The trail leading to Merced Lake begins at the Happy Isles Trailhead in the eastern end of Yosemite Valley. Backpackers can parking in the backpackers parking area immediately east of Curry Village Day-Use Parking Area. This trek can be completed in two nights and three days, but more time is always better in this spectacular backcountry.
Begin hiking from the southeastern edge of the backpackers parking area. Within half a mile the trail intersects a trail that leads eastward to Happy Isles. Bear left on this trail and cross a boggy area on some logs. Across this bog you'll enter the Happy Isles Trailhead area. Continue walking east an across a bridge to a stream gauge. The John Muir Trail begins here leading southward. Follow this trail to the Vernal Bridge where Mist Trail leads left along the river. Follow the John Muir Trail to the right bypassing Mist Trail.
Separating from Mist Trail at an elevation of 5,500 feet the John Muir Trail climbs a series of switchbacks to Clark Point. Beyond Clark Point the John Muir Trail continues to climb but less steeply. One mile from the Clark Point Trail, the Panorama Trail begins leading southward. Continue walking northeastward past Nevada Fall and toward Liberty Cap.
Almost one half mile from Panorama Trail Mist Trail and John Muir Trail join on the northern shore of the Merced River. Bear right at this junction. One mile from the end of Mist Trail is a fork. Follow the right side of the fork into Little Yosemite Valley. The next two and a half miles through this river valley are level, but the trail surface is sandy making it tough on the ankles.
At the eastern end of the valley you'll pass Moraine Dome and begin gaining elevation. There are a few backcountry campsites through the valley that are more desirable, and quiet, than those at the backcountry campground at Little Yosemite Valley. The elevation of the valley is approximately 6,000 feet. Passing Moraine Dome the elevation is 6,200 feet. In the next mile the trail follows the river closely. It begins to switchback near Bunnell Cascade, then turns sharply southward to cross the river. The next mile leads to Bunnell Point, a 1,900 foot cliff.
The trail reaches 7,200 feet then turns eastward following the rive into Echo Valley. About a mile and a half east of Bunnell Point the trail reaches the High Trail to Merced Lake. This route can be used on your return trip. It is less scenic and has more elevation gain than the lower Merced Lake Trail.
If you bear right and continue walking eastward you'll travel through Echo Valley. At the eastern end of the valley is Merced Lake. Follow the river to this alpine beauty, which lies at 7,216 feet. Camping is not permitted on the lake shore, but a dispersed camping area is available at the northeastern end of the lake.
Directions: From Arch Rock Entrance, Follow Highway 140 into Yosemite Valley. Bear right on to Southside Drive and follow it to either Curry Village Day-Use Area or the Backpackers Parking Area. The trail begins from the Backpackers Parking/Happy Isles Trailhead.
Elevation: 4,020 feet
Ending Elevation: 7,216 feet
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