Avoid the crowds of Yosemite Valley and enjoy the views of an area with the longest hiking season in the park.

Situated in the northwest portion of Yosemite National Park, Hetch Hetchy is is a not often visited treasure of the Central Sierra Nevada. In 1913, in an extremely controversial move, work on the O’Shaughnessy Dam was started to provide water to the growing population of San Francisco. Today, Hetch Hetchy is an enormous reservoir that offers almost year round hiking without the crowds of the valley floor. One caveat is that it can get uncomfortably hot in the summer due to its relatively low elevation. 

There are multiple options for back packing this area each with varying duration and mileage. The options are listed below. To backpack in this area, a wilderness permit is needed. You can reserve permits online and there are a limited number of first-come first-served permits available at the entrance to the park as well. It is possible to arrive right when the gate opens at 7AM and attempt to get these permits. If you arrive the night before your trip, there is a backpackers campground located close to the dam. A wilderness permit is required to stay at this campground and the gates are generally only open during daylight hours. 

All of the following hikes go past the booming Wapama Falls which are a highlight of the area. 

1 Night - Rancheria Falls - 12.6 miles roundtrip. 

This is a perfect weekend backpack especially if you are unable to start backpacking on Friday. One can start this hike from the O’Shaughnessy Dam on Saturday morning and still get a wonderful wilderness experience. The hike takes you along the northern side of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and ends at the roaring Rancheria Falls.


2 Nights - Vernon Lake and Rancheria Falls - 25.9 miles roundtrip

This hike is slightly harder than simply going to Rancheria falls, but you are rewarded with an amazing high alpine lake. This hike also allows you to make your trip into a loop that includes Rancheria Falls.

3 Nights - Laurel Lake, Vernon Lake and Rancheria Falls - 31.1 miles roundtrip

If you have three nights and want to spend it in the northern Yosemite Wilderness, this option is for you. It is very similar to the two night hike, but simply adds laurel lake into the loop. 

Bears are extremely active in this area so make sure you are following proper food storage techniques. 

Pack List

  • Tent
  • Sleep Pad and Bag
  • Backpack
  • Food & bear canister
  • Water and purifying equipment
  • Sturdy Boots
  • Map 
  • Photography Gear
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RT Distance 12.6 Miles
Elevation Gain 2500 Feet
Activities Chillin, Camping, Fishing, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking, Fitness
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Easy Parking
Forest
Groups
Lake
River
Romantic
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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