Backpack to Nelson Lake

Elizabeth Lake Trailhead - Search Nearby - Added by Emily Noyd

Legendary off-trail backpacking in Yosemite without the crowds. Best kept secret for getting a permit in Tuolumne even during the busy season.

Head to any Yosemite wilderness station for a map, bear canister, and permit for Nelson Lake. The trail itself starts in the Tuolumne Campground at Elizabeth Lake trailhead. Follow the trail 2.2 miles up to Elizabeth Lake and remember the lake itself is in a no-camping zone, so you must continue before setting up camp. 

Continue off trail following Unicorn Creek south to a small pass between Johnson Peak and Cockscomb. Stay low and descend southwest along Echo Creek. After approximately 3 miles, veer east and uphill towards Nelson Lake. Sometimes there's cairns marking the path, but a map and navigation skills are crucial.

Nelson Lake is a beautiful spot to camp, with Rafferty Peak looming to the east. To continue the loop, follow the drainage north and northeast to Reymann Lake. Directly east of Reymann is a small pass between Rafferty Peak and Johnson Peak. Ascend for about a mile, then descend towards Rafferty Creek trail on the eastern side of the pass. Once you hit the well-worn trail, it's approximately 4 miles north to the junction with the JMT and an additional 2 easy miles back to the car.

Distance

17 Miles RT

Elevation Gain

1000 ft Gain

Type

Loop

Activities

Chillin, Camping, Fishing, Photography, Swimming, Backpacking, Hiking

Lake
Scenic
Wildflowers
Swimming Hole

Nearby Lodging

From $143/night

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge

Tioga Rd, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA 95389, USA

From $386/night

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel

Yosemite Valley, California

From $108/night

Housekeeping Camp

Yosemite Valley, California

From $90/night

Half Dome Village

Yosemite Valley, California

Community Photos

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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