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Yosemite National Park: High Sierra Camps Loop

This weeklong loop in the Cathedral Range is the epitome of Yosemite high country hikes: you’ll climb past craggy granite, listen to babbling streams, and gaze at vibrant summer wildflowers.

Rating

Day 1: Hike north on the John Muir Trail/Pacific Crest Trail from the trailhead near Tuolumne Meadows’ Wilderness Permit Center and the Tuolumne Lodge. Cross the highway and skirt the western base of Lembert Dome on Old Tuolumne Road, which travels across the northern fringe of Tuolumne Meadows. As you hike through sprawling meadows and past the winding Tuolumne River, you’ll catch views of Cockscomb, Unicorn, and Cathedral Peaks to the south, and Pothole Dome to the west. At the Parsons Memorial Lodge, just beyond Soda Springs, the JMT turns south while the PCT turns northwest. Continue along the PCT, following signs for Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp. The next five miles follow the Tuolumne River, passing side trails to the stable areas and Young Lakes, making a gradual descent into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. Pass Tuolumne and White Falls to a 3-way junction and turn right (north), crossing the river, to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.

Day 2: Return to the river crossing, turning southwest off of the PCT, following signs toward May Lake. A mile from the junction, pass swampy McGee Lake and enter shadowy forest for the next several miles. Four miles along, fork right (west) at a junction, then left (south) at another junction a half-mile farther. Hike south over a shallow saddle and pass tiny Raisin Lake below the flanks of Tuolumne Peak. The trail winds north, making a short ascent, before turning south again to May Lake High Sierra Camp, directly below 10,850-foot Mt. Hoffmann.

Day 3: Continue south 1.2 miles to a junction for Snow Flat. Turn right (southeast) for a steady descent to a highway crossing; pick up the trail on the other side, and turn eastward to Tenaya Lake. Several picnic tables dot the lakeshore, making an ideal lunch stop with views of Polly and Pywiack Domes and towering Tenaya Peak. The trail continues southward for the next 2.5 miles, climbing gradually at first, then transitioning to steep switchbacks. Fork left (east) at the next junction, making a short northeastern descent to the Sunrise Lakes before turning southward and climbing again. Make a short, quick descent and turn left (north) on the JMT to Sunrise High Sierra Camp on the western edge of wide Sunrise Meadow.

Optional side trip to Cathedral Lakes: From Sunrise High Sierra Camp, stroll north through Sunrise and Long Meadows, often brimming with summer wildflowers. The trail curves eastward around the Columbia Finger, making a gradual ascent toward Cathedral Pass. Along the way, several outcrops offer stunning views of the Matthes Crest and Echo Peaks. Cross Cathedral Pass below Tressider Peak and make a short descent to Upper Cathedral Lake, surrounded by grassy meadows. Continue another 0.5 mile to a junction for Lower Cathedral Lake and a 0.5 mile side trail to the lower lake in a wide basin with outstanding views of Cathedral Peak. Return to Sunrise High Sierra Camp by the same route.

Day 4: Begin the day with a leisurely stroll northward through Sunrise and Long Meadows, with views toward Tressider Peak and the Columbia Finger. After a mile, turn right (east) off of the JMT, following signs for Merced Lake. The next six miles winds southward, descending gradually to a junction northeast of Bunnell Point. Fork left (southeast) for 0.7 mile to another junction, now entering Echo Valley. Turn left (east) following the Merced River 1.25 miles to the outlet of Merced Lake. Skirt the northern lakeshore another mile to Merced Lake High Sierra Camp.

Day 5: Proceed eastward to the next junction and the Merced Ranger Station; fork left (northeast), and begin a steady climb for the next mile, following signs for Vogelsang. At the next junction, fork left (northeast) again, crossing Lewis Creek and beginning another steady climb. 2.5 miles from the ranger station a side trail leads 0.3 mile to Babcock Lake, a nice lunch stop. Continuing upward, the trail turns northeastward, following Fletcher Creek through a meadowy valley. At a 4-way junction, the trail left leads 0.5 mile to Emeric Lake and straight ahead 3 miles to Booth Lake. Veer right 2.2 miles to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp at the base of Vogelsang and Fletcher Peaks. Ascend an easy, half-mile-long trail to visit Vogelsang Lake.

Day 6: From Vogelsang, continue eastward past Fletcher Lake into a wide, meadowy basin with Evelyn Lake glistening beneath the north flank of Fletcher Peak. Mount a shallow saddle and start descending to a junction with the trail to Ireland Lake, nestled beneath Amelia Earhart Peak—a worthy 3-mile side trip. Continuing on, come to an exposed plateau with incredible views into Lyell Canyon and southward to Donohue Pass, before making a steady 2.5-mile descent along the flank of Potter Point into Lyell Canyon. Turn left, once again on the JMT/PCT, and follow the clear, sparkling waters of the Lyell Fork on near-level trail for 5 miles. Pass the Fletcher Creek trail, then turn right and cross the Lyell Fork on several bridges, following signs to the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and the completion of the loop.

-Mapped by Eli Boschetto, Bosco Mountain Photo

To Trailhead

From Fresno, drive north on CA 41 for 87 miles to Yosemite Valley; merge onto CA 120/Tioga Rd. for 48 miles to Tuolumne Meadows. The Wilderness Permit Center and trailhead are one mile past the campground.

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