Pass is about 3/4 mile of straight up. Make sure you bring along a large scale map of Yosemite for this trip, because once on top of the pass you will have most of the northern half of the park in view.
From there it is a steep but short drop down into Ten Lakes Basin ( there are really only seven lakes) and a myriad of spots to pitch your tent. Fishing can be good in the lakes, although the first lake is reported to have fewer and less hungry trout. Photo Log
From here, you can hike back to the road (a total of 13 miles for the whole trip) or continue on to May Lake or Polly Dome Lakes, or just take an extra day to explore Grant Lakes, which are only a mile off the trail at the pass. A nice overnight or three day trip destination.
Twenty Lakes Basin: Saddlebag Lake, just east of Yosemite, offers the perfect solution for a starter hike, with lots of room to roam over a lot more ambitious country. While the ferry across the lake no longer operates (sadly the lodge at the lake is closed, possibly forever) the trail around the lake is relatively flat. The trail around the west side of the lake is shorter but is full of chunks of scree and talus from the mountain above, and so the walking is a bit of a chore. From the top end of the lake you can explore the whole basin in a few miles. It can be crowded at Greenstone Lake and the area between Cascade Lake and the outlet to Steelhead Lake. But Poke around and you'll find some lovely and isolated campsites. Photo Log
This is often done as a day hike, but it also makes a very nice overnighter, and the trail quotas are rarely full, even in the middle of summer. You begin at Porcupine Flat, and the trail works its way slowly but surely down the canyon. Once you get to the junction with the Indian Arch trail the day hikers may choose to go left, and visit the only stone arch in Yosemite. Backpackers are better served going right and following the creek for a couple of miles down Tehamite Creek to the junction with the Yosemite Falls trail. Camp at the creek, where there is water year round, and the next day makes for an easy hike up out of the canyon and onto the rim of Yosemite Valley.
The side-trail that leads you down to North Dome has its exciting moments, but not on the Dome itself. That part is relatively flat and easy, and well marked with some of the most distinctive cairns in the back country. But the side trail down to the shoulder of North Dome is very steep and has some exposure. If you are worried about heights, this would not be a good place to explore.
We don't want to scare you, because M isn't a great fan of exposure, and she did this trail. But it made her stop and think a bit. To our knowledge, nobody has ever fallen here, but the cliffs down towards the Valley do really get your attention.
Once out on North Dome, you have great views of the Valley in all directions, and a lovely sense of sitting in the middle of it all. And on the way out you get the best views on the whole hike by taking that spur trail up to Indian Rock arch. There you have vistas to the east of the Clark Range and Half Dome as good as you can find anywhere. 10 miles rt.
Polly Dome Lakes: This is a sweet little hike out of the Tenaya Lake area, using the Murphy Creek Trailhead. It's not hard, only about 2.5 miles and it leads to a few nice little lakes that have plenty of water, even late in the season. Your map may not show the trail to the lake itself as a spur trail off the Murphy Creek trail, but there is a huge cairn marking the "cross-country" route and very well marked trail all the way to the lake. Don't worry about the steep climb on this spur trail--it only lasts about 100 yards. And you get a quiet little backpack camp within 90 minutes of Tioga Road. How cool is that? 6 miles rt.
Rancheria Falls: The Hetch-hetchy region is one that doesn't get a lot of attention from visitors to Yosemite, so we love it. And this lower elevation area is open long before the high country is passable, so it's a great destination for early trips.
The trail to Rancheria Falls is simple and straightforward. In fact, you can stand on the dam at the foot of the lake and see where the trail goes--there is only one part of that huge granite cliff beyond Wapama Falls that looks as if a trail could go there. It does, following a line of trees and brush that cling to a shelf above the reservoir.
Wapama Falls is a great destination on its own for a day hike, and the route there will also pass a number of other cascades early in the year. As in the rest of Yosemite, the waterfalls are less impressive in August or September. Photos
Once past Wapama Falls, the trail works its way around the corner of the granite, and into the side canyon of Rancheria Creek. Here you can camp at Racheria Falls (there are lots of good campsites here) or continue on into the Tiltill Valley (a steep climb) or up over Rancheria Mountain to get into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. (An even longer climb.)
But those are longer hikes. It's just 6.5 miles to Rancheria Falls, and if you make that your base camp, you can fish the creek and explore this area for another day. The side trip up to LeConte Point is will worth the effort. The best way is to look for the big cairn on your way up the ridge above Rancheria Creek...then just follow those cairns to the top. Or you can work your way all the way to the top of the ridge, and just follow your nose and eyes to LeConte Point. The views here are amazing: down into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, or east to the Sierra Crest, or North to the boundary with Emigrant Wilderness. It makes you wish you had more time! 13 miles to the falls and back. Photo Log
May Lake and Mt. Hoffmann: Is this the most popular backpacking destination in Yosemite? If not, it's one of them. The trailhead leaves from a part of the Old Tioga Road that no longer connects, and it's just a short mile or two to the lake. This is one of the High Sierra Camps, where you can pay a lot of money to have someone else cook your food, and sleep in tent/cabins that you don't have to pack up later. It's a good solution for those who fly in for a few days, but as locals, we don't really see the advantages.
The other factor that these High Sierra Camps bring to the lake is people. These are popular camps, so the backpacking camp at May Lake is quite a facility, complete with toilets and pumped water.
But for a first trip that might include a little adventure, this is still a good place to start. And the adventure would be to follow the brand new (and still not completely convincing) trail up to the top of Mt Hoffmann. For years there was a primitive use trail up to this peak, and in 2009 the Park Service decided to spend some money and build out the trail.
Well, maybe so. But there are still a lot of places where it is very steep and sandy/rocky. And the last 300 feet up to the peak is still a scramble--requiring the use of hands as well as feet. But it's over boulders, and it's not really dangerous--just a little intimidating if you think of a trail as something that is easy to walk.
The views from Mt. Hoffmann (over 10,000 feet) are some of the best in Yosemite--in all directions. And the series of lakes just under the crest to the west really does look inviting. hmmm. John Muir said of Mount Hoffman, “On no other Yosemite Park Mountain are you more likely to linger." And he was right. 4 miles to May Lake, round trip.
Boundary Lake and Kibbie Ridge: When we did this trip, it was a substitution for the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. We got a late start, and it was quite a hike to get over Kibbie Ridge and into the Cherry Creek drainage. Thank God for Sachse Spring, because in early August there wasn't much other water available along the way.
But while the six or seven miles up and over Kibbie Ridge were not the most rewarding trail in the park, the route over Styx Pass and down into Cherry Creek was spectacular. We camped along Cherry Creek, where there were some fine campsites and a wonderful sense of complete isolation.
The next morning, we fought our way back towards Styx Pass and took the use trail to Boundary Lake. This trail is marked on the Yosemite maps, but it is at times hard to follow through the granite slabs above Cherry Creek. Once over the top, you have access to stunning scenery and a whole slew of lakes, from the Bartlett Creek basin and its tiny string of lakes to Little Bear Lake and Spotted Fawn. But fishermen beware--these lakes have no fish in them!
Still, after three days of seeing nobody, we finally brought ourselves to climb back over Kibbie Ridge and head home, much happier and saner then when we left.
Don't overlook two great opportunities to get some altitude on this hike. You can easily climb Mt. Mercur above Styx Pass by heading west just before the pass and then climbing the southwest face of Mt. Mercur. It has astonishing views in all directions--as you can see in the photo at right. And at Boundary Lake, climb the ridge west of the lake and follow it all the way to the top of the un-named dome above Little Bear Lake. We circumnavigated this dome before we climbed it, and it was a grand adventure! 24 miles to Boundary Lake and back.Photo Log
The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne: We'd love to tell you all about this hike, but we haven't done it. It is certainly one of the great hikes in the park, and we were all set in 2009, with permits already issued. But when we arrived at the park, the rangers told us that a forest fire was burning out of control in the canyon, and they weren't letting anyone in.
So we went somewhere else. (Kibbie Ridge trail out to Boundary Lake). And now we think we'll wait a bit before we plan on this trip again. After all, those heavily burned areas are just not as nice to hike through. sigh. But someday we'll do it. 28 miles total. The photo at right is from a dayhike we took down to Glen Aulin in 2014, and it whetted our appetite for this hike all over again.
Preston Falls: Preston Falls--downriver from Hetch-hetchy, this trail leads from the Cherry Lake Road up along the Tuolumne River for three and a half miles to a small but charming waterfall. In this case, the destination is not nearly so important as the trail you travel, through the deep canyon of the river.
In spring, you'll see wildflowers galore, and even more poison oak. Expect some continuing issues with fallen trees, as this area was burned by the Rim Fire, and many dead trees stand along the route. Still, it's great to get our and hit the trail at a time when many hikes would be under many feet of snow. And the river is open to limited fishing during the spring. This one doesn't get above 3,000 feet. Photo Log
Lake Eleanor/Cherry Lake to Miguel Meadows and beyond: Lake Eleanor is a great destination early in the year---because there AREN'T that many people willing to make the hike. If you want to add more miles, you can continue up over the ridge to Miguel Meadows, and then along the old road to Hetch-hetchy. Veer north (left) at the rim of Hetch-hetchy to get to Laurel Lake and Lake Vernon, and then go all the way to Jack Main Canyon! From Cherry Lake this is about 20 miles to get to Laurel Lake and back. Some Photos Here
The trail here is very easy, because it used to be a road, and you can still see traces of the asphalt in places. It makes a gentle climb up over the ridge and down into Miguel Meadows and then follows Miguel Creek all the way up to the top of the ridge, where it meets the road that switchbacks up from Hetch-hetchy. More Photos Here
The trail itself is not that scenic until you get to overlook Kolana Point and Hetch-hetchy. And it still stays in the forest all the way to Laurel Lake...and only the last mile or so to Lake Vernon opens up for some nice views. At the same time, the lower elevations make this a good hike early in the season--so long as you are prepared for roaring creeks, muddy waters, and snowfields in the shade. The photo at right is from Memorial Day, 2011, after a snowstorm. Spectacular effects! Here is blog from that trip: Spring Hiking Adventures
Walker Lake to Mono Pass leaves from Highway 395 just south of Tioga Pass, and we've listed the hike there. It's only about ten miles, but lots of climbing and not many people.
Twin Lakes to Benson Lake and Matterhorn Canyon leaves from Twin Lakes Road off Highway 395--so we have it listed there. You'll find the link to that up above on to the left, on the NAVIGATION bar. 50 mile loop.
Day hikes: Photos
Merced Grove: This is a lesser known hike that will take you into some nice Sequoias below Crane Flat. It follows an old logging road for much of the way, so it isn't exactly single-track, but when other parts of the park are crammed with people, this one is usually a little calmer.
Across the highway is the trail to Rockefeller Grove. This trail is easy to walk, but there are very few views, and the trees in the grove are not nearly so impressive as the ones in Tuolumne Grove.
If you are staying in the Crane Flat campground, you can always hike the short (not quite 4 mile) trail to Clark Range Vista. This is an easy walk, but beware. The vista itself isn't much, unless you take the time and trouble to bushwhack up the ridge at the end of the trail to get to where you can actually see above the trees. Then you can see the vista in the photo at left...which was taken in the middle of winter after a snowshoe trek.
Tuolumne Grove: Another way to see some Sequoias is this trail off the Tioga Pass Road just beyond Crane Flat. It's paved the whole way, to reduce erosion, but the trees here are, in our opinon, better and more visible than the ones in Merced Grove. For a real adventure, leave the Hodgdon Meadow campground via bicycle on the old park road. After dropping down to cross the creek this road then slowly and steeply climbs all the way back out to Tuolumne Grove. It's a great ride, but there are a couple of places where you'll have to get off and walk--at least on a road bike.
Pothole Down and the Tuolumne River: This trailhead is clearly marked at the west end of Tuolumne Meadows. Please follow the trail up and around the meadow, rather than hiking right across it and leaving your tracks for a generation of visitors to see. Once around to the east side of the dome, you can simply walk up the smooth granite to see amazing views, as in the photo below. And if you continue on the trail around the dome, it eventually leads to a nice quiet spot along the river, with plenty to explore there. >>
The trailhead is at Tioga Pass, just a few yards from the park entrance station. It goes straight up the ridge for about a mile, and the views on of the ridge will show you Mt. Dana, Gibbs, and the whole Cathedral Range. And then it goes straight down into Middle Gaylor Lake. From there the views will still captivate you--but don't stop there.
You can follow a use trail up to Upper Gaylor Lake, or simply walk cross country to the Granite Lakes. Go ahead and explore. It all feels very much as if you have been given a spectacular alpine playground, just for your own private use. Perfect.
Another option, if you really want to avoid the crows, is the trail from the meadows up to Lower Gaylor Lake. It's a slow, steady climb that leads up to a lovely alpine lake with some fine views---and in this case, enough of a breeze to limit the mosquitoes. And very few people take this hike--we saw one other group during our entire expedition. The trailhead is about two miles east of turn-off to Tuolumne Lodge. It's hard to see, but there is a classic Yosemite steel trail sign a few feet up the trail from the road. Photo Log
And there are fish in all of these lakes!
Cloud’s Rest: This is our favorite longer dayhike in Yosemite. In our opinion it offers better scenery, higher elevation, and fewer people than Half Dome. You start at the Olmstead Point/Tenaya Lake trailhead, and climb up to the ridge on the way to the Sunrise High Sierra Camp. But at the top of the ridge you turn right, follow the east side of the ridge south, and then climb up the final ascent to Cloud's Rest.
The last 300 yards is impressive, as you can see that the granite is a sheer wall that falls off nearly vertically into Tenaya Canyon. It does focus your mind rather splendidly on what your legs are doing!
From the top, the scene is among the best in the park. You get a complete view of the Cathedral Range, the Clark Range, the eastern ridge of the park...and you are looking down at the people on the top of Half Dome, and beyond them into Yosemite Valley. Unbelievable. Better than Half Dome. Really. 14 miles of joy.
Half Dome: We have listed this hike in both sections of Yosemite, because you can do it both ways. The most popular way is from out of Yosemite Valley and Happy Isle, but you can also do it as a LONG dayhike from Tenaya Lake, for example, and even throw in Cloud's Rest if you are completely masochistic or in Olympic condition.
One way or the other, you probable have to do this hike , just so that you can say that you have done it. But that doesn't make it the best hike in Yosemite, because it isn't. And either way, we suggest that you leave VERY early in the morning, before dawn, so that you can not only get most of the climbing out of the way before it heats up--you also want to try to get to the base of the cables before the line gets too long.
Yes, there is a line to go up the cables. And now you need a permit as well. And it takes a long time, and there are stupid people on the trail who really shouldn't be there, and who make it harder for everyone else. The new permit system (2011) may improve things.
The view from the top of Half Dome will exceed your every expectation. 18 miles +/_.
Elizabeth Lake: This is a charming hike that leaves right out of the Tuolumne Meadows campground. It's only about 2.5 miles in, and it takes you to the lovely Elizabeth Lake, hard up against the impressive rock of Unicorn Peak. The first mile is a bit of a climb, the second mile is a lot easier, and follows the creek up to the lake. And when we hiked it in October of 2010, there were still plenty of brook trout in the lake, and a few smaller ones in the creek. What fun! For more adventure, follow the use trail up towards Nelson Lake for some nice views of Tuolumne Meadows and its peaks. Photo Log
Lembert Dome is a bit like Sentinel Dome on the road to Glacier Point. Its a mile from the trailhead on the Tioga Road (instead of parking in the lot at the Dog Lake trailhead) and the first half mile goes straight up. But then you are up on the ridge, and the rest is an easy walk up to the top of the dome. Stunning views of the whole Cathedral Range and the scenery around Tuolumne Meadows. But this one can be really crowded. It's best to do it in the off season. We did it in mid-October, and met only four people on the trail. And the views were....worth every step of it!
And while you are at it, you might also take the short hike to Pothole Dome on the western end of Tuolumne Meadows. This is a very short hike, less than a mile, that goes around (and please OBEY the signs that ask you to protect the meadows themselves by going AROUND) the western end of Tuolumne Meadows and then up onto the top of this gentle dome. The views here are spectacular, and include all the peaks of the Cathedral Range, plus a tiny glimpse into the granite of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. The photo at right is Unicorn Peak from Pothole Dome in January of 2012, when there was almost no snow and Tioga Pass road was open. I hope that never happens again in our lifetime!
Lukens Lake is a simple little hike off the Tioga Road just east of White Wolf. It's a mile to the lake, and there are fish in the lake. A nice meadow completes the picture. Again, don't do this in the middle of summer, but in the fall, when the people have gone. And on your way back to the car, take time to stop on the top of the saddle, and climb 75 yards out onto the ridge to the east. You have a great view of the Clark Range from here...and a little peace and quiet all to yourselves. How nice is that?
Mt. Dana: This is one for peak baggers--because the hike itself is a lot like the climb up to Mt. Lassen. It's straight up the side of the mountain, working through the red/black volcanic rock. There is a plateau about half-way up that looks very much like the moon, and there are even tame marmots at the top.
There is no real trail here once you get up on the mountain, but it's hard to get lost as long as you keep going upwards. See the ridge in the photo at right? That's more or less where you hike.
This is one of the tallest peaks in Yosemite, and so you can see almost all of the park from here, as well as the blue cloud of Mono Lake below.
And speaking of Mono Lake, that's also a destination you should consider while you are in Yosemite, It's easy enough to find once you go over the top of Tioga Pass, and there are some interesting trails and sights to see. Remember as you explore this area that the Piute indians used to call this home. And they found enough to live on in this near desert wasteland. There is a visitor's center, some short trails to hike, and some nice volcanic landscape to explore. Please rememver to keep of the tufa--those towering deposits of minerals that make this seem like a landscape from Star Wars.
And one more little trip to note:
When you drive into Yosemite from Big Oak Flat on Highway 120, you'll pass the turnoff to Cherry Lake. And just before you get there, you'll see the turnoff to Rainbow Pool on the right. This is a nice local picnic spot with a lovely swimming hole and waterfall.
P stopped there 40 years ago with a busload of campers on a hot day, and it was a very welcome respite. There's even a cliff to jump off, if you have the stomach for it...which P did.