Day Hiking Yosemite Day Trips Hiking Hiking/Backpacking Tioga Pass Route 120 Yosemite National Park

Day Trip to Sunrise Lakes in Yosemite

Sunrise Lakes Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park – November 11, 2014 – Veteran’s Day, National Free Forest Service and National Park day, which always makes me look towards Yosemite National Park. Yosemite continues to capture my spirit and call me to try new trails, view new heights and challenge my will in completing the climb, on this veterans day, I skipped the parades and instead decided to enjoy the very freedoms that have been given to me by so many brave individuals. My 16-year-old son (Cade) choose the day hike for us today. Sunrise Lakes, the halfway point for many to Clouds Rest. I had spoken to several hikers this summer while exploring around Cathedral Lakes that the Sunrise Camp and Lakes loop was one that I should commit to doing. So when Cade suggested we take the West Trail off Tenaya Lake and climb to the Sunrise Lakes, I knew it was going to be a great day. The reviews on this trail seem to focus if not feature a gnarly set of switchbacks about halfway along this trail. Rightfully so as I will explain a little later. But this trail has a lot to offer someone looking for a great Yosemite day trip adventure. Starting out at the parking area on the West edge of Tenaya Lake, you will need to pay attention to where the trailhead is, easy to mistakenly take the west trail which heads to the May Lake area. The Trail to Sunrise Lakes and Sunrise Camp is on the East edge of the parking area, it follows a rather ragged path that at this time looks like it may be under a bit of construction, towards Tenaya Lake. Being November we didn’t have to worry about crossing any water in the meadow, but it is clear that in early summer you may need to do a little rock hopping or wading across a stream.
The trail follows the stream for a bit and I assume that in the spring and early summer this is a very pleasant area to hike as the water flows. Just after turning from the creek you will walk upon a Boulder area to your right that begs you to climb up and take a look. Highly suggested as you get a great view of the Tenaya Canyon, a peak at a little unnamed body of water at the base of one the cliff’s. Once you pass this area you will start down hill for just a bit as you head for the base of what one hiker yesterday referred to as “The WALL” . A vertical climb of approximately 1 mile over a gnarly set of switchbacks that provide you with over 1000′ ft in elevation gain. “The Wall” is challenging but You will be glad you wore your hiking boots, brought your water and gave yourself time to complete. This part of the path is like climbing a staircase in a skyscraper, your legs will burn.

On your ascent up “The Wall” ( I like that name) we did find a hidden treasure. About 1/3 of the way up the climb, we came to rest on a corner of one of the west switchbacks. Looking west there is a very large Ponderosa Pine all by itself in your view. Looking back across the canyon you can see that you are just about at the height of Olmsted Point and that it is directly across the canyon. If you venture toward that tree across the face of the mountain, you will capture a glimpse and great picture spot for Half Dome. This location is only about 50 yards off the path but you will need to be careful of your footing and the slope could cause some a little trouble. If your heading to Clouds rest, then no need to stop here, but is Sunrise Lakes is your destination, not only is it a good break spot, it is a fantastic view. The switchbacks in November, are a bit tricky as Ice from the first snow has settled in on several areas of the trail, so footing and the right gear are important. The only other recommendation I have is pace, take your time, watch your step, take lots of breaks and drink your water. It is a long climb but you can do it, and it is worth it. Once you complete ” The Wall you reach a junction on top of the mountain, take a moment and catch your breath and get your barring’s. Sunrise Lakes are to the Left, Straight ahead will lead you to the trail for Clouds Rest. The Signs don’t say Sunrise Lakes, they instead point you to Sunrise Camp which is another 2.5 miles. Sunrise Lakes are only about a half mile from the junction.
The Trail will wind you right next to the first and third lake. Small climb from the First to the third as you go up along the ridge. The second Lake is off to the left and you need to watch for it as if you are focused on going up the hill you will miss it., it is about 100 yards off the path through a small set of trees. The lakes are not as large as The Cathedral Lakes and the mountain peaks are probably not as spectacular as other hikes, but still the granite domes reflect in this high mountain lake water just the same and they are so peaceful. Short trips around the lakes give you some great photo ops and on the First and Second Lake we walked over to the ridge overlooking the Tenaya Canyon which we just hiked through for a great panoramic view across the North Face of the Canyon, which includes Tuolumne Peak and MT Hoffman. Another great feature of this hike is the Granite erosion piles at the base of each lake. So fascination to see the large chunks of broken rock that have been shaven off the face by weather and ICE.
Sunrise Lakes Yosemite National Park
Sunrise Lakes in Yosemite national park
The Northern Face of the Tenaya Canyon. Includes Tuolumne Peak and MT. Hoffmann
Needless to say once you have your fill of the lakes and start to head back on your day trip, the thoughts of going down are much more pleasant then going up the wall. Watch your steps coming down as this is where the twisted ankle comes into play. For our trip it was about 2.5 hours up and 1.5 hours down, so that might help you gauge your time. I would plan on 4-6 hours for this trip. Once you get back to the Tenaya Lake area, take time to go over to Tenaya Lake shores for a few great photo ops from the West Edge, looks like a popular item is stacking rocks in the lake, soaking your feet might feel nice, it is a very pleasant way to end this day hike.
Tenaya lake Pano - Yosemite National park
Tenaya lake Pano – Yosemite National park
Tenaya Lake West Shore looking East. November 2014
Sierra REC enjoys sharing our day trip adventures and hope is helps you be inspired to try a new adventure or to explore an old favorite. The tips and suggestions we present ours from our personal perspective. We always suggest you stay on the trails unless you are comfortable with direction and safety concerns that can arise by going off trail in areas. Please stay safe and enjoy your next adventure to the Sierra. We do hope you will share your photos and stories with us at or on our Facebook and Pinterest pages

About the author

Charlie REC magazine - Charlie Pankey ~ Publisher

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