Tuolumne Meadows to Happy Isles via John Muir Trail Backpacking

Lee Vining, California

4 out of 5 stars4 out of 5 stars4 out of 5 stars4 out of 5 stars4 out of 5 stars
3 Reviews
4 out of 5
This northernmost section of the 212-mile-long John Muir Trail is perhaps the most popular trail route from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley, and justifiably so. Along it you pass relatively close by sheer, glaciated landmarks, which include Cathedral Peak, Matthes Crest, and Columbia Finger, and descend past the famous Yosemite Valley landmarks of Liberty Cap, Nevada Fall, and Vernal Fall. Most of this trip is downhill, which adds to its enjoyment. Nevertheless, there is considerable climbing, which says something of the more than considerable descent. Therefore, I recommend it be done in three days instead of two, just to save your knees. If you insist on two, then camp by Sunrise Creek in order to break your descent in half. If you take three days, then camp by Sunrise High Sierra Camp and in Little Yosemite Valley. To jazz up this already great hike, I’ve included three very rewarding side trips of variable effort. In the order you encounter them, these are Mariuolumne and Medlicott domes and Lower Cathedral Lake (extra 2 1 /2 miles distance/extra 400 feet of ascent), Moraine Dome (1/200), and Half Dome (4/1900). For the last side trip you’ll want to use a small day pack; you certainly won’t want to carry a backpack to the top of Half Dome! (Anyway, overnight camping there is no longer allowed.) Not a side trip but rather an alternate route is a descent to the Yosemite Valley floor via the Mist Trail (see Heads Up!).

Tuolumne Meadows to Happy Isles via John Muir Trail (Backpacking) Professional Review and Guide

"This northernmost section of the 212-mile-long John Muir Trail is perhaps the most popular trail route from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley, and justifiably so. Along it you pass relatively close by sheer, glaciated landmarks, which include Cathedral Peak, Matthes Crest, and Columbia Finger, and descend past the famous Yosemite Valley landmarks of Liberty Cap, Nevada Fall, and Vernal Fall. Most of this trip is downhill, which adds to its enjoyment. Nevertheless, there is considerable climbing, which says something of the more than considerable descent. Therefore, I recommend it be done in three days instead of two, just to save your knees. If you insist on two, then camp by Sunrise Creek in order to break your descent in half. If you take three days, then camp by Sunrise High Sierra Camp and in Little Yosemite Valley. To jazz up this already great hike, I’ve included three very rewarding side trips of variable effort. In the order you encounter them, these are Mariuolumne and Medlicott domes and Lower Cathedral Lake (extra 2 1 /2 miles distance/extra 400 feet of ascent), Moraine Dome (1/200), and Half Dome (4/1900). For the last side trip you’ll want to use a small day pack; you certainly won’t want to carry a backpack to the top of Half Dome! (Anyway, overnight camping there is no longer allowed.) Not a side trip but rather an alternate route is a descent to the Yosemite Valley floor via the Mist Trail (see Heads Up!)."

Activity Type: Backpacking, Hiking
Nearby City: Lee Vining
Distance: 21.6
Elevation Gain: 2,790 feet
Trail Type: Shuttle
Skill Level: Moderate
Duration: 3 days
Season: Best late July through Labor Day
Local Contacts: Yosemite National Park - permit required
Local Maps: USGS 7.5-min Half Dome, Merced Lake, Tenaya Lake
Driving Directions: Directions to Tuolumne Meadows to Happy Isles via John Muir Trail (Backpacking)

Recent Trail Reviews

9/23/2009
0

Started on a Monday, as the Yosemite shuttle had stopped running between the Valley and Tuolumne, and YARTS only was running on the weekends. So I parked at Curry Village and took YARTS to Tuolumne, camped there Sunday night, and started Monday morning. A fairly tough climb to Cathedral Lakes, especially with the altitude, but a nice water and snack stop. Turns out I did not see much water after this, as the stream I followed the rest of the day to Sunrise camp was dry. I was nearly out of water by the time I got to Sunrise camp, and there was none there (the Sunrise High Sierra Camp was closed for the season). Ended up dropping my pack and hiking another 3.4 miles RT to Sunrise Lakes, over the hill. Since I was unsure of water, I did the same hike the next morning and filled up. The scenery on this part was very nice, especially the views of Cathedral Peak. Next day was pretty straight forward, hiking along the ridge with nice views of the valley. The water was flowing down Sunrise creek, so I didn't need all I brought as it turns out. There are some great views of Half Dome and Liberty Peak as you approach Yosemite Valley. Nevada Falls was down to a "trickle", relatively speaking, but still quite beautiful. This time of year, I hardly saw anyone until I got close to Little Yosemite Valley. I camped there in the backpackers campground which although not full still had a lot of people, mostly camping in preparation for the Half Dome hike. I didn't do that, as my feet were killing me and I had done it several years previously. The Merced river was quite nice to soak your feet and wash off a bit - several people were swimming. The next day was all downhill on switchbacks. My knees were ok (I use poles), but my feet were getting trashed. Anyway, the upside was the lack of people this time of year, but the downside was the lack of water (although I did not see one mosquito, so perhaps that was a upside to the lack of water).


6/25/2009
0

We backpacked this trip from Tuolumne to Yosemite Valley, camping at Sunrise and Little Yosemite Valley. Could easily be done over one night, or a long day hike. Mosquitos were horrible. Saw lots of deer, marmot, and squirrels...keep your food safe! Uphill for first 9-ish miles, then all downhill to the valley. Amazing views of half dome (you can even see the cables going up the eastern face!), Merced River canyon, peaks and granite domes and cliffs. Definitely cool off in the Merced at LYV, feels great on the sore feet! Plenty of solitude on the Tuoloumne, but be prepared for swarms of people as soon as you hike below half dome and the rest of the way to the valley. End your hike with a shuttle to Curry Village, and a well-deserved cheesburger and Fat Tire!


8/9/2005
0

High Sierra sunrise camp is now on a reservation basis, iwth tent cabins, however becasue of msuch snow they are not using them this summer, so it is a good site to camp at with very good rest room facility and beautiful view. Saw no bears on this trip. I thought it was thick with bears.



Trail Photos

Activity Feed

May 2018