Spring is in full swing in the Sierras and it’s got me thinking about getting outside and getting hiking! Yosemite is one of the most beautiful national parks in the Sierra’s making it’s hiking pretty spectacular. Most people know about the popular hikes like Half Dome, the Mist Trail, and Yosemite Falls, but if you are looking for something a little different and a good challenge then these High Sierra hikes will not disappoint.
These hikes are not for the faint of heart – they are long, strenuous, and at high elevation so if you are feeling like a badass then they are for you!
Length: About 10 miles
Elevation gain: 580 ft
Type: Out and back
Start: Porcupine Creek Trailhead on Tioga Rd about a mile past Porcupine Flat Campground.
Views: Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
North Dome might be one of the most underrated hikes in Yosemite, the views alone make this one of the coolest hikes in the park. While there isn’t a ton of elevation gain the hike’s length is what makes this hike badass (well that and the views). Most of the hike is flat starting in the pine forest, and then you get a little bit of down hill as you navigate the granite mountain tops to descend on the North Dome peak.
From the top of North Dome you can see the entire Yosemite Valley, get an epic view of Half Dome and Clouds Rest, and see the backcountry of the park and Sierra Nevada mountains.
We did this hike in October when the weather wasn’t great – it rained a little and even started to snow at one point. Of course I’d left my rain jacket in my other backpack, so I was little soggy and bratty for a bit, but hey it’s type two fun! From the top we were actually able to see the storm starting to roll into the valley which meant it was time for us to go, you don’t want to be out on the trail or on top of a granite dome when inclimate weather sets in.
We didn’t encounter any springs or streams, but if you hike in the spring and early summer you may happen upon some snow melt that you’ll need to navigate around which is something to be aware of.
All the car camping essentials you’ll need!
Length: 12 miles
Elevation gain: 1,600 ft
Type: Out and back
Start: Ostrander Lake Trailhead off Glacier Point Road about half a mile after the Bridalveil Creek Campground, there is a parking lot at the trailhead. You can also start out the back of Bridalveil Creek campground if you are camping there.
Views: Pine forests, granite mountains, bright blue Ostrander Lake.
The Ostrander Lake hike is not your typical Yosemite hike with sweeping views and mountain tops, it’s more of a hike through the woods to a beautiful lake. 12 miles is a solid day’s worth of hiking, luckily the elevation gain is pretty gradual on the way out so the most strenuous part of this hike is the length, but you get the bonus of a down hill on the way back.
Once you get to the lake pull off your boots and dip your toes into the cool snow melt water, it feels so good, especially if it’s a hot day. We hung around the lake for a bit, had some lunch and checked out the little backcountry ski cabin nearby before heading back, it’s locked during the summer months but still cool to see.
We did this hike in early September, it was quite hot so remember to bring plenty of water and/or a water filter to filter water from the lake to replenish.
Length: About 6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Elevation gain: 2,000 ft
Type: Out and back
Start: May Lakes/Mount Hoffman Trailhead and parking lot are off Tioga Rd about 20 miles west of the Tioga Pass Park Entrance and about 2 miles down the road after the turn off.
Views: Sierra Nevada Mountains.
This hike may be short but man is it steep! You’ll start out under the cover of pine trees and make your way up via switch backs to May Lake. It’s a nice spot to take a little break in the shade as there won’t be too much of it once you start up the mountain from there. The last third of the hike or so is pretty gravely and rocky. It can be hard to keep track of the trail as there isn’t a whole lot of distinction between the rocks so keep an eye out for karins marking the way. There is a little bit of scrambling but I find that kind of stuff fun.
The views from the top might not be as spectacular as North Dome, you’ll feel pretty accomplished perched up on a rock surveying all the mountains below.
I did this hike in early September after a big snow year so there was still some snow on the ground in spots. Because of it’s high elevation snow tends to stick around even through the summer sometimes.
One thing to note is that May Lake is home to one of Yosemite’s five High Sierra Camps.
Length: About 6 miles
Elevation gain: 3,103 ft
Type: Out and back
Start: Just outside of the Tioga Pass Park Entrance, you can park in the pull outs on the side of the road, the trail starts right next to the entrance gate on what looks like a service road.
Views: Mono Lake on one side and the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the other side.
Mount Dana is probably the most badass hike in Yosemite (and why I saved it for last, because it’s my favorite). From a physical standpoint it is a hard hike at high elevation, and from a view standpoint it is just amazing, you’ll get two totally different views from each side of the peak. You’ll see granite peaks and Yosemite wilderness to the west and Mono Lake and the Mono Basin to the east, it’s pretty spectacular.
The first thing to know about hiking Mount Dana is that it’ not an official trail so it won’t be listed on any trail maps or have a trailhead marker. That being said the trail is well worn and it’s easy to find your way. From the bottom you’ll meander through Dana Meadows toward the Mount Dana, you’ll be able to pick it out because the rocks have a reddish tint making it stand out from the all the surrounding granite peaks. The hike gets more difficult the further up you go, by the end you will be scrambling up rocks and boulders. In the last quarter of the hike the trail kind of disappears among the rocks so be sure to look for karins marking the way.
This hike has quite a bit of elevation gain and you will be starting at a high elevation already (Tioga Pass is at 9,945 ft), so be weary of altitude sickness. Bring lots of water, take the ascent slowly, and if you start to feel sick head down to lower elevations.
We hiked Mount Dana in early September after a big snow year so there were still snow fields and patches around. Depending on the year and snow levels there is a good chance you’ll encounter a bit of snow near the top.
Planning your Yosemite Camping Trip
Yosemite has so much to offer in terms of hiking and outdoor fun. So if you are looking to challenge yourself and get a different view of the park these hikes are for you!
Always go out into the backcountry prepared, things like water, a jacket, and sunscreen are musts for any hiking excursion. I’ve got all my favorites listed below in a handy little guide. That way you don’t find yourself out on top of North Dome in the rain without a jacket!
My favorite gear
1.Hydration Backpack // 2. Compass Whistle // 3. Sunglasses // 4. Sunscreen // 5. Water Bottle // 6. Trail Map // 7. Guide Book // 8. Hiking Boots // 9. Rain Shell // 10. Hat // 11. Survival Bracelet // 12. Protein Bars // 13. Electrolyte Tablets // 14. Water Filter
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