Hike the trail less traveled in Yosemite National Park
In this guest post, Adam Costa suggests five trails to hike in the Yosemite National Park that will allow you to experience the wilderness beyond the crowded Yosemite Valley.
An important decision awaited me…
Two jobs in the world-famous Yosemite National Park had been offered. The first resided in the hustling and bustling Yosemite Valley; the second in the untouched high-country of Tuolumne Meadows. Like the poet Robert Frost, I opted for the road less traveled and it changed my life.
Yosemite, elected a World Heritage Site in 1984, is unquestionably one of the most breathtaking parks in the world. However, the Valley’s beauty draws over four million visitors a year, giving it heaping crowds of tourists, long lines, and an ‘amusement-park’ quality.
But this turns out to be a good thing. Most visitors never venture outside Yosemite Valley, which leaves most of the 761,268 acres unspoilt. For those looking to hike and soak up the great outdoors beyond the Valley, here are my top five best hikes:
Keep in mind, Yosemite’s elevation ranges from 2,127 to 13,114 feet. Elevation sickness generally occurs at 8,000 feet is a common problem among visitors who don’t acclimate properly. If you feel fatigued, light-headed, or nauseated, descend immediately.
Distance: 6.4 miles (10.3 km) round trip to first lake; 8.8 miles (14 km) round-trip for all three.
Duration: 4 – 6 hours.
The trail starts at Tenaya Lake. Stop there to enjoy the spectacular scenery and beauty of the lake. Hike up alongside the granite boulders and bright green grasslands until you reach the trio of Sunrise Lakes. Here you’ll find a sweet sense of solitude and charm. From here you can either connect to Cathedral Lake (more on that in a minute) or hike 29 miles down into Yosemite Valley – with a difficult two mile side hike to Half Dome.
Distance: 11.4 miles from Tuolumne Meadows.
Duration: 5 – 7 hours.
If you’re looking for a lake to enjoy all to yourself, head to Ireland Lake. It’s a great spot to unwind in complete solitude with only the granite peaks and alpine meadows to keep you company. It’s a bit of a leg burner with the first four miles heading straight up to Vogelsang. The trail then levels off, with a few up and downs, until you reach Ireland Lake. Camp at Vogalsang before returning to Tuolumne or hike back down the same trail.
Distance: From 1.4 miles (2.2 km) to 24 miles (38 km) round trip; final destination (if you go that far) is the Donahue pass, a challenging multi-day trek.
Duration: Varies depending on distance; minimum of 45 minutes.
The Lyell Canyon hike is perfect for anyone who wants an easy hike with the same beauty you’d get on a challenging one. The hike starts at the Tuolumne Meadow Lodge with a quick half-mile walk down to the river.
Cross the river over Twin bridges and enjoy the whirlpools created from the large granite boulders in the water. Head east on an easy trail towards the Donahue pass. Bring your swimsuit if you want to jump in one of the many swimming holes along the way. The water is quite chilly but refreshing. If you get tired, head back at any point, or continue on the multi-day hike to Donahue pass.
Distance: 7 miles (11.2 km) round-trip to either Upper or Lower Cathedral Lakes; 8 miles (12.8 km) round-trip for both.
Duration: 3 – 5 hours.
Located a 35-40 minute drive from Yosemite Valley directly off Tioga Road are the Cathedral Lakes. They are part of the famous John Muir Trail (who led the petition for the U.S. to pass the National Park Bill in 1899, which established Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks).
After the second mile into the hike, you can either head towards upper Cathedral Lake or lower Cathedral Lake, both offering stunning scenery.
Upper Cathedral is a tougher hike and leads to a smaller lake with less people. A moderate hike will lead you to the bigger Lower Cathedral lake. If you’re looking for a multi-day trek, connect Upper Cathedral with Sunrise High Sierra Camp.
Distance: 13 miles (21 km) to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.
Duration: 5 -7 hours.
The Glen Aulin hike is unique in that is starts off with a descent and ascends for the return. Start at the Tuolumne Meadow Lodge and follow a slow, winding river downhill. Around the tree mile mark, the river turns into a series of waterfalls. Stop for the night in Glen Aulin (you can rent a cabin or set up your own tent) and continue into Yosemite’s Grand Canyon the following day. Or return back to Tuolumne Meadow Lodge.
There are many things to see and trails to hike in the wilderness beyond the Yosemite Valley. Happy trekking!
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