Backpack to Waugh Lake
Yosemite › Agnew Meadows Trailhead
Added by Kevin Abernethy
This is a great side excursion if you are backpacking in the area. You can easily set up camp or make it a short side-trip to take a quick dip and relax.
There are several trailheads you can start at to get to the lake, but we chose the River Trail in Agnew Meadows because it was the only trailhead that hadn't met the quota yet. You can check on permit's and trailheads here. If the River Trail is booked other great options are Shadow Creek, Fish Creek, or the High Trail. Regardless of your trailhead if you are starting in Red's Meadow, Devil's Postpile, or Agnew Meadows you will more than likely have to take the park shuttle so be sure to check on the details of the shuttle before you start your trip.
Starting from the River Trail in Agnew Meadows you are 11 miles from the lake, you will head northwest until you hit Rush Creek where you will see the sign directing you to turn northeast to head towards Waugh Lake. The River Trail is easy to navigate and after 6.5 miles you jump on the Pacific Crest trail and in 7.5 miles you are on the John Muir Trail. When you hit the junction at Rush Creek you are only 0.5 miles and about 200 feet of elevation gain from the lake. Crossing Rush Creek is fairly simple, but be cautious if you are crossing when water levels are above average. You will arrive at the lake on the west end and there are several spots to relax for lunch or to swim. The lake is an artificial lake so there is a dam on the far east side. If you want to see the dam it is 1.8 miles from the west side of the lake and you will follow the trail the entire way. I recommend relaxing on the north side for great afternoon views of the Sierra's.
Waugh Lake is more of a side excursion on a point to point trip. There are several locations you can hike to from the lake; you can continue east to Gem lake, head back to the PCT/JMT and move southeast towards Thousand Island or Garnet Lake or you can continue northwest to hit Donahue Pass and continue in to Yosemite. We swam and chilled at the lake for a couple of hours and then set up camp right before we hit Donahue Pass. Whatever your final destination may be I recommend stopping at Waugh Lake to get away from the traffic on the popular JMT and PCT, or to just cool off from the journey.
Bear canisters are required, but be careful with the Marmots too. We had one that kept trying to get in our bags while we were swimming in the lake. It finally gave up after we moved everything closer to the water.
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Ansel Adams is awesome!
Beautiful photos and accurate description of this trip! Backpacking in the Ansel Adams Wilderness is a special experience. Waugh Lake is one of many fantastic destinations out there! If you plan to get there from the JMT North (over Donohue Pass from the west), you'll need a permit from Yosemite National Park.
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