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Hiking in Yosemite & the Hoover Wilderness

Lee Vining, California


Added by Kat Carney

Distance: 30 milesDuration: 2-3 days (depending on how fast you are)Endless alpine lakes, wildflowers, and mountain viewsRoute finding and physical challengePlenty of water sources and ideal backcountry camp spots

The starting point of this hike is at Saddlebag Lake in the Inyo National Forest, but because you cross over into Yosemite National Park and camp within the border you need to pick up a backcountry permit at the Tuolumne Meadows ranger station before you head out. There is a parking lot at the end of Saddlebag Lake Road.

From the parking lot you can pick one of two trails to go around the lake. We chose to go left and then followed the trail past Greenstone Lake. Shortly after that we left the trail and headed up the pass in between North Peak and Shepherd Crest East. There is Class 4 scrambling and down climbing going over this pass. At the top of the pass you can see Upper McCabe Lake. Start the long down climb and then stay to the right of the lake and continue northwest. We decided to go over another smaller pass, but you can also go around it.

On the backside of that we descended into the valley where Return Creek flows. We camped in the area, and then crossed the creek to join up with the Pacific Crest Trail the next morning. We arrived at Summit Lake, a beautiful and pristine alpine lake at over 10,000 ft, around 8 a.m. and decided an icy morning swim was calling to us. After lounging in the sun for a while we got back on the trail and followed it past several more lakes including, Frog Lake, Cooney Lake, Blue Lake, Big Virginia Lakes, and the Little Virginia Lakes. After exiting the trailhead we decided to walk along the road with our thumbs out to see if we could get back to our car in the Saddlebag Lake parking lot. Luckily, a woman with two kids stopped for us and we learned that we had met her husband and brother-in-law on the trail. She dropped us off at Saddlebag Lake Road and we hiked the 3 miles back to our car.

This is an advanced difficulty backpacking trip that requires route finding, class 4 scrambles and down climbing. Because part of this hike is in the backcountry, the distance depends on the route you choose.

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