One of the most iconic destination outside of Yosemite Valley is Cathedral Lakes. The Cathedral Lakes are two lakes located South of Tuolumne meadow the lower lake is located at elevation 9,288 feet, while the upper lake is located at elevation 9,585 feet.
Thousands of visitors travel up to the Cathedral lakes region each year on this 8 mile round trip hike (if you hike both lakes) with about 1,100 feet of elevation gain to Upper Cathedral.
I’m asked often, if I had only one day in Yosemite, where would I go? And without hesitation I always suggest Cathedral LakesCharlie Pankey – Publisher Sierra Rec Magazine
For a combination of accessibility, beauty and a unique Yosemite vibe Cathedral Lakes in unmatched in our opinion for locations that are must sees in the park. From a Scenic hike value this one maxes the chart.
Lower Cathedral lake sits in a bowl at the base of the mountain, surrounded by meadow on the east and forest on the West and granite on the North and South sides. Lower Cathedral to some is considered one of the most beautiful granite surrounded lake sin the entire park.
Visitors will often go to lower lake at settle in on the granite shores for a long afternoon in Yosemite, unfortunately never making it to upper Cathedral. Walking to the north side of the lake and following the water shoreline to the backside visitors are greeted with a great vantage view of Tenaya lake and the granite fields below Mt Hoffman.
We recommend that visitors hike to Upper Cathedral lake first on there ventures and walking around the lake to the North side of the shores, taking the time to climb a small shelf so that you can see both upper and lower lake at the same time. The backside of Upper Cathedral also provides great camping for backpackers, good fishing for back country fisherman and the best reflection opportunities of Cathedral peak in the the lake. Views of Tresidder Peak to the West of the lake.
A small climb on the JMT to the South of Upper Cathedral will also give way to views of Echo Peaks and the Yosemite back country.
When To Go
Cathedral Lakes really should be on everyone’s bucket list to accomplish if you are into hiking. At 9,000 feet in elevation this hike is not for everyone and physical fitness and hydration should be considered before venturing up this trail. The trail is fantastic at any point that Tioga Pass is open May- Nov?
Do expect crowds as not only is this hike popular it also is part of the JMT so plenty of backpackers on the trail as well.
Where to Park
Cathedral Lakes trailhead is just west of the Toulumne Visitors Center. Located between Visitors Center and Polly dome Trail. Currently parking is roadside only with a couple outhouses along the roadside. Yosemite is working on a Parking area in Tuolumne meadows and may eventually require visitors to park there and hike to trailhead.
Additional Area attractions:
For those looking to add to the Cathedral Lakes experience and hike a bit more in this region the following locations are worth your attention:
Climbing Mt Tresidder Peak
Climbing Cathedral Peak Granite