Tuolumne County, California

Backpack to Nelson Lake

17 Miles Total - 1000 ft gain - Loop Trail

Originally 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.

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Tags

Chillin
Camping
Fishing
Photography
Swimming
Backpacking
Hiking
Lake
Scenic
Wildflowers
Swimming Hole

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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.

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