YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA
Your guide: Ranger and wilderness manager Ron Mackie, who has roamed the park’s deepest reaches for 37 years
Day: Dewey, Crocker, and Stanford Points
Nab three top valley views.
An easy-to-miss trailhead (no parking lot causes most visitors to drive by unaware) makes this one of the few Valley-area routes not jammed with hikers. And the 10.6-mile out-and-back to three overlooks on Yosemite Valley’s 7,000-foot south rim delivers Ansel-worthy views for relatively low effort. “You can see all of the most famed landmarks, too: El Cap, Cathedral Rocks, the Three Brothers, Clouds Rest, Mt. Hoffman, and Mt. Conness. One pretty special and unique view that most hikers don’t get is looking down on the Cathedral Spires head on,” Mackie says. Leave from McGurk Meadow trailhead on Glacier Point Road; turn back at Stanford.
Weekend+: Red Peak Pass Loop
Go five days without seeing a soul.
Mackey’s inside dope on Yosemite hiking patterns: “80 percent of trail use occurs on 10 percent of the park’s trails—particularly the John Muir Trail and the High Sierra Camps loop.” That means much of Yosemite is actually pretty lonely terrain, including this 49.2-mile loop in the park’s southeast quadrant. From Glacier Point, follow the Panorama Trail, with eye-popping views of the deep, granite-walled Merced River canyon, then hike up Illilouette Creek Valley. Mackie’s favorite lake in Yosemite, Lower Ottoway at 9,500 feet, sits in a basin of colorful metamorphic rock and “sparkling granite” below three 11,000-foot peaks; camp here for good swimming and rainbow trout fishing. Cross the rugged Clark Range at 11,180-foot Red Peak Pass, around mile 21. With its view of “the entire Cathedral Range; Hutchings, Rodgers, Forester, Isberg, and Electra Peaks; Mts. Lyell, Ansel Adams, Banner, and Ritter; and Post Peak Passes, Long Mountain and the Minarets. It is by far the most spectacular on-trail pass in the park,” Mackie says. The long descent past Washburn (another fave campsite) and Merced Lakes and through Little Yosemite Valley on the way to the Happy Isles trailhead takes you through a wonderland of granite cliffs, silver aprons, and “swimming holes by the hundreds.” PRO Map to order a custom topo map of this trip printed on waterproof expedition paper.
Week: Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes
See gorgeous blue lakes, jagged peaks, and deep canyons.
The roughly 52-mile traverse from Tuolumne Meadows to Twin Lakes takes you through the park’s quietest corners and visits its least-booked campsites. But the real delight is laying eyes on the wilderness versions of Yosemite Valley: Virginia, Matterhorn, and Kerrick Canyons, each with their soaring granite walls. From Tuolumne, follow the Pacific Crest Trail northbound past the waterfalls of Glen Aulin (a good first night’s camp at 5.1 miles). From McCabe Lakes (second camp), scramble up 11,842-foot Sheep Peak for unrolling views spanning most of the park, including a low row of sharp, 12,000-foot peaks right in your face; the highest is 12,590-foot Mt. Conness rising above a band of talus and snow. Lay over a day at Benson Lake, which Mackie calls “the best lake lounging in the park—a sandy beach a half-mile long and a warm, sandy-bottom lake, plus wonderful campsites back away from the beach, at both ends of the lake.” At mile 37, turn north onto the Kerrick Canyon Trail. On your final day, take the more scenic route to Twin Lakes via Rock Island Pass Trail if you still have the legs for it, or the easier way via Peeler Lake. Mackie suggests August or September (for this and any hike in the park); the latter is cooler but without bugs and crowds.
Map Yosemite ($12, natgeomaps.com) Permit Required for backcountry camping ($5 fee plus $5 per person). Reserve up to six months in advance. Contact (209) 372-0200, nps.gov/yose