Here’s one of my best tips for enjoying your hike of the John Muir Trail: SIT DOWN every once in awhile!
Yes, I know you have your miles to walk each day, but hurrying past everything is no way to get the most out of your hike. (One way get your miles-per-day, by the way, and still have time for leisurely breaks, is to start early.)
For the next five posts I’m going to list some of my favorite spots to drop my backpack and take in the surroundings. Some will be great places to camp, others will be a great place to take a break, take a picture, or, perhaps, take a nap!
Top of Nevada Fall (~ 3.3 miles from Happy Isles) Map: I always take my first significant break of my hike at the top of Nevada Fall. I can’t think of a better place to pause, refresh, and regroup. By the time you reach the bridge over the Merced you will have ascended to almost 2,000 feet above the valley floor. If you’re stopping at Little Yosemite Valley, it means you’ve knocked off almost all of the climbing for the day.
The views from either side of the bridge (be sure to explore both) are amazing, the granite is flat & warmed by the sun, and, of course, the Merced surging over the lip of the fall is something to see.
There will normally be a dozen or more day-hikers in the area, who have either reached their goal for the day, or are heading on to the top of Half Dome. Enjoy their company; you’ll not see their likes again for a few days.
Sunrise High Sierra Camp (~13.9 miles from Happy Isles) Map: it’s not the view that recommends this spot, it’s the potable water and the companionship. Spend an hour or two here and I can almost guarantee you that someone interesting will pass by and start a conversation. Perhaps it will be a Ranger, a worker at the camp, or a fellow hiker. Regardless, they’ll have the latest skinny on what is going on in the area.
Upper Cathedral Lake (~3.6 miles from Sunrise Camp) Map: this is one of my favorite spots on the entire trail. The views of Cathedral Peak are terrific, and the lake itself sports a granite peninsula that juts out into the water like a pier. There are good camping grounds on the south and west sides. My recommendation is that you spend the night here, even if it means you camp early. A few hours exploring the lake will be time well spent. If you can’t stay the night, I’ve always found the serenity of the place perfect for a midday nap.
Lower Cathedral Lake (~1.5 miles past Upper Cathedral Lake) Map: this is a little more than a half mile off the trail, but it’s worth an extra few steps. If you decide you must get a little past the upper lake, consider stopping here instead.
Tuolumne Meadows (between 21 and 24.6 miles from Happy Isles) Map: cheeseburgers, fries, resupply, plumbing, and a night on a mattress if you’re so inclined. Need I say more?
Lots of Places Along the Tuolumne River in Lyell Canyon: if there is a single stretch of the John Muir Trail that stands out above all others, this is it. You will climb so slowly that you hardly notice and your constant companion will be the river. The great places to stop are almost unlimited, but my favorite is here.
The lake just below Donohue Pass (~7.5 miles from Tuolumne Meadows) Map: perched at the edge of the tree line, this little lake is a fabulous place to spend the night. Avoid the illegal campsite near the water and instead turn east and explore the higher ground. In the morning, cross the outlet stream to continue on up to Donohue Pass.
Rush Creek Drainage (~between 1 and 3 miles south of Donohue Pass) Map & Map: after the monumental scenery of Yosemite, the more subtle beauty of the Rush Creek drainage is a welcome change. Countless brooks and streams meander through short grass, all dotted with granite and stunted trees. It’s has all the feng shui of a well-tended Asian garden without a single gardener. The first portion is great for breaks; the latter portion better for camping.
Next week, the adventure continues.
Good hiking, Ray
One of the foremost delights of Tuolumne Meadows [Ed. note: I think Ken means Lyell Fork of Tuolumne River] is the limitless number of great swimming spots. Nothing like a mid day dip to refresh and recharge, and getting you prepared to head up Donahue Pass. A nice swim, a leisurely lunch, lay in the sun for a bit, and then back on trail. You will be fresh and energized, and zip right up. An added, plus is the delight of losing trail sweat and feeling clean.
You are absolutely right, Ken. A terrific stretch!
Good suggestions, but overnighting once at Lower Cathedral Lake the mosquitoes were worse than i’ve experienced anytime, anywhere in the world! I know this is seasonal, but I had the sense that they are thicker and more persistent there than almost anywhere else. They drove me crazy, and I had to spend most of the time zipped securely inside my tent! 🙁
I like camping on the solid granite there, just east of the lake, and haven’t noticed a skeeter problem. I’m sure there are times when they are thick! This demonstrates one of the reasons I like September for Sierra Nevada hiking. Thanks, Peter.
Gotcha. Probably was just the season, as that’s the only time I’ve stopped there. Your camp spot sounds like the one I was in. The lake is great, swimming was great. The skeeters have different crazytimes at different elevations, and the bad times only last a week or so in each place. Sept. is when you can count on very few, and it has a lot of advantages, but I do like warmer weather and shorter shadows up there.
For other readers, there is a lot of truth to Peter’s comment “skeeters have different crazytimes at different elevations”. The worse I’ve seen them was coming down Donohue Pass, of all places, a few years ago. The first time I ever used a headnet!
My wife and I have used the Cathedral Lakes (twice!) as destination backpack sites. We stayed each time for four days, and leading into the 4th of July insanity in Yosemite- still saw maybe 10 people a day tops. We love this idea of “base camp” backpacking as it really allows you to dig into an area exploring more of its nooks and crannies.
It is a wonderful place to explore. I was there one night when I heard a noise outside my tent and a few deer were less than ten feet away. None of them seems all that concerned when my ugly head poked out of the tent. Thanks, John.
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