Kerrick And Matterhorn Canyons
Nowhere in Yosemite’s north country does the scenery match the ragged grandeur of these canyons. The 13-mile-long Matterhorn takes first prize, with its rock-strewn meadows, toothy skyline, and smooth granite cliffs. Kerrick’s domes mirror another, more-famous, corner of the park, minus the traffic jams. This 54-mile loop begins at busy Mono Village, passing views of Victoria, Hunewell, and Kettle Peaks on the way to Barney and Peeler Lakes–both set in classic Yosemite basins below razor-edged peaks. In Kerrick Canyon, head .75 mile off the trail for your pick of splendid campsites around Arndt Lake.
Just beyond Seavey Pass, at more than 9,000 feet on the Pacific Crest Trail, you’ll gaze through impossibly clear air at Benson Lake and numerous summits beyond. Instead of camping at popular Smedberg Lake, take a side trip to secluded Rodgers Lake–its north shore has excellent campsites with views across the water to Regulation Peak. The climb to Benson Pass concludes with an airy alpine panorama, including Volunteer, Doghead, Quarry, and Virginia Peaks. Descending again, the hanging valley of Wilson Creek empties into Matterhorn Canyon; hike north between walls rising as much as 3,000 feet. On a clear day from Burro Pass, just below 12,264-foot Matterhorn Peak and the broken smile of Sawtooth Ridge, Clouds Rest and Half Dome are visible to the south.
Lake Vernon-Tiltill Valley
If abundant wildlife and scenery of Yosemite Valley caliber don’t interest you, skip this hike. Otherwise, endure the hordes at the Hetch Hetchy trailhead, because you’ll drop them within the first few switchbacks above the reservoir, their cacophony disappearing in the roar of waterfalls upvalley. Watch for deer and, in early evening, black bears on the trail to Lake Vernon, a broad puddle spanning a canyon floor once buried under 1,600 feet of ice. Make your way across the polished granite slabs to a campsite on the north or south shore. Plan time to explore the granite flumes and tributary creeks of the basin upstream from Vernon. Sitting by the lakeshore at dusk, you’ll be treated to the sight of hundreds of bats swooping through the air for their nightly mosquito dinner.
From Lake Vernon, the trail climbs through about three dozen switchbacks, with the views of this corner of the park expanding until the trail enters a fir forest. Soon, you’ll begin a long descent through the Tiltill Valley nearly to the shores of Hetch Hetchy. Turning back toward the trailhead, you’ll hike below Wapama Falls, a two-drop, 1,400-foot cascade.
This roughly 28-mile loop stays well below 8,000 feet, making it a good early-summer option.