Best Yosemite National Park Hikes off HWY 120 from Hwy 395

Yosemite National Park – East Entrance – Traveling from the East side of Yosemite National Park is only available seasonally. However when it is open the Eastern Sierra Communities have tremendous access to some of Yosemite National Parks best day hiking experiences.
Sierra Rec, in the Summer of 2014 explored this eastern edge of Yosemite National Park, looking for the best day hike opportunities for people traveling from the Carson City / Reno region. The idea being that a family or individual could leave early in the morning drive no further than 3 hours and hike all day only to return that evening after a great day hike.

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Here our 10 top hikes to consider this season as you look to Yosemite National Park for family adventure.

Cathedral Lakes

  • 7 miles (11.3 km round-trip), 1,000-foot elevation gain; 4 to 6 hours. Begin at
Cathedral Peak and Upper Cathedral lake

Cathedral Lakes trailhead, 1/2 mile west of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, Shuttle Stop #7The trail climbs steadily to Upper Cathedral Lake. Near the top of the climb, it passes a spur trail to Lower Cathedral Lake (0.5 mile to lake). The return hike follows the same route. This is one of the busiest trails in the Tuolumne Meadows area. Since parking at the trailhead is limited, consider taking the free shuttle bus.

Elizabeth Lake

4.8 miles (7.7 km) round-trip, 1,000-foot elevation gain; 4 to 5 Miles – Begin at Tuolumne Meadows Campground near group camp.

Elizabeth Lake – Yosemite National Park Top hike

The trail begins in the B loop of the campground and climbs steadily to a glacier-carved lake at the base of Unicorn Peak. The return hike follows the same route.

Gaylor Lakes

  • Gaylor Lakes – 2 miles (3.2 km) round-trip, 500-foot elevation gain; 2 hours.
Yosemite National Parks Granite Lake
Yosemite National Parks Granite Lake

Begin at Tioga Pass Entrance Station. (Free shuttle service is available twice per day.)
This hike offers some of the most spectacular high-country views off of Tioga Road. From the trailhead, climb steadily to a ridge with views of the high Sierra including Mt. Dana and Dana Meadows with its scattered ponds. At the ridge crest, the trail drops 200 feet to Middle Gaylor Lake. Return via the same route.

Glen Aulin

  • Glen Aulin – 11 miles (17.7 km) round-trip, 800-foot elevation gain; 6-8 hours
Tuolumne River

Follow the Tuolumne River as it drops to Glen Aulin. Tuolumne Fall and White Cascade are four miles from the trailhead. Beyond Glen Aulin are California Fall (13 miles round trip), LeConte Fall (15 miles roundtrip), and Waterwheel Falls (18 miles round trip). The return hike follows the same route.

Kuna Creek Cascades and Lyell Canyon

  • Kuna Creek Cascades and Lyell Canyon – 8 miles (12.9 km) round-trip, 200-foot
Lyell Canyon
Lyell Canyon – Yosemite National Park

elevation gain; four hours – Begin across the road from the Dog Lake parking area (shuttle stop #2)
This trail passes through Lyell Canyon, along the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. Early in the season, the trail can be muddy in places (please remain on the trail even if it’s muddy). There are several creek crossings, including Rafferty Creek (bridged) and Ireland Creek (unbridged). Spectacular Kuna Creek cascades down the side of the east canyon wall near the eight-mile mark.
For a shorter trip, walk 1/2 hour each way to the Lyell Fork and “Twin Bridges.”

Harden Lake

  • Harden Lake – 5.8 mi/9.3 km round-trip. 355 ft/110 m elevation gain on the
Harden Lakes – Yosemite National Parks Top Hikes

return trip; 2-4 hours. Begin across from White Wolf Lodge.
Hike along a gravel road—part of the original Tioga Road—that follows the Middle Fork of the Tuolumne River for part of the route. At a trail junction 1.75 miles (2.8 km) down the road, follow the signs to the lake. The trail passes by small granite domes and through a forest of red fir and lodgepole pine to reach boulder-dotted Harden Lake.
Optional loop to the edge of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. 8.4 miles (13.5 km) loop. 1,000-foot (305-m) elevation gain on the return trip. 5-8 hours.
Beyond Harden Lake, descend into a large aspen grove full of seasonal flowers, which can be wet and muddy until early August. At the next trail junction, 1.3 miles (2 km) from Harden Lake, turn south towards Lukens Lake and continue towards the White Wolf junction for 2.7 miles (4.3 km). Follow the trail 0.8 miles (1.3 km) back to White Wolf Lodge.

May Lake

  • May Lake – 2.4 mi/3.9 km round-trip. 485 ft/150 m elevation gain; 1-2 hours.
May Lake spring Thaw
May Lake spring Thaw

Begin at the May Lake parking area, 1.75 miles (2.8 km) north of Tioga Road
A short trail leads through a conifer forest and across granite slabs to reach May Lake. Enjoy views of Half Dome and surrounding mountains on the way.

North Dome

  • North Dome – 10.4 mi/16.7 km round-trip. 580 ft/180 m elevation gain on
North dome – Yosemite National Park Top Hike

return trip; 5-8 hours.Begin at Porcupine Creek Trailhead on Tioga Road, 1.2 miles (1.9 km) east of Porcupine Flat Campground
Wind through mixed-conifer forest for 0.7 miles (1 km) on a paved path, and cross Porcupine Creek. At each of several trail junctions, follow the signs toward North Dome. The trail passes through a small grassy meadow and descends along a ridge. Near the end of the hike, descend steep rock steps to the base of North Dome. Climb the dome’s rounded summit to take in a magnificent view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. On the return trip you can take a short detour on a side trail, 0.3 mile (0.5 km) to an unusual natural arch, Indian Rock.

Sunrise Lakes & Clouds Rest

  • Sunrise Lakes & Clouds Rest – 7 Mi / 14mi round trip to Clouds Rest Shorter
Sunrise Lakes Yosemite National Park
Sunrise Lakes – Yosemite National Park Top Hikes

Sunrise Lakes 3.3 mi / 6.6 mi round trip – This trail departs from western Tenaya Lake and follows switchbacks up toward Sunrise Lakes or Clouds Rest. Visitors can choose from several different loop options in this area such as Merced Lake, Half Dome, or Cathedral Lakes.

Ten Lakes

  • Ten Lakes – 12.6 mi/20.3 km round-trip. 2,200 ft/671 m elevation gain; 6-8
Ten Lakes - Yosemite National Park Top Hikes
Ten Lakes – Yosemite National Park Top Hikes

hours – Begin at Ten Lakes Trailhead, across Tioga Road from Yosemite Creek Picnic Area
Follow this trail through conifers and across granite to cross a tributary of Yosemite Creek. Take care on this crossing early in the season when the creek is high. Continue on the trail to Ten Lakes Pass, overlooking the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and the Sierra Crest. Then descend 693 feet (211 m) into the Ten Lakes Basin, which contains a series of beautiful High Sierra lakes. Grant Lakes is at the end of a 1-mile (1.6-km) side trail from the pass.

Sierra REC Magazine is dedicated to sharing the events, news and adventure opportunities that exist in The Sierra Mountains. From Lassen Volcanic National Park to the North down through the Central Sierra and the Lake Tahoe Basin through the rugged eastern slopes of the Mono county and Yosemite National park to the southern tips near Sequoia National Park and the PCT trail. We invite you to share stories, trips and photos from your adventures in the  Sierra. Please join us on Facebook, Twitter Google +  and You-Tube or email us your events and photos at  #goexplore

About the author

Charlie REC magazine - Charlie Pankey ~ Publisher

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