In our last blog post, I covered three of the five Yosemite National Park hikes from our Fall 2022 travels: Mount Watkins, May Lake, and Lembert Dome. This post will cover the remaining two, Cathedral Lakes and Elizabeth Lake.
The hike to Cathedral Lakes is an out-and-back route to a pair of glacial lakes in the Yosemite Wilderness. This is one of the busiest trails in the Tuolumne Meadows area according to the Yosemite National Park website. Its popularity is no surprise given its shared route with the iconic John Muir Trail. We got an early start on the trail and didn’t have a lot of company until our return hike.
The first part of the trail was a rocky path that climbed through the thick forest. It wasn’t crazy steep, but we felt the high elevation which began at 8,500 feet. We got a bit of a reprieve near the one mile mark and then we were once again climbing. Through breaks in the trees, were had occasional views of peaks to the north and then Cathedral Peak, the 10,911 foot peak that dominates both lakes. Near the top of the climb, we came to a well-signed trail split. To the right, a side trail dropped to Lower Cathedral Lake. To the left, the John Muir Trail dropped, then climbed to Upper Cathedral Lake.
We visited both lower and upper lakes on our hike. Both were surrounded by beautiful granite peaks and I would be hard pressed to tell you which I liked better–they were both stunning. I suppose if I had to pick a favorite it would be Lower Cathedral with its granite banks and gorgeous meadows with Cathedral Peak towering above. I highly recommend allowing time to visit both.
Typically, the trailhead for Cathedral Lakes is along the Tioga Pass Road at shuttle stop #7, a half mile west of the Tuolumne Visitor Center. There was a small parking lot and pull-outs along the road for hikers to park. During our visit, all parking in that area was closed off due to road construction and the trailhead had been moved back to the Visitor Center, increasing the hike’s length. The National Park Service states this is a 7.0 miles roundtrip hike with 1,000′ elevation gain. This mileage seems short and I’m wondering if that’s just to Upper Cathedral Lake. AllTrails states the hike to both lakes, starting from the usual trailhead, is 8.5 miles with 1,607 feet elevation gain. Our mileage for the day, starting at the Visitor Center and including hiking part way around each lake, was 11.0 miles with 1,700 feet gain.
Elizabeth Lake via the John Muir Trail
Being a sucker for glacier-carved mountain lakes, I put nearby Elizabeth Lake on our list. As with Cathedral Lakes, the typical trailhead (located in loop B of the Tuolumne Meadows Campground) was closed due to road construction. The best I could tell, our choices were to start at the Dog Lake parking area or at the Tuolumne Visitor Center. Both would add distance to the typically 4.8 mile roundtrip hike.
We decided to start our hike at the Dog Lake parking area since it would allow us to hike another section of the John Muir Trail. We started by following a short, but lovely section of the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River where we saw some pretty cascades. Past there, we were treated to the highly scenic Twin Bridges across the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. Continuing on, we followed a beautiful stretch of the Lyell Fork through the woods to the junction with the Elizabeth Lake Trail.
We turned south, leaving the John Muir Trail, and began a climb over the next mile and a half through lodgepole forest with little for views. Topping out we came to Unicorn Creek and views up to Unicorn Peak and the Cathedral Range. Less then half a mile further, we came to a signed fork in the trail directing us to the east side of the lake where we were treated to lovely fall colors along the lakeshore and views up to Unicorn Peak.
We hiked Elizabeth Lake exactly one week after Cathedral Lakes and saw significantly fewer people. Aside from the short stretch from Twin Bridges to the trailhead, we only saw a few other people making for a lovely day of solitude. Adding the John Muir and Twin Bridges section resulted in a 9.2 mile roundtrip hike with 1,200 feet elevation gain. Most of the day was easy hiking and I’d recommend the same route if you ever find yourself in Yosemite National Park.
The Adventure Continues
Please join us on our next adventure as we continue our Sierra Nevada adventures in the Hoover Wilderness. And don’t forget to check out our Amazon RV and Adventure Gear recommendations. We only post products that we use and that meet the Evans Outdoor Adventures seal of approval. By accessing Amazon through our links and making any purchase (even things as simple as toothpaste!), you get Amazon’s every day low pricing and they share a little with us. This helps us maintain this website and is much appreciated!