Leisurely Hikes in Yosemite

Tioga Road to Upper Cathedral Lake
Distance: 7.4 miles.
Type: Out and back trip.
Best season: Mid or late.
Topo maps: Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake.
Grade (hiking days/ recommended layover days) :
Leisurely 2/0
Moderate Day
Strenuous Day.
Trailhead: Cathedral Lakes Trailhead.

Used since the time of the Indians, this trail takes you past two of Tuolumne Meadows' famed granite domes, Fairview and Medlicott, to a charming lake below the area's foremost landmark, Cathedral Peak. The short mileage, gentle terrain, and excellent scenery make this an ideal trip for beginners. Fires are not permitted in Cathedral Basin.

Trail Description

1st Hiking Day (Cathedral Lakes Trailhead to Upper Cathedral Lake) 3.7 miles. From the parking area (8560') on the Tioga Road, we follow a gently ascending trail that is very dusty except after rain. This area is very popular with dayhikers as well as backpackers and is consequently overused. A few steps from the trailhead our route joins the John Muir Trail and then begins to climb more steeply. After 3/4 mile of ascent under a welcome forest cover, the trail levels off and descends to a small meadow that is boggy in early season. From here we can see the dramatically shaped tops of Unicorn Peak and the Cockscomb, and the apparent granite dome in the south is in reality the north ridge of Cathedral Peak, whose steeples are out of sight over the "dome's" horizon.

The trail cruises gently up and down through more little meadows set in hemlock forest and then dips near a tinkling stream whose source, we discover after further walking, is a robust spring on a shady set of switchbacks. Beyond this climb our tread levels off on the west slope of Cathedral Peak and makes a long, gentle, sparsely forested descent on sandy underfooting to a junction with the spur trail to lower Cathedral Lake: left (ahead, southeast) to upper Cathedral Lake, right (south) to lower Cathedral Lake. Lower Cathedral Lake is closed to camping, so we continue ahead, soon entering Cathedral Basin, throughout which fires are prohibited.

After an easy, mile-long climb we dip slightly into the shallow bowl that holds upper Cathedral Lake (9585'), where the sandy trail stays above and east of the lake. Rugged Tressider Peak lies southwest of the lake, while the delicate"steeples" of Cathedral Peak rise to the northeast. One of the unforgettable sights here is that of Cathedral Peak mirrored in the lake's still waters. The rounded, polished tops of the domes seen earlier prove that the domes were completely covered by ice, while the jagged summits of Cathedral and Tressider peaks prove that they stood a few hundred feet above the grinding ice and hence were not rounded and smoothed by it. Look for campsites well away from the water, on the gentle, forested slopes of this pretty bowl.

2nd Hiking Day. Retrace your steps, 3.7 miles.

View: Overview Map

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 26 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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