The 8 Best Backpacking Trips in Yosemite

By Michael Lanza

After more than three decades of exploring all over Yosemite on numerous backpacking trips, I’ve learned two big lessons about it: First of all, few places inspire the same powerful combination of both awe and adventure. And Yosemite’s backcountry harbors such an abundance of soaring granite peaks, waterfalls, lovely rivers and creeks, and shimmering alpine lakes—plus, over 700,000 acres of designated wilderness and 750 miles of trails—that you can explore America’s third national park literally for decades and not run out of five-star scenery.

Yosemite exceeds expectations in many ways, including this truth: Its reputation for crowds just doesn’t square with the reality of backpacking throughout most of the park. Yes, Yosemite Valley sees insane numbers of tourists, and a few of the park’s trails—like the Mist Trail and Half Dome—are among the most popular in the country.

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May Lake in Yosemite National Park.
May Lake in Yosemite National Park.

But most of the park’s backcountry isn’t crowded. I once interviewed a retired backcountry ranger who’d worked for 37 years in Yosemite, 25 years as wilderness manager, and had hiked every trail in Yosemite “probably about 10 times.” He told me that only about 10 percent of the park’s hundreds of miles of trails—from Happy Isles to Donohue Pass (mostly the John Muir Trail) and the Sierra High Camps loop—accounts for about 80 percent of all trail use. Little Yosemite Valley alone accounts for almost 20 percent. And the average length of backpacking trips is just two nights.

Consequently, he said, “There are areas of the park where you will see very few people.”

A hiker on Half Dome's cable route in Yosemite National Park.
Mark Fenton scaling Half Dome’s cable route in Yosemite.

Wander into the park’s vast backcountry and you will find some of the very best scenery in Yosemite—along with a surprising degree of solitude.

This article describes the eight best backpacking trips in Yosemite, from the core between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows—including Half Dome—to the John Muir Trail, the Clark Range and southeast corner, and the vast wilderness of northern Yosemite. These trips range in length from roughly 30 miles to nearly 90 miles, and from beginner friendly to serious adventures in the park’s wildest corners.

I’ve backpacked all of these trips—and others across Yosemite—over more than three decades of getting to know this park very well, including the 10 years I spent as a field editor with Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog.

Each trip described below has a link to a story about it that provides more detail (reading those stories in full, including key trip-planning details, requires a paid subscription), and some descriptions have a link to one of my three Yosemite e-guides, which provide much more detail on how to plan and prepare for that trip.

See my expert e-guides to three great backpacking trips in Yosemite—including “The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite”—and my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how I can help you plan any of these classic adventures, variations of them, another Yosemite trip, or any trip you read about at The Big Outside.

Please tell me what you think of the trips described below, share your questions, or suggest your own favorite backpacking trip in Yosemite in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.

Plan your next great backpacking adventure in Yosemite and other flagship parks using my expert e-guides.


A view from the John Muir Trail of Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park.
A view from the John Muir Trail of Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Fall in Yosemite. Click photo for my e-guide “The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.”

Understanding Yosemite’s Wilderness Permit System

In Yosemite, wilderness permit reservations are issued based on daily trailhead quotas on the number of people, which vary between trailheads, with special rules for backpacking the John Muir Trail. For trips from April 28 through Oct. 22, 60 percent of trailhead quotas can be reserved through a rolling lottery at that begins on the Sunday up to 24 weeks in advance of the date you want to start hiking and runs for a week, with the lottery for each specific window of dates closing at 11:59 p.m. the following Saturday.

For example, to start a trip between Aug. 6-12, 2023, submit your application between Feb. 19 and Feb. 25, 2023.

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Looking northeast from Mule Pass in Yosemite National Park.
Looking northeast from Mule Pass in remote northern Yosemite. Click photo to read about this trip.

The remaining 40 percent of permits are made available at at 7 a.m. Pacific Time up to seven days in advance of a trip start date. But popular trailheads—including Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley and most of the trailheads in the Tuolumne Meadows area—will often fill during the first lottery week that dates become available. There are lower-demand trailheads in the park where you can more likely reserve a permit without applying 24 weeks in advance.

See “How to Get a Yosemite or High Sierra Wilderness Permit” and my “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”

Yosemite’s Best Backpacking Trips

A backpacker hiking over Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park.
Jeff Wilhelm backpacking over Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park. Click the photo for my e-guide “The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.”

Yosemite Valley to Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and Sunrise

A hiker on "The Visor" of Half Dome, above Yosemite Valley.
Todd Arndt on “The Visor” of Half Dome, above Yosemite Valley.

Planning your first backpacking trip in Yosemite and want to hit all the famous highlights—on a route that’s also beginner-friendly? Take this 37.2-mile hike from Happy Isles Trailhead in Yosemite Valley.

It loops through the core of the park, including the Mist Trail past 317-foot Vernal Fall and 594-foot Nevada Fall, the cable route up Half Dome, the spectacular summit of Clouds Rest, a section of the John Muir Trail, and a view of the Cathedral Range from your campsite at Sunrise.

This may be the most popular backpacking trip in Yosemite; it starts from the most popular trailhead, Happy Isles, and includes at least one night at the most popular backcountry campground, Little Yosemite Valley. Expect a lot of competition for this permit and plan alternative routes in case you don’t get it.

Read more about this hike in my blog post “Where to Backpack First Time in Yosemite,” and find much more detailed information on how to pull it off, including variations of this route and insider tips in getting a permit for it, in my e-guide “The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.”

See also my tips on hiking Half Dome.

I can help you plan any trip you read about at my blog—and I know the tricks for getting a Yosemite wilderness permit. Click here to learn more.


Backpackers hiking to Vogelsang Pass in Yosemite National Park.
Backpackers hiking to Vogelsang Pass in Yosemite National Park. Click photo for my e-guide to this trip.

Tuolumne Meadows to Tenaya Lake

The roughly 30-mile traverse from the Rafferty Creek Trailhead at the eastern end of Tuolumne Meadows to the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead at Tenaya Lake features not only those two amazing spots, but the panorama of mountains from Vogelsang Pass, the beautiful canyon of the Merced River, the view of the Cathedral Range from Sunrise, and relatively quiet sections of trail.

This hike passes three of the park’s High Sierra Camps— Vogelsang, Merced Lake, and Sunrise—where you can stay in tent cabins and have all meals prepared for you, or stay in DIY backpacker campgrounds. This route is popular because it’s relatively accessible, scenic, and offers the convenience of using the free shuttle buses that operate between trailheads throughout the Tuolumne area.

This is described as an alternative route in my e-guide “The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite,” which provides a wealth of information on how to prepare for and take a backpacking trip in Yosemite.

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White Cascade (Glen Aulin Falls), near Glen Aulin in Yosemite National Park.
White Cascade (Glen Aulin Falls), near Glen Aulin in Yosemite National Park. Click photo for my expert help planning your Yosemite trip.

The High Sierra Camps Loop

One of the park’s most popular and scenic multi-day hikes, this roughly 47-mile loop from Tuolumne Meadows offers a signature Yosemite experience on a highlights tour around the Cathedral Range to the five High Sierra Camps: Glen Aulin, May Lake, Sunrise, Merced Lake, and Vogelsang.

A hiker on the John Muir Trail below Cathedral Peak, Yosemite National Park.
Heather Dorn hiking the John Muir Trail in Yosemite.

You’ll enjoy views of granite domes and Cathedral Peak’s distinctive sharp profile; overlooks of the magnificent Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River and several waterfalls, including 594-foot Nevada Fall from a perch near its brink; gorgeous May Lake, Tenaya Lake, and Merced Lake; wildflower-choked meadows and crystalline creeks—and a surprisingly amount of solitude on sections of the loop, considering its easy access from several points.

There are ways to shorten the loop or lengthen it, options for side hikes to more lakes, waterfalls, and summits—including two of the best in Yosemite, Mount Hoffmann and Clouds Rest—and create alternate routes or start and finish from various trailheads, all of which can help you obtain a highly coveted wilderness permit. It’s also a beginner-friendly hike feasible for families and new backpackers, with amenities like toilets in all the backpacker campgrounds adjacent to the High Sierra camps (and the option of booking tent cabins in a High Sierra camp for every night and carrying only a daypack).

See photos and more about this area of the park in my stories “Where to Backpack First Time in Yosemite” and “Best of Yosemite: Backpacking South of Tuolumne Meadows,” and find more detailed information on planning variations of this route in my e-guide “The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.”

A backpacker hiking Indian Ridge, overlooking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
Jeff Wilhelm backpacking Indian Ridge, overlooking Half Dome in Yosemite. Click photo to read about “Yosemite’s Best-Kept Secret Backpacking Trip.”

Yosemite Valley’s North Rim to Ten Lakes Basin

The 45-mile near-loop from Tioga Road may best illustrate the opportunities Yosemite offers to enjoy some of the park’s marquis scenery without running into conga lines of backpackers or dayhikers. The route scampers along one rim of Yosemite Valley—including one of the best Valley overlooks—and explores a lakes basin at 9,000 feet before finishing at one of the park’s prettiest lakes.

A friend and I spent our first evening in the backcountry alone atop a dome, soaking in a horizon that spanned from Half Dome to El Capitan and beyond; our second night beside a beautiful creek after a day of seeing few other people; and our third evening overlooking a lake, while hiking for hours at a time each day in solitude. And yet, almost incomprehensively, this area doesn’t see nearly the same demand for a coveted wilderness permit as Yosemite’s most popular trailheads. You could say this hike is hiding in plain sight.

I wrote about this trip in my feature story “Yosemite’s Best-Kept Secret Backpacking Trip,” which includes my tips on planning it yourself.

Planning your next big adventure? See “America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips
and “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites.”

Backpackers hiking over Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park.
Todd Arndt and Jeff Wilhelm backpacking over Clouds Rest in Yosemite. Click photo for my e-guide “The Best Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.”

The Clark Range and Southeast Yosemite

A backpacker at dawn above the Lyell Fork Canyon of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park.
Mark Fenton at dawn above the Lyell Fork Canyon of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park.

This 74-mile hike south of Tuolumne Meadows is arguably the best trip in the park for backpackers who are ready for a remote wilderness trek but still want to tag some iconic, must-see landmarks like thunderous, 594-foot-tall Nevada Fall and two of Yosemite’s best summits: Half Dome high above Yosemite Valley, and Clouds Rest, with a 360-degree panorama from its nearly 10,000-foot summit that encompasses most of the park.

It shows off granite domes and peaks in places like Tuolumne and Vogelsang and crosses Red Peak Pass in the Clark Range—the highest pass reached by a trail in Yosemite—and the granite basins and tarns, lakes, and creeks at the headwaters of the Merced River.

I wrote about this trip in my feature story “Best of Yosemite: Backpacking South of Tuolumne Meadows,” which has many photos and a video as well as trip-planning information. You will find much more detail on planning this trip in my e-guide “The Best Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.”

See some of Yosemite’s best scenery on “The 12 Best Dayhikes in Yosemite.”


A backpacker in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park.
Todd Arndt backpacking in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park. Click photo to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River

The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park.
The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River.

Think of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River as a wilderness version of Yosemite Valley—without the roads, buildings, cars, and throngs of people—that’s twice as long. The Tuolumne River plunges through innumerable waterfalls and swimming holes between towering walls of granite, and the trail variously follows the river and climbs high above it. With a shuttle between trailheads, you can hike the canyon on a three- to four-day traverse of a bit over 30 miles from Tuolumne Meadows to White Wolf (west of Tenaya Lake) via Glen Aulin; or in the other direction, White Wolf to Tuolumne.

Or hike from Tuolumne Meadows down as far as you like into the canyon, then turn around and retrace your steps back out. That option is not only logistically easier, but it allows you to backpack partway down the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, grab one of the many great campsites for two nights, and dayhike farther down the canyon with a light pack on your middle day.

If you hike from Tuolumne Meadows all the way to Pate Valley, at the southern end of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, and return the same way, the total out-and-back distance is 39 miles.

I wrote about the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne as part of a longer trip in my feature story  “Best of Yosemite: Backpacking Remote Northern Yosemite,” which has many photos and a video as well as trip-planning information. Backpacking the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne is also included in my e-guide “The Best Remote and Uncrowded Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.”

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A backpacker hiking Indian Ridge, overlooking Half Dome, in Yosemite National Park.
Jeff Wilhelm backpacking Indian Ridge, overlooking Half Dome, in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Valley’s North Rim

The area from Yosemite Valley’s North Rim to Tioga Road attracts little attention from backpackers—who tend to focus on the trails and highlights on the other side of Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome—making it easier to get a wilderness permit reservation for backpacking there. And yet, this area is easily accessible from several trailheads and offers a variety of opportunities for three- to four-day, family- and beginner-friendly, moderate backpacking trips with stunning scenery and a surprising degree of solitude, given the difficulty of reaching most of the North Rim on a dayhike.

Yosemite Creek in Yosemite National Park.
Where we camped by Yosemite Creek in Yosemite National Park.

Backpackers traverse the Valley’s North Rim from North Dome—known for having one of the best views of the Valley and Half Dome—to Upper Yosemite Falls, where you can stand near the brink of a thunderous waterfall that plunges a sheer 1,430 feet. When a friend and I backpacked through here, we camped one night by ourselves on an unnamed granite dome overlooking the Valley and another night—again, with no other backpackers anywhere near us—by an energetic creek.

Numerous itineraries are possible from trailheads west of Tenaya Lake on Tioga Road or in Yosemite Valley—the former much less busy and entailing less elevation gain and loss, the latter logistically easier thanks to free shuttle buses but physically demanding because your first day requires hiking at least 2,500 feet uphill.

Read about and see photos of backpacking through this area in my story “Yosemite’s Best-Kept Secret Backpacking Trip.”

A backpacker in Matterhorn Canyon, Yosemite National Park.
Todd Arndt backpacking in Matterhorn Canyon, Yosemite National Park. Click photo to read about this trip.

Northern Yosemite

When you’re ready to explore as deeply into the Yosemite backcountry as a person can wander, this 87-mile trek is the high adventure for you. It follows a meandering route north of Tuolumne Meadows, diving into the park’s biggest, loneliest, and most remote chunk of wilderness.

A hiker on the summit of Mount Hoffmann, Yosemite National Park.
Todd Arndt on the summit of Mount Hoffmann.

Its many highlights include the rock gardens of Matterhorn Canyon beneath 12,264-foot Matterhorn Peak; three 10,000-foot passes (including Burro Pass, shown in lead photo at top of story); the sprawling, sandy beach at Benson Lake; the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River; pretty May Lake; and the 10,850-foot summit of Mount Hoffmann, often described as having “the best 360 in Yosemite.”

While you are likely to see other backpackers in camps, especially at lakes, northern Yosemite also gifts you with the longest stretches of solitude.

I wrote about this trip in my feature story  “Best of Yosemite: Backpacking Remote Northern Yosemite.” You will find much more detail on planning this trip in my e-guide “The Best Remote and Uncrowded Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.”

See all of my stories about backpacking in Yosemite National Park at The Big Outside.

Tell me what you think.

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22 thoughts on “The 8 Best Backpacking Trips in Yosemite”

  1. Michael –
    Always enjoy reading your posts, great pics, great info that is insightful and so helpful too. Have done several of your hikes over the past years and will continue to knock out your list of “best backpacking trips in America”.
    We’re looking to get in 4-5 days backpacking Yosemite in April on our teenage kids spring break next year, tioga and glacier point roads will be closed still but was wondering if you’ve done in multi day hikes in the Hetch Hetchy region or another region in April? Figured with its altitude being the lowest area of the park, would be a great place to explore…. Thoughts?

    • Thanks for the nice compliment, Adam, I appreciate that. I have backpacked in the Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite (and I’ve helped other readers plan a trip there through my Custom Trip Planning), it has some nice lakes and creeks and Hetch Hetchy itself is gorgeous. It also melts out earlier than higher areas of the park, but April and even May would still be too early, with snow covering the ground pretty deeply. I’d say you don’t want to plan on going there earlier than June; recent summers have seen the snow largely gone from that area by sometime in June. It can also get buggy there in early summer.

      I hope that helps. Good luck. Get in touch anytime.

  2. Hi Michael

    I have never been to Yosemite before and have time for a 4 day 3 night trip. I have permits for the Grand Canyon of the Tuolomne from White Wolf, but am debating if it is worth trying to snag last minute permits for Happy Isles and do a more classic part of the park including Cloud’s Rest and either Merced Lake or Sunrise.

    The disadvantage of. the Grand Canyon is the logistics of getting to the start of the hike from Tuolomne Meadows.
    Otherwise, am I missing out on the main attractions of the park, or should stick with the permits I have?

    I know there is no right answer, just curious to hear your thoughts.

    • Hi Avi,

      It really comes down to what kind of trip you’re looking for, as you have probably already considered, but I’ll try to add some details that may help you decide. While the logistics may be problematic, the GC of the Tuolumne River is magnificent, much less busy than the park’s core area (Happy Isles, Half Dome, Sunrise, Merced Lake). Having done it before I’d still go through there again. And it’s not an “easy” permit to get.

      That said, Clouds Rest is arguably the best summit in the park and the Mist Trail is unforgettable (better done very early in the morning, before the crowds flow in) and if you’re able to get a walk-in permit for it, including Half Dome, that would be a coup.

      There’s no harm in asking about permit availability and making a choice based on knowing exactly what options you have. Either way, I can just about guarantee you’ll want to return there, anyway.

      I hope that helps some. Good luck. You’ll have a memorable hike whatever you choose.

  3. Hiu Michael, Great article as always. I like very much like articles with lists of top hikes, as it helps me plan future trips. Question for you. One of the 7 best is listed as “Yosemite Valley’s North Rim”. But I am not sure how this is different from your other listed hike of “North Rim to Ten Lakes Basin hike? In other words, I am not really sure what specific trails are being referred to in the “Yosemite Valley’s North Rim” section, and it seems that the “North Rim to Ten Lakes Basin hike already covers the best of the North Rim?.

    One suggestion that would help me a lot is if, for each backpacking trip that you describe, you included a map with the specific hike highlighted. Very often I find myself scratching my head studying your itinerary and trying to discern the actual hiking route you took, as often the places you mention in your article do not appear on the map. Having a map with your route highlighted would make it so much easier to follow along.

    • Hi Jeffrey,

      Thanks for that question, I’d be happy to explain that. Yes, North Rim to Ten Lakes Basin is a longer version of the hike to Yosemite Valley’s North Rim; the latter has different possible starting and finishing trailheads and the first/longer trip has fewer ways to create a long loop hike.

      The full feature story about each trip (see the links in each description in this story) provides detailed tips on planning it, including recommended maps. Anyone can read part of those stories for free but reading them entirely, including those planning tips, requires paid subscription to The Big Outside. And I can help you plan one of these trips through my Custom Trip Planning.

      I’m glad you asked. Thanks for reading my blog and keep in touch.

  4. Hello – I purchased your e-guide “The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite National Park.” We plan to follow your trail and camp the first night in Little Yosemite Valley, Sunrise the 2nd night, back to Little Yosemite Valley the third night. We got the “Happy Isles->Little Yosemite Valley” wilderness permit. Looking into this further, it appears to continue to Sunrise we may need the “Happy Isles-> Past LYV”. I was hoping you could help clarify if we may proceed with the route outlined in your guide with the permit we have. Thank you!

    • Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for buying my e-guide “The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite” and congrats on getting a permit. You have the correct permit for Little Yosemite Valley on the first night. From there, you can choose where you want to camp on subsequent nights and Sunrise is the logical next camp. The “Happy Isles>Past LYV” permit is for hiking past Little Yosemite on the first night.

      You’re going in two weeks—end of May/early June? Have you checked snow conditions? The higher trails would normally still be deep in snow in early June. I suggest you call the Wilderness Information office to talk to a ranger about snow levels (and any other questions you might have): 209-372-0826. I’ve found that they often return messages left within a day but know that the number their return call comes from may be different and not one you recognize, so answer any call like that.

      Thanks again and good luck.

  5. Michael,

    Not that I want more people to “discover” Yosemite, but it’s important for folks to know “you can’t go wrong” in Yosemite. It is truly awe-inspiring. I love the Northern Yosemite suggestion you make as it is far less traveled. My challenge with “best hikes in Yosemite” is they generally all include the same handful of famous locations/treks.

    Last year—in search of something “new”—I pulled a permit to solo hike the rim around the valley. I entered near Bridalveil Falls hiking to Inspiration Point and along the rim hitting Glacier Point, Panorama Trail to Little Yosemite Valley, over Clouds Rest to Tenaya Lake, Olmstead Point to the Snow Creek Trail, North Dome, Yosemite Falls, El Cap, and down by Cascade Creek. I intended to take Rockslides trail, but the condition of that trail is horrendous.

    All in about 65 miles, 19k feet up and 19k down. Brutal, but worth every step. If you’re looking for something different, but hitting all the highlights—this is it.


    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for that excellent suggestion, sounds like a beautiful hike. I agree with your points that you can’t go wrong in Yosemite and northern Yosemite is less traveled—partly because it requires time and effort and people have more space to spread out. I love the hike you described, too, all great terrain. I’ve hiked much of that and, coincidentally, I have a permit for later this summer for a four-day hike starting at the Snow Creek Trailhead on Tioga Road and looping down along the North Rim of Yosemite Valley and north of Tioga Road. I’m really excited about that and will, of course, write about it here.

      Keep in touch!

  6. Hi Michael!

    My name is Yana! My group and I (3 people) are coming to Yosemite in about two weeks and plan to stay in the wilderness for 5 nights. We’ve received a wilderness permit starting from and coming back to Yosemite Valley. We do have all the needed equipment and food but just need some creative itinerary ideas! We are experienced hikers and been to Yosemite previously, however, this time we will spend much more time in the wilderness than before.

    Would you mind helping us out with the trip itinerary?

    Thank you very much!

    • Hi Yana,

      Congrats on your Yosemite permit and upcoming backpacking trip. It’s one of my favorite parks (as it is for many backpackers) and I also have a permit for a trip there later this summer.

      You’re arriving early in the season, when there’s still a lot of snow in the high country, which may affect your plans, although I know the High Sierra has had low snowfall this year.

      I can help you plan that trip itinerary. See my Custom Trip Planning page to learn how. It may be best if we communicate via email first about your permit details. You can contact me at

      Thanks for the question.

  7. Hi Michael, I’m planning a short solo trip on the North Rim Trail of Yosemite for 2021 (3-4 day getaway from my hometown of Sacramento). Even though the demand for this section of the park is not as high as the other side of the valley and JMT, I’ll still apply for a permit 24 weeks ahead of time. I’m flexible on timing. So, in your opinion, when is the ideal time to take this trip?

    • Hi Eric,

      Thanks for the question and for your past purchases of a couple of my e-guides.

      Yea, Yosemite Valley’s North Rim is kind of overlooked by backpackers and it’s pretty nice. You’re still smart to apply for the permit 24 weeks in advance to get the itinerary you want.

      My answer to your question would be the same for anywhere in the High Sierra: late summer, between roughly the third week of August and the middle to third week of September (even though there’s a low chance of snow as you get deeper into September). The clouds of mosquitoes of July and early August are usually greatly dissipated or gone, snow has mostly melted out of the high country, and the afternoons aren’t quite a baking hot as mid-summer. It’s not terribly unusual for the nice weather to last into October.

      For Yosemite’s North Rim, you may want to go in August while waterfalls and creeks are still relatively full. Upper Yosemite Falls is a great spectacle and it does often dry up by late summer or fall.

      Have a great hike.

  8. Hi Michael,

    Was happy to find you and your site while doing research on a (hopefully) upcoming Yosemite High Sierra Camps Loop early July ?. I read and enjoyed your article in Backpacker “The High Life: High Sierra Camps, CA”.

    Finally pieced together reservations for a full High Sierra camp loop that I am planning on doing with my 3 kids, ages 17-21.

    My question: I am not able to find a descriptions of the loop going clockwise: Tuolumne, Vogelsang, Merced, Sunrise, May Lake, Glen Aulin, then out. All articles including the one in Backpacker are described going in the counterclockwise direction.

    Can you imagine the trip in reverse (clockwise)? Seem like a winner? Any other thoughts on this?

    Up until a couple years ago I was in the (mostly) International adventure travel biz (Trekking, climbing non-tech peaks , etc). Worked with Scott Fischer at Mountain Madness until 1996. I had my own company, Rare Air expeditions, until recently.

    I love your model. I will certainly use you for upcoming trips with my kids (seems like a bargain to work with you).

    Thank you.


    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the kind words, I’m glad you found my blog. I’ve backpacked throughout the area of Yosemite you’re referencing and past all of the High Sierra camps (and stayed in the backpacker camps at a few of those places). It’s beautiful hiking. I’ve also hiked most of the trails to those camps in both directions, and I don’t see any reason to recommend one direction over the other—either direction is fine and probably no harder or easier than the other.

      One consideration might be that if you finish at Glen Aulin, you’d have an easy, almost flat hike of two to three hours out to the road in Tuolumne Meadows. If you finish at May Lake, the side hike up Mount Hoffmann would put an excellent exclamation point on a fine trip, and the hike from May Lake down to the road is easier and probably two hours or less. See also my story “The 10 Best Dayhikes in Yosemite” for details about Hoffmann.

      I believe you were probably referencing my Custom Trip Planning service, and I’d be happy to help you plan a future trip.

      Get in touch anytime, and have a wonderful hike on the Yosemite High Sierra camps loop.

  9. Any good spring backpacking recommendations for Yosemite in a low snow year? Thinking of going next month. Definitely don’t want anything super technical, nothing more than crampons/snowshoes and an ice axe. Just 1-2 nights.

    • Hi Bill,

      I’ve heard the Sierra snowpack is lower than normal so far this winter, but I have not done any research into actual snow levels in Yosemite, so I don’t want to make absolute suggestions to you without that information. Limited road access to the park will greatly limit your options, maybe just to the Yosemite Valley environs, and I have not looked into winter regulations on backcountry camping there. Snow will certainly cover the ground, and fairly deeply in the higher elevations around Yosemite Valley. My best suggestion is that you contact the backcountry office and talk to a ranger about safe options that are free of avalanche hazard. Good luck.

  10. Thanks so much for the article…awesome…I am looking for a loop backpacking options in Yosemite. Any suggestions?

    • I’m glad you found this story helpful. Read the trip descriptions above closely and you’ll see that four of the five are either loops (beginning and ending at the same trailhead) or are served by the park’s free shuttle bus in the Tuolumne area along Tioga Road, so effectively are like loops in that the transportation logistics are easy. Look at a trail map of the park and you’ll see there are variations off these routes that are true loops.

      If you’d like my help planning your trip, see my Custom Trip Planning page for more on that. Thanks for reading my blog and for your comment.