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.
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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.

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

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 91.9

Waypoints

HSC001

Location: 37.876681, -119.345451

Pick up the northbound John Muir Trail (JMT) near the Tuolumne Meadows' Wilderness Permit Center and the Tuolumne Lodge.

HSC002

Location: 37.87697, -119.353213

Cross the highway, veering left on gravel road, following signs to stables.

HSC003

Location: 37.878803, -119.358411

Fork left through a gate onto Old Tioga Road, skirting the north side of Tuolumne Meadows.

HSC004

Location: 37.878513, -119.365666

Fork right, rounding the bubbling Soda Springs to the Parsons Memorial Lodge.

HSC005

Location: 37.879032, -119.367183

Turn right onto the northbound Pacific Crest Trail (PCT); follow signs for Glen Aulin.

HSC006

Location: 37.884289, -119.377311

Continue straight (north) through junction; trail on right returns to stables.

HSC007

Location: 37.88881, -119.381004

Fork left, continuing on the PCT.

HSC008

Location: 37.895616, -119.395063

Cross several branches of Dingley Creek.

HSC009

Location: 37.900914, -119.413191

Cross Tuolumne River above unnamed falls.

HSC010

Location: 37.905843, -119.41847

View of Tuolumne Falls

HSC011

Location: 37.908009, -119.421361

Optional: Turn right for Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp and White Falls view. To continue on the loop, turn left (southwest) off the PCT and hike toward May Lake.

HSC012

Location: 37.909248, -119.420253

Cross bridges over the Tuolumne River and Conness Creek to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp. Stop for views of White Cascade.

HSC013

Location: 37.90991, -119.417864

Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp: The High Sierra Camps offer two different camping options. Hikers can reserve a spot in the tent cabins and sleep inside or set up tents in the neighboring backpackers camp (pit toilet and bear boxes). Backtrack to HSC011, and continue straight (southwest).

HSC014

Location: 37.893546, -119.442287

Cross Cathedral Creek.

HSC015

Location: 37.882781, -119.452539

Sweet, hidden campsite on bluff with Tuolumne Valley view.

HSC016

Location: 37.869588, -119.462945

Fork right (west).

HSC017

Location: 37.866773, -119.468706

Bear left (south).

HSC018

Location: 37.844801, -119.491506

May Lake High Sierra Camp: This camp is backdropped by its namesake lake and 10,850-foot Mt. Hoffmann to the west.

HSC019

Location: 37.832392, -119.491122

Turn left (east).

HSC020

Location: 37.820736, -119.478121

Cross CA 120, and turn left (north) toward Tenaya Lake.

HSC021

Location: 37.825921, -119.46825

Eat lunch at the picnic tables overlooking Tenaya Lake, which is ringed by its eponymous peak and the glacier-polished Polly and Pywiack Domes.

HSC022

Location: 37.800869, -119.458639

Turn left (east) and hike past three small lakes in the Sunrise Lakes basin.

HSC023

Location: 37.793375, -119.433318

Turn left (north) on the JMT to reach Sunrise High Sierra Camp.

HSC024

Location: 37.794596, -119.432676

Sunrise High Sierra Camp: This camp is perched on a small ridge overlooking meadows (filled with purple penstemon in July and August) and Sunrise Dome.

HSC025

Location: 37.80307, -119.430308

Turn right (east) to continue on the loop to Merced Lake. Optional side trip: To visit Cathedral Lakes, continue straight at this 3-way junction.

HSC026

Location: 37.764578, -119.420534

Cross Echo Creek.

HSC027

Location: 37.752396, -119.441428

Fork left (south) and descend into Echo Valley.

HSC028

Location: 37.745406, -119.435638

Continue straight (southeast), crossing Echo Creek en route to Merced Lake.

HSC029

Location: 37.738582, -119.406796

Merced Lake High Sierra Camp: This camp, just east of Merced Lake, is bounded by peaks.

HSC030

Location: 37.738519, -119.395334

Turn left (north) for a one mile climb, gaining 900 feet of elevation.

HSC031

Location: 37.743944, -119.387569

Continue straight (north), following signs for Babcock Lake and Vogelsang.

HSC032

Location: 37.76028, -119.389589

Optional: Turn right for a 0.3-mile side trail to Babcock Lake; a nice place to break for lunch.

HSC033

Location: 37.77935, -119.376136

Pass the 0.4-mile side trail to Emeric Lake.

HSC034

Location: 37.780174, -119.375038

Fork right (east) to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp; the trail on the left leads 3 miles to Booth Lake and Tuolumne Pass.

HSC035

Location: 37.795512, -119.345765

Vogelsang High Sierra Camp: This is the highest of the High Sierra Camps and sits in a meadow below Fletcher Peak. Get there before sunset to watch the alpenglow paint surrounding granite peaks in rosy hues. Next day: Continue the loop by heading east toward Ireland Lake and Lyell Canyon (the trail on the right leads 0.5 mile south to Vogelsang Lake).

HSC036

Location: 37.812348, -119.299523

Pass a 1.5-mile side trail to Ireland Lake on the right. From here, the trail drops into Lyell Canyon to a junction with the JMT/PCT.

HSC037

Location: 37.826294, -119.279294

Turn left (north) on the JMT/PCT.

HSC038

Location: 37.84192, -119.285817

Camping is not permitted in Lyell Canyon north of this point.

HSC039

Location: 37.866607, -119.323261

Continue straight (west) through the 3-way junction; the trail on the left leads 5 miles to Tuolumne Pass.

HSC040

Location: 37.868468, -119.334054

Turn right (north), continuing on JMT/PCT. Cross several bridges over Lyell Fork.

HSC041

Location: 37.875534, -119.334353

Fork left (west), continuing on the JMT/PCT toward Tuolumne Meadows.

HSC042

Location: 37.876259, -119.33547

Fork left (west), continuing on the JMT/PCT to the end of the loop.

CATH001

Location: 37.803342, -119.430335

Follow the John Muir Trail to the north through Long Meadow.

CATH002

Location: 37.8127, -119.428811

The trail leaves Long Meadow and curves northeast around Columbia Finger.

CATH003

Location: 37.823209, -119.417825

Crest a saddle south of Cathedral Pass; continue north.

CATH004

Location: 37.835446, -119.415164

Cathedral Pass: In summer, you'll hike through huge fields of subalpine lupine.

CATH005

Location: 37.837042, -119.41413

A side trail on the left leads to campsites at Upper Cathedral Lake.

CATH006

Location: 37.848697, -119.415464

Turn left for the last half-mile stretch to Lower Cathedral Lake.

CATH007

Location: 37.843919, -119.42203

Lower Cathedral Lake; backtrack to HSC025.

IRE001

Location: 37.81192, -119.299893

Follow the trail southwest.

IRE002

Location: 37.791642, -119.306073

The trail ends at the northern tip of Ireland Lake, nestled beneath Amelia Earhart and Parsons Peaks. Return to tk.

Lupine at Cathedral Pass

Location: 37.835446, -119.414735

Sunrise Dome and Meadows

Location: 37.795238, -119.430824

Cathedral Peak

Location: 37.845914, -119.417396

Tuolumne River and Cathedral Peak

Location: 37.878851, -119.363108

Lupine and Lembert Dome

Location: 37.877494, -119.354015

Vogelsang Peak

Location: 37.795678, -119.345126

Meadow and Dome

Location: 37.789845, -119.35667

Emeric Lake

Location: 37.777092, -119.382591

Evelyn Meadows

Location: 37.809241, -119.32354

Lyell Fork

Location: 37.847613, -119.289036