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.

Cathedral Peak from the start of the trail in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park

Cathedral Peak from the start of the trail in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park

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.

Middle Sunrise Lake, Yosemite National Park

Middle Sunrise Lake, Yosemite National Park

Sunrise Lakes

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.

Impressive scenery near Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park

Impressive scenery near Tioga Pass, Yosemite National Park

Ireland Lake

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.

John Muir Trail and Potter Point from Lyell Canyon in late summer in Yosemite National Park

John Muir Trail and Potter Point from Lyell Canyon in late summer in Yosemite National Park

Lyell Canyon

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.

Cathedral Peak, Yosemite National Park

Cathedral Peak, Yosemite National Park

Cathedral Lakes

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.

Glen Aulin, Yosemite National Park

Glen Aulin, Yosemite National Park

Glen Aulin

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!

Business in a backpack

About the Author: Adam Costa is a travel writer and author Business In A Backpack. He is the managing editor of Italy Bike Tours, which provides information on cycling in Italy.

Photo credits: Cathedral Peak and Tioga Pass by Alaskan Dude, Middle Sunrise Lake by Comrogues, Lyell Canyon by MiguelVieira, Cathedral lakes by chucklepix (Steve), Glen Aulin by Jim Bahn

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

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  • Reply
    Donna Hull
    August 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    I’ve only visited Yellowstone one time and I much preferred the high country to the touristed valley floor. Hiking in Tuolumne Meadows has been high on my to do list for quite some time. It’s about time I made it happen, although I’ll probably go for one of the easier hikes such as Lyell Canyon.

    • Reply
      August 7, 2011 at 10:40 pm

      I’ve not tried any hiking in the US national parks but I’m looking forward to my return at the end of August to do a bit more hiking on the Tour de Mont Blanc

  • Reply
    August 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    i am also wanna to hike in the US national park, but i have no enough time…..

    • Reply
      August 10, 2011 at 9:09 pm

      Never enought time to see all things we want to – just enjoy the things we can see

  • Reply
    August 10, 2011 at 5:41 am

    Love this post. It really does highlight the beauty that is the national park, however, it is something that is truly in-explainable until you see it in person. I highly recommend taking the time to plan a trip.

    • Reply
      August 10, 2011 at 9:08 pm

      Thanks Dan, I’d love to experience those open spaces and fantastic scenery

  • Reply
    Pedro Cardoso
    August 10, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Those are awesome sights, I absolutely must set out to explore the new continent sometime! Although it kind of reminds me of the Geres mountain range, here in Portugal. Ever seen it?

  • Reply
    August 12, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    @Pedro — that’s exactly what I was thinking! They, too are stunning!

  • Reply
    August 14, 2011 at 2:56 am

    Me a few friends are planning a trip to Yosemite this month, and I would love to take the “Roads less Traveled”… I am here at San Diego on a business trip from India, and all I can spare is a weekend(I know it would be not fair :|). Would someone be so kind to suggest an itinerary.
    -Dee 🙂

  • Reply
    January 10, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    I have lots of interest to go US national park, but i have no enough money.
    GM KONOK´s last blog post ..National University Admission Test Result 2011-2012

  • Reply
    RV AJ
    March 6, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Heading to Yosemite on a RV trip in a few weeks and google sent me to you for hiking ideas! I cant wait to give a few of these a try!

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      March 6, 2013 at 10:26 pm

      @RV AJ Excellent – look forward to hearing how you got on, please do come back and leave me any additional recommendations

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