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A Return to Young Lakes in Yosemite

Written by sierrarecmagazine

Backpacking Adventure to Yosemite National’s Park North East Borders to Visit Young and Roosevelt Lakes.

Tuolumne Meadows – Yosemite National Park – 2021- Four years ago I took my first backpacking trip into Yosemite National Park to Young lakes. This first visit was magical and drove me to dive into backpacking and I have since made annual visits each August to a new location in Yosemite.

In 2021, I was blessed to have my son and daughter in law join me on this adventure. A first ever for Amber as she had never backpacked before and was excited to have Yosemite be her first trip. After giving here multiple options of locations we could backpack she choose Youngs Lak, partially because of a picture on my wall and also because she had identified as 7 miles being a max distance.

Young Lakes is a special place in Yosemite.

Lower Young Lake Skyline

We arrived in the park at 8:30 am and to my surprise no line at the east gate. I guess the reservation system is working? The park had light smokey skies from the fires in the North and in general when we parked at the wilderness station I felt that the crowds were limited on this visit. A quick pick up of our permit and one additional bear can and we were off to the Dog Lake Parking area. This route is the steeper route, but I like its variety of landscapes and the route has fewer people on the trail typically.

Packing up the first vertical climb takes us up behind Lembert Dome and then on to Dog Lake where we stop to fill up water bottles just in case the creeks are dry in August. After a quick snack and water stop we are on our way with 4.9 miles left in our hike. This next 4.9 miles is beautiful. It is also provides stretches that are difficult as you climb over two ridges on your way to a high Alpine Meadow on the South Side Ragged Peak. On a clear day this is a fantastic Panoramic view area of the Cathedral Range.

Then the cruel part of the trip as you climb down 700 feet and around Ragged Peak before a climb back up to the lake. Reaching the lake is exhilarating as you stare at Ragged Peak over your right shoulder and then realize how large the lower lake is.

Lower Young Lake

Tree lined shores on three sides and granite mountain wall on the south side give backpackers plenty of area to spread out around the lower lake. Most who visit stay at Lower Lake. I assume because you are just so tired that the idea of climbing another 200 feet to middle lake or 500 feet to upper lake just seems like a lot.

We found a location on the Northside of the lake that gave us a great view of Ragged peaks from the hammocks and slight views of the water from camp. After further inspection we also found that if we would have set up camp a little further back from the water we have a tremendous view of Mt. Conness to the North.

The First night is always so chill, tired from a long hike all you want to do is eat a good mill, chill by the lake for a bit then hit the sack for a well earned night of rest. About 8pm on our visit this year however the smoke rolled in from the fires to the North. It was thick and a little worrisome.

Have you ever been in the Wilderness and had smoke from forest fires roll in? This was a first for me, an even though I thought I knew where the smoke was from two thoughts played out in my head: First, “Is it ok to sleep in this smoke?” Second, what if there as a fire close that I didn’t know about? How would we get out of there safely and quickly in the middle of the night?

After laying in the hammock for about 30 minutes however the tired body kicked in and I fell asleep until about midnight when the wind woke me up. a nice windy night helped clear out the smoke and gave us a pleasant nights sleep at the lower lake. I can only imagine how bad the wind might have been up at the upper lake where few camp, but the ones that do have some amazing views, but they also tend to get all the wind.

Lucky for us the wind was strong enough to clear out most of the smoke by morning and I awoke just before sunrise in time to get up for a some sunrise photography around the two lower lakes. A Beautiful way to start my day.

Day two adventure – A loop to Roosevelt and Upper Young Lake

After a great morning of photography we made a little breakfast and quickly took assessment of how we felt about the adventure options for the day. On my last visit, (My first ever backpacking trip) I had seen Roosevelt lake on the map and decided I didn’t have the endurance to take that on at the time. This time it was on my bucket list to achieve, so I let the team know my intentions were to go to Roosevelt Lake off trail in the morning and then loop back to upper lake along the side of White mountain in the afternoon.

My group seemed all in with me on this idea and we loaded day packs up with lunch and water and headed out. The trip to Roosevelt Lake is a complete off trail experience and although you can visually see the general area of the lake easily from Young Lakes, we highly recommend and map be carried on this route. You will travel down a fairly steep slope leaving the lake then through a small creek valley before heading back up an equally steep ridge on the other side before the top of the mountain opens up onto of a High Aline region that walks you into the Roosevelt lake valley below Mt. Conness.

High Alpine Meadow in Yosemite National Park North of Ragged Peak

Reading out map we took a route down that kept us heading East on the mountainside with a gradual decline for approx. a mile. This placed us at a perfect location to cross the valley floor at a point where both creeks merged and became one creek. We choose this general area to cross because it also gave us the best location to go back up the other ridge, following the small creek coming down from Mt. Conness area up the ridge.

Exiting the canyon you arrive at a High Alpine tundra region. Not certain what the technical name for this type of area is, but my son seems to think it is similar to a Moore in Ireland. Needless it gives you panoramic views as far out as Mt. Hofmann and the size of Mt. Conness is staring you right in the face.

Sierra Rec Visited Roosevelt Lake

Roosevelt lake is approx. another half mile up the slope and is settle in just between Conness at 12,590′ and Sheep’s peak at 11,842′ The lake itself is at 10,184′ f which makes for a cold refreshing swim in crystal clear snow melt water.

On this trip they were doing a fish study at the lake. As we understand it they are taking the fish out of the lake and returning the lake to its natural state. Possibly for the Yellow legged Frog but that is my assumption. I know there has been a movement to restore many high Alpine lakes to original states as most of the fish were transplants by Mule back in the day.

A great swim and afternoon lunch at the shores and it was soon time to say good bye. At my age I always wonder if this is the last time I will personally see such a wonderful location. I hope not, but took a few extra minutes counting my blessings a staring around the area just in case.

The next step of our journey would take us closer to the Mountains on the East as we planned to stay close to 10,000′ as we hugged White mountain on our way back to Upper Young Lake.

This route was pretty easy to accomplish although at time we were crossing some fairly steep slopes. we followed the lay of the land and kept our safety in mind for approx. a mile before a gentle slope down and across to the ridge that is below Upper Young Lake. This was by far the steepest slope we climbed all weekend, but we took it slow and zigged our way up to the upper meadow fairly easily. (Easy in terms of path, our breathing would indicate it was extreme)

Upper Young Lake Looking back at Ragged Peak
Upper Young Lake Looking back at Ragged Peak

Needless to say seeing the Shores of Upper Young Lake come into focus was pretty satisfying. This is one of those special places in wilderness for me. It is so beautiful and calm. I can feel the stress leave my body and my heart rate decline into a very relaxed state while up here.

After a great refreshing swim, jumping from boulder to boulder 5 feet below the water the crew all laid out on the meadow shore and took naps. Yes the sunburns we received afterward were unfortunate, but the naps was one of the best I have had this year.

Iconic phot spot from above Middle and lower Young lakes looking back at ragged peak

A couple hours later and it was time to return to camp for dinner. In hindsight we wish we would have packed dinner and ate up to p to watch sunset, but maybe next time. A quick stop for the iconic photo of Young lakes and Ragged Peak and back down the mountain to camp.

Sunset at Youngs lake can produce incredible Alpine glow. the Sandy beach on the West Shore of lower young lake provides a panoramic view of Conness, White and the surrounding rim of granite on the lake. A great way to spend our final evening in the mountains.

The Exit Choice

High Sierra Vista panoramic view of the Cathedral Range

Exiting Young lakes back to Tuolumne meadow always gives hikers a choice. The easier route as far as climbing is concerned is to exit into the Tuolumne valley via the Young Lakes trail. this has one minor climb about 1 mile into the trail and then in 4 miles straight down hill into the Tuolumne meadow along the PCT and Soda springs region. This was the route i took out last time.

The alternative is to return via the dog lake route which requires a harder climb out of the Young’s lake canyon back up to the high Alpine region behind ragged peak and then a varied terrain slope back behind Lembert Dome and Dog lake. This was the route we choose home this time and frankly after doing both routes, I would choose this route every time.

A swim in Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake looking east into the cathedral Range

Locals Tip: I try to never leave the Yosemite High country without a final stop at Tenaya Lake. there is something magical and healing about a quick swim in Tenaya after along day hike out of the wilderness. Cool, refreshing and one of the best mountain swim views in the country.

Dinner Stops:

Of course for me the trip is never over before we stop for a meal at one of our favorite roadside dinners on HWY 395 to close out our adventure.

Choices: Mono Cone, The Barn in Bridgeport or the Whoa Nellie Deli at the base of Tioga Pass. On this trip the Whoa Nellie is the winner because they had pizza which was being craved by one of the team. So Pizza, burgers, fish tacos and beer was a great way to cap off this years trip in Yosemite.

Cant wait for the next adventure in our favorite National Park.

10 Great Day Hikes off Tioga Pass and HWY 120 Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite

Best things to do in Yosemite in 2015 – An Adventure with Yosemite Conservancy

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