Cathedral Lakes Hike at Yosemite National Park
by Rob C.
Crossing a meadow to lower Cathedral Lake
A Cathedral Lakes Hike at Yosemite National Park offers a slice of solitude and beauty only the wilderness can provide.
One of the benefits of living in the San Francisco Bay Area is that Yosemite National Park's entry kiosk is just a quick 3.5 hour drive away. So a weekend overnigher is totally doable. It's easy to get your wilderness fix and even show up to work Monday morning.
If you haven't seen Yosemite Valley, the park's main attraction, you should definitely do so. But after all the hustle and bustle of the popular valley, why not venture out into the rich abundance of wilderness areas within the park's boundaries?
The benefits of wilderness backpacking at Yosemite are many... but one main benefit is that, unlike camping in the established campsites, you can be perfectly spontaneous.
No need to make reservations, just show up at the park's ranger station early in the morning to get your wilderness permit. They are first come, first serve and the rangers keep a quota to limit human impact in the wilderness. If you are early enough, you should not have a problem, especially in the off season months.
Cathedral Lakes (Lower and Upper) are two modest sized sub-alpine lakes sitting below a string of dramatic craggy granite peaks, at a little over 9,500 feet elevation.
The lakes get there name from Cathedral peak sitting right above. As you approach the lakes along the trail, you can see the knife-sharp "spires" of Cathedral Peak. If you venture past Cathedral Peak to see the south face, you'll get a view of the mountain that looks just like a granite cathedral.
The lakes get a handful of day hikers during the day, but for the lucky few who stay overnight, you get the benefit of watching the mountains change colors with the setting sun and then...
...the amazingly clear dark sky full of stars, something I never see in my urban home.
We set camp near the lower Cathedral Lake. Venturing a few yards west of the lake, you reach a steep drop-off that overlooks the much larger Tanaya Lake below.
Whether you do a day hike to the lake, or stay there to camp, you'll be pleasantly rewarded.
From the park's entry kiosk, you will turn left on Tioga Road towards Tuolumne Meadows. After about one hour of driving through scenic forest, you arrive at the immense sub-alpine meadows, surrounded by a number of granite domes.View Larger Map
(Near the mid-point along the way, there's a vista point where you can view Yosemite's famous Half Dome from a distance. The side you see is the very face which hikers climb to reach the top.)
You'll see plenty of cars parked along Tioga Road at Tuolumne Meadows. A large sign points the way to Cathedral Lakes. The trailhead is directly across the road from the meadow, near the visitor center.
The trail follows a segment of the John Muir Trail. The hike climbs upwards consistently for about 3.5 miles, through forested switchbacks. After the trail levels off for a good stretch, you'll see an iron sign pointing out a .5 mile spur to the lower Cathedral Lake.
Cathedral Lake Hike Tips:
1. The hike starts out with a pretty strenuous uphill climb, so drink plenty of water as you go and breathe deep and full. This will help you get enough oxygen from the thin alpine air and prevent altitude sickness.
2. Before you go, check the local weather and plan appropriately with the right clothes, layers, and gear. Be sure to protect yourself from the sun, even in cooler months.
3. Bear canisters are required throughout Yosemite, if you plan to stay overnight.
4. As with any other wilderness hike or stay, follow Leave No Trace ethics.
5. Tioga Road closes in Winter. Check with the park for closure dates.See more photos from this hike on our Facebook Page!