The Ten Lakes Trail in Yosemite National Park is the perfect long day hike or backpacking trip. It’s often overlooked which means it’s less crowded than some of the other more popular Yosemite trails.
TEN LAKES TRAIL – YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
The Ten Lakes Trail shows off a lot of Yosemite’s diversity as it heads from the shady Upper Montane Forest through lodgepole pines and rid fir near the trailhead to the also shady Subalpine Forest (around Half Moon Meadow and Ten Lakes) and then on to the wide-open Alpine Zone near the Ten Lakes Pass, so bring some sunscreen for the heavily exposed section around the Alpine Zone. Enjoy the smells of the conifers as you trek through the forest… this is one of my favorite features of Yosemite National Park. Also, the views to the north and east after you crest the pass are simply amazing!
- Trailhead Location: Ten Lakes
- About 11 miles west on Tioga Road from the end of Tenaya Lake – parking on both sides of the road (Latitude, Longitude – 37.858401, -119.577445)
- Payoff Factor: 4.5
- (1 being “Meh…”, 5 being “Hike? What hike?”)
- Difficulty Factor: 3 (the climb from Half Moon Meadow is a 4)
- (1 being your Grandma can do this hike, 5 being you’ll feel like your Grandma when this hike is over)
- Length (Distance): 13.7 miles round-trip (this report includes a short side trip to an amazing view of Ten Lakes basin and two other lakes in the basin)
- Shorter Options:
- 12.6 miles – simply visit the first lake off the main trail and return from there
- 11.0 miles – hike to the overlook that forks to the left just after Ten Lakes Pass (the short side trail you can see as you crest the pass)
- Shorter Options:
- Length (Time): 6-8 hours
- Cumulative Elevation Gain: 3,228 feet
The amazing panoramic view of Ten Lakes Basin (center) and the Sierra Crest (far left):
When you arrive at the Ten Lakes trailhead, you will notice there is ample parking on both sides of Tioga Road. Most of the people completing this trail will be doing it as an overnight or multi-night backpacking trip combined with other trails from the Tioga Road area. While Ten Lakes would make for an excellent easy/moderate overnight trip with a good deal of top-notch campsites to choose from (don’t forget your permits), this trip report is for a day hike of about six to eight hours.
Half Moon Meadow is an excellent place to rest and refuel before you head up the pass:
The Ten Lakes trail follows a somewhat straight line to the northeast from Tioga Road up to Half Moon Meadow followed by a steep climb up to Ten Lakes Pass and then descends east to the lakes within the Ten Lakes basin. The trail is easy to follow, but pay close attention and keep an eye on the cairns when you are in the open granite sections. Hikers have found their way off the trail somewhat easily in these sections in recent history.
Just one of many High Sierra lakes in the Ten Lakes Basin:
This trail should be divided into three separate sections:
- Miles 0.0 – 4.3: The first section climbs gradually for just over four miles to Half Moon Meadow with partial views of Mt. Hoffman and the surrounding peaks (7,400ft to 8,800ft) along the way. There is plenty of shade on this section, so enjoy it!
- You will come to a stream crossing and trail junction (White Wolf campground) at about two miles… head straight here to continue to Ten Lakes.
- It is a good idea to do a short refuel at the meadow prior to heading up to the pass. Early in the season, you cross Yosemite Creek which can contain some swift water but don’t count on this being a reliable water source later in the summer.
- Miles 4.3 – 4.9: The second (and most difficult) section follows a steep grade for about a mile with convenient switchbacks as it climbs to Ten Lakes Pass (8,800ft to 9,600ft). There is an easy-to-follow side trail that forks left after the pass with superb views of the Ten Lakes Basin, the Sierra Crest, and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne.
- This section is a reliable water source early in the season as there are a couple of decent springs right off the trail before you leave the forest.
- There is a trail junction with Grant Lakes at the pass which heads a mile down towards Grant Lakes.
- Miles 4.9 – 6.3: The third (and easiest) section descends for about a half-mile from Ten Lakes Pass to the Ten Lakes Basin and heads around the largest lakes within the basin.
Ten Lakes Pass. The view of the Sierra Crest as you cross Ten Lakes Pass:
Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne. Notice the sheer drop into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne:
Yet another amazing High Sierra lake:
Follow the sections above in reverse as you head back to the trailhead to complete your hike.
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