Hiking Trails Yosemite National Park Yosemite National Park

Ready to Explore the High Sierra Camps of Yosemite?

Tunnel View view of the Yosemite Valley from the tunnel entrance to the Valley

Yosemite National Park – Every year the Sierra High Country provides visitors and explorers in Yosemite some of the most memorable moments. In 2015, Yosemite has already upped the anty a bit with the reintroduction of the Big Horn Sheep and the exclusive chance of catching a peak is sure to drive hikers in to the high country to explore.  Here are some facts and info provided by Yosemite regarding the Sierra High Camps.

High Sierra Camps 2015 Fact Sheet

The High Sierra Camps – today one of the most popular ways to explore Yosemite’s magnificent backcountry – date back to the earliest days of the National Park Service (NPS). In 1916, NPS Director Stephen Mather asked Desmond Park Service Company, the concessionaire at the time, to build mountain chalets at Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows and Merced Lake. He believed this type of public service would attract people into the park’s high country, thus supporting NPS management objectives to:

 Relieve congestion in the Valley by enabling outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy Yosemite’s wilderness with relative ease and in some degree of comfort.

 Provide a compatible environment in which visitors could be instructed in the tenets of conservation and the objectives of the National Park Service.

 Clarify the National Park Services’ conservation objectives to the public. The Desmond Company already owned many lodges in and around Yosemite Valley, and was enthusiastic about the task set forth by Mather.

Construction took place during the summer of 1916, with each camp receiving a combination lounge/dining room/kitchen, framed in wood and roofed with canvas. Guest tents provided sleeping accommodations, and the staff consisted of a manager, cook and fisherman. Unfortunately, the Desmond Company went bankrupt in 1917 and the camps closed the following year. After a re-organization in 1920, the Desmond Company became the Yosemite National Park Company, and in 1923 Yosemite’s superintendent, W.B. Lewis, requested the camps at Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows be reopened as hiker camps. On July 20, 1923, the first organized hiking party to use them left Yosemite Valley guided by a National Park Service naturalist.
In 1923, Superintendent Lewis asked the concessionaire to expand the camp system to include sites not accessible by road. He sent naturalist Carl P. Russell on a Sierra Nevada pack trip to choose sites for five additional camps based on the beauty of their surroundings, spacing from other promising campsites, and the availability of water. The five original high camps were located at Little Yosemite Valley, Merced Lake, Tenaya Lake, Booth Lake, and Tuolumne Meadows. All of the camps would consist of a mess and cook tent, and dormitory tents for men and women. Attendants and cooks would staff each camp, with equipment and supplies brought in by mule train. Almost immediately, it became apparent that horseback riders and hikers favored the camps, which soon became known simply as the “High Sierra Camps.”
In 1927, Glen Aulin was created, though it later moved slightly east of its original location due to a mosquito problem. A few years later, the Booth Lake camp was abandoned in favor of Vogelsang, which was established near the junction of the Rafferty Creek and Lyell Fork Trails. In 1940, Vogelsang moved to its current location along the banks of Fletcher Creek. In 1938, the Tenaya Lake camp was closed, and in its place, another was established at May Lake amidst the mountain hemlocks and in the shadow of Mount Hoffman. White Wolf became a part of the High Sierra Camp system in 1951, with Sunrise gaining distinction as the loop’s youngest camp in 1961.
The High Sierra Camps have been significant as an innovative concept, providing visitors with experience in the Yosemite backcountry and representing a successful joint venture by NPS and the park concessionaire. Their establishment also marked an early implementation of the Interior Department’s policy of making remote areas of the park more accessible to the visiting public.
To this day, the High Sierra Loop is considered a highlight of the park’s interpretive services division, educating thousands of visitors each summer about the importance of conservation. Timeline of Important Dates 1916 Desmond Park Company builds mountain chalets at Tenaya Lake, Merced Lake and Tuolumne Meadows; The Merced Lake Barn and Ice House are built 1917 Desmond Company goes bankrupt 1918 Camps close, but may have been used for a few more years 1920 Desmond Company reorganizes to become the Yosemite National Park Company 1922 Merced Lake reopens as a large, sports-oriented boy’s camp at a cost of $200 per camper 1923 NPS requests the Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows camps be reopened as hiker’s camps;
The first organized hiking party leaves Yosemite Valley on July 20 guided by a Park Service naturalist 1924 Little Yosemite Valley, Merced Lake, and Booth Lake guest camps are built and operational 1925 Yosemite Park & Curry Company takes over the operation of the High Sierra Camps; Merced Lake holds a capacity of 20 guests 1927 Glen Aulin opens 1928 Merced Lake is rebuilt and expanded to house 59 guests in 19 canvas tents with permanent floors and hot showers 1929 Booth Lake camp is relocated to the junction of the Rafferty Creek and Lyell Fork trail 1935 Small stone lodge constructed at Glen Aulin 1938 Five High Sierra Camps – two original ones at Tuolumne Meadows and Merced Lake, and three new ones at May Lake (replacing the Tenaya Lake Camp), Glen Aulin, and Vogelsang (replacing the Booth Lake Camp) 1940 Vogelsang is moved from the trail junction of Rafferty Creek and Lyell Fork, to its current location on the banks of Fletcher Creek 1951 White Wolf Lodge established 1961 Mary Curry Tresidder, president of Yosemite Park & Curry Co., establishes Sunrise High Sierra Camp, complete with canvas dining cabin and stone kitchen structure
The High Sierra Camps in Review


High Sierra Loop

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge – Many hikers start their High Sierra Camp experience with a night at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, an ideal base camp for day hikes throughout the Tuolumne Meadows area or before backpacking to the High Sierra Camps. Located in the largest sub-alpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada at an elevation of 8,775 feet, the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge is open early June through mid September (weather and conditions permitting) and is located on the Tioga Pass Road, near the park’s eastern entrance on Highway 120. Tuolumne Meadows Lodge has 69 tent cabins.
The canvas-covered units are steel framed on a cement platform and sleep up to four people. They are equipped with beds with linens, lantern, a wood burning stove and wood. There is no electricity. Central shower and restroom facilities are nearby. There is no cooking allowed on the lodge grounds. Tuolumne Meadows Lodge serves family-style breakfast and dinner in a central dining tent beside the Tuolumne River. Menu options include beef, chicken, fish, and vegetarian choices, salad, soup and special desserts. Dinner reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 209-372-8413. Guests can also order sack lunches at the front desk. For information about Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, or to make a reservation, please call 801-559-4884 or visit www.YosemitePark.com.
High Sierra Camps The five High Sierra Camps are spaced 5.7 to 10 miles apart along a loop trail in Yosemite’s beautiful high country, accessible only by foot or saddle. Each camp offers a spectacular view and provides hikers with ample opportunities for exploration or quiet appreciation of the natural scenery. The beds are comfortable and the meals hearty – offering the perfect finish to a day of vigorous hiking. The five High Sierra Camps are open late June to mid September (weather and conditions permitting)
 Glen Aulin – 8 cabins, total occupancy 32
 May Lake – 8 cabins, total occupancy 36
 Sunrise – 9 cabins, total occupancy 34
 Merced Lake – 19 cabins, total occupancy 60
 Vogelsang – 12 cabins, total occupancy 42
All High Camps lodging are in canvas tent cabins with dormitory-style steel frame beds with mattresses, pillows, woolen blankets or comforters. All reservations are by the bed. Every effort is made to keep members of a party traveling together in the same tent(s), but due to size limitations and the popularity of the camps, it is sometimes necessary to split up groups by gender or house multiple parties in one tent. Hot showers (except at Vogelsang and Glen Aulin), soap and restroom facilities are available; however, guests must provide their own sheets or sleep-sacks and towels. Sleep-sacks and Trek Towels can be purchased by mail order at yosemitegifts.com for confirmed High Camp Guests. Dinner and breakfast are served family-style in a main dining tent, and guests are often surprised at the -more- quality and quantity of the “camp” food. It’s not uncommon to have flat iron steak, pork loin, salmon, which is served on a rotating menu to ensure guests experience a variety during their stay. Vegetarian options are also available. All the food and supplies are packed up via mules.
Guided Hiking Trips Organized 4-night/5-day and 6-night/7-day hiking trips are led by National Park Service ranger naturalists, providing hikers with a deeper understanding of Yosemite and its natural history. Guided hikes depart from the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge front desk. The 7-day hike travels the entire loop, spending one night each at Glen Aulin, May Lake, Sunrise and Vogelsang. The fourth and fifth nights are spent at Merced Lake, with time for rest and exploration.
A Guided Mini Loop Trip includes a hike to Vogelsang, two nights at Merced Lake, and one night at Sunrise. For information on backpacking instruction & custom backpacking trips, contact the Yosemite Mountaineering School at 209-372-8344 Organized Saddle Trips Organized 4-day and 6-day saddle trips depart from the Tuolumne Stables and are led by experienced guides/packers who feed and care for the stock, pack all gear and describe park features along the way. The 4-day saddle trips go either northbound to Glen Aulin, May Lake and Sunrise, or southbound to Sunrise, Merced Lake & Vogelsang.
The 6-day trips begin at Glen Aulin and travel counterclockwise to all five High Sierra Camps. Mules, being trail-wise, surefooted and easier to ride than horses, carry riders on these trips. A maximum of 225 lbs. per saddle can be carried, including the rider. For information on custom saddle and pack trips, contact the Yosemite Valley Stable at 209-372-8348. Reservations and Availability Due to high demand, spaces at Yosemite High Sierra Camps are reserved on a lottery basis. Applications can be -more- found online at www.YosemitePark.com beginning September 1st through November 1st for the following summer season. The lottery is held in mid-December, and all applicants are notified of their standing by January 15th.
Any available space not awarded during the lottery will be filled by online booking forms beginning the first Tuesday of February. Guests must cancel 30 days in advance of arrival to receive the maximum refund. Although the more popular camps and dates tend to fill up early, cancellations do occur and some last minute reservations are available during the season.
For more information about the High Sierra Camp experience or availability, call the High Sierra Reservations Desk at 559-253-5672. Due to the dormitory-style lodging at the High Sierra Camps, children must be at least seven years of age to stay overnight. For all Saddle Trips, children must be 10 years of age with riding experience.

About the author

Charlie REC magazine - Charlie Pankey ~ Publisher

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