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Backpacking Young Lakes in Yosemite

Sunset on Young Lakes white mountain and Mt Conness in Yosemite
Written by Charlie Pankey

Sierra Rec Magazine, August 2018 – Backpacking in Yosemite is a life goal for many who visit this pristine granite palace in the High Sierra.  As a beginning backpacker, I was overjoyed to learn in March that we had secured 6 passes into the Yosemite Wilderness and Young Lakes, for my first backpacking experience ever.  Young Lakes is a beautiful set of three high alpine lakes sitting just over 9800′ at the lowest level and 10,250′ at the high lake with views of Mt Conness (12,589′), Ragged Peaks and Shepard’s Peak highlighting the panoramic skylines.

White Mountain and Mt Conness at Lower Young Lake

The hike into Young Lakes is approx. 7 miles and can be accessed by two main routes with three starting trail-heads. The Dog Lake route or the Toulumne Meadow Route. On our trip to Young Lakes we had access through the Dog Lake upper route that climbs up behind Lambert Dome to dog Lake than follows the range as it crosses several alpine tundra/meadow and creek regions along the eastern most ridges of Yosemite National Park.

The route is challenging to beginner backpackers and the climb to start your trip is advanced because of the elevation change to Dog Lake from the parking lot.  As our group traveled this route we found a brief stop at Dog Lake allowed us to adjust our packs, grab some fuel for the remaining five mile hike and enjoy a beautiful location that is less visited than you might think being so close to Toulumne Meadow.

dog lake yosemite
dog lake yosemite

After Dog Lake the Next 4 miles are a gradual climb as you cross through two creek meadows one was full of fish and are privy to spectacular views of Yosemite National Park and the Cathedral Range as they appear behind you all the while Ragged peak expands in the horizon.  The final mile into Young Lakes has you decline and then climb again up to the Lower Young Lakes around the backside of Ragged Peaks

Lower Young lake is the most popular camping destination of the three locations (Probably because it is also the first lake and you are ready to be done for the day) Plenty of camp spots to choose from, we lucked out with a spot directly below ragged peak which not only provided a great location with a sandy beach area just below camp, but a spectacular place to watch sunsets as Mt Conness and the remaining rage glowed in the sunset sky.

Father and Sun Filling Water at Young Lakes Yosemite- Mt Conness at Sunrise
Father and Sun Filling Water at Young Lakes Yosemite- Mt Conness at Sunrise

Backpacking in to Young Lakes begs for you to stay multiple days and explore the bounty of different geological features in the region.  Each of the three lakes are uniquely different and the opportunity to climb several peaks including Mt. Conness while visiting is ever present on your stay. An additional day trip activity is to also hike out to Roosevelt Lake and the Shepard Peak region directly north of the Young Lakes.

Lower Young Lake Skyline

Our visit on this trip would be for two nights, so the next day our party choose to split up and enjoy a day in the wilderness that best suited their needs.  Two in our party stayed at camp and fished all day, great luck hauling in 6-9 inch trout all day at the lake. The rest of the group paired up and headed for the upper lakes. The middle and Upper Lakes at Young Lakes are located approx 250 feet in elevation above the Lower lake.

Ragged Peak reflecting at Young Lakes

The middle lake features a lush meadow on the Southside of the lake as a boundary before the mountain and waterfall cascading down form the upper lake just to the east of the lake. Many of the iconic photos of Young Lakes are take from above the Middle lake looking back at the Lower lake and Ragged peaks behind.

Upper Youngs Lake Hike on Rock in Lake
Upper Youngs Lake Hike on Rock in Lake

The Upper lake was stunning and for this Sierra explorer, my favorite location on this trip. The lush meadow that leads to the lake shore, begs for you to lay down and take a nap (At least that is what I did). The clear water  is flanked by broken granite to the East and South. The meadow to the north of the lake bleeds into a dry tundra region before disappearing over into the next valley leading to Shepard’s Peak. The fractured granite region to the south of the lake have several interesting features and are recommended to explore while visiting.

Wildlife is active in the Young Lakes area, we saw deer, squirrels, fish, birds and even had a bear encounter when we first arrived. Evenings are filled with fish jumping on the water as you prepare for amazing sunset skies. Our adventure was in Late August, so mosquitoes were not an issue, however, i venture to say that early summer that would be completely different story.

Return hikes give you the option of going back the same trail to your car, which will include several moderate climbs, or take the loop that leads directly into Tuolumne meadows connecting with the Glen Aulin trail approx 1.5 mile out from the highway. We choose this route and if anyone asks me, I would highly recommend this exit strategy, it is 90% downhill the entire trip, may include a water crossing in early season, (by august no water) and it allowed us to see even more of the Yosemite back country. Easy walk back to the car from the meadow, after enjoying a cold drink at the store.

Wilderness Permits are required for this overnight trip and as with all Yosemite trips bear canisters are also required. You can rent Canisters at the permit check in station, near the Dog Lake trailhead.

About the author

Charlie Pankey

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