Leisurely Hikes in Yosemite

Tioga Road to Yosemite Valley
Distance : 21 miles.
Type : Shuttle trip.
Best season : Mid or late.
Topo maps : Tuolumne Meadows, Merced Peak, Yosemite, Tenaya Lake, Merced Peak, Half Dome.
Grade (hiking days/ recommended layover days) :
Leisurely 4/0
Moderate 3/0
Strenuous 2/0.
Trailhead : Cathedral Lakes Trailhead (28), Happy Isles (31

The John Muir Trail route, also called the Sunrise Trail, from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley is one of the Park's most famous and most used backpack routes. Its reputation is an honest one, for these miles contain a magnificent range of flora and fauna, and the trail surveys some of the Park's best-known landmarks. This is a fine trip for the beginning backpacker who has a couple of shorter trips under his or her belt, and wants more.

Trail Description (Leisurely trip)

1st and 2nd Hiking Days. Follow the previous trail description to Sunrise High Sierra Camp, 8.4 miles.

3rd Hiking Day (Sunrise High Sierra Camp to Sunrise Creek) 5.1 miles. The trail from Sunrise High Sierra Camp continues south through Long Meadow, undulating gently below the eastern crest of Sunrise Mountain. After climbing to a forested saddle over a mile past the meadows, the trail parallels the headwaters of Sunrise Creek, descending steeply by switchbacks down a rocky moraine.

This moraine is the largest of a series of ridgelike glacial deposits in this area, and the gigantic granite boulders along their sides testify to the power of the mer-de-glace that once filled Little Yosemite Valley and its tributaries. One such"erratic," about the size of a compact car, was found poised on the side of Moraine Dome to the southwest, and geologists have determined that it came from the slopes of the peaks at the northwest end of the Cathedral Range. At the foot of the morainal descent, the trail crosses Sunrise Creek, and then descends on a westward course to the fair campsites on Sunrise Creek (8080') 200 yards up the Forsyth Trail from our trail's junction with it. Fishing on Sunrise Creek is poor-to-fair for rainbow and brook (fry).

4th Hiking Day (Sunrise Creek to Yosemite Valley) 7.5 miles. First retrace your steps 200 yards south to the last junction. Back on the John Muir Trail, our route continues southwest on a gradual descent, passing the High Trail to Merced Lake. Our trail is bounded on the north by the Pinnacles (the south face of the Clouds Rest eminence) and on the south by Moraine Dome. Frangois Matthes, in an interesting "detective story" written in the form of a geological essay (Professional Paper 160), discusses Moraine Dome extensively. He deduced, using three examples (one was the "erratic" cited above), that the moraines around the dome were the product of at least two glacial ages a notion contrary to the thinking of the time. The morainal till of the last glacial age characterizes the underfooting of our descent into Little Yosemite Valley.

A mile from the last junction is a ford of Sunrise Creek in a red-fir forest whose stillness is broken by the creek's gurgling and by the occasional screams of Steller jays. In another mile we ford Sunrise Creek again (campsites), shortly ford a tributary (campsites), and then pass the trail to Clouds Rest (campsites). Broad, well-worn use trails to the campsites here may temporarily be mistaken for the main trail. About 1/2 mile from there is the lateral to Half Dome (about 4 miles round trip). From this junction our shady path switchbacks down through a changing forest cover.

There are improved campsites on Sunrise Creek at the foot of the descent, and more numerous ones along the Merced River south of the river trail. A summer ranger is on duty near the trail junction. This is prime bear territory, so be sure to secure your food.

From here, reverse the steps of the 1st hiking day to Yosemite Valley.

View: Overview Map

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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