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Yosemite National Park, California, United States

Lyell Canyon-Vogelsang Loop

A tramp through the heart of Yosemite's Cathedral Range.

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Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 20 miles / 32 km
Duration: Multiple days
 
Overview: This delightful trip takes you through some of the most accessible and spectacular parts of Yosemite's High Country and its glacier-carved landscapes. It can be done as either an "independent" backpacking trip or through Yosemite's High Sierra Camps, providing meals and shelter at the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp in-season.

You start out from the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Permit Station and head towards the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River; shortly after crossing the river, head east (away from the campground), and you'll soon run into the return leg of the trip, coming down from Rafferty Creek/Vogelsang. Continue straight, along the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail towards Lyell Canyon and Donohue Pass. The route continues through the remarkably flat and lovely Lyell Canyon until its junction with Ireland Creek. Enjoy the fields of wildflowers through the canyon, especially in early summer.

Once you reach the Ireland Creek Junction, you leave the John Muir Trail and turn towards Vogelsang and Ireland Lake. You are soon reminded that you're in the mountains as the trail climbs up, up, up through the forest to the top of the ridge between Lyell Canyon and Rafferty Creek, gaining an expansive view of the Cathedral Range at the top of the ridge. Towards the top of the ridge there are numerous places for camping but there are only a few places with readily accessible water.

From the top of the ridge, it's a slow drift downwards past a number of lakes to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp: both Lake 10,425 and Evelyn Lake offer nice, if windy, campsites and views towards the center of the Cathedral Range. After Evelyn Lake, you descend grassy benches on the way into Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. Vogelsang Peak is a popular side excursion from here, although you should be comfortable going off-trail and doing some rock scrambling (the route starts by following the trail towards Vogelsang Pass).

From the High Sierra Camp, the trail drops to Tuolumne Pass and then gently descends the valley of Rafferty Creek until a last drop to meet the Tuolumne River and the trail you started on. Cross the river and head back to the permit station to finish the hike.


Tips: This trip is doable during the summer and early fall, roughly from July through October, with August and early September being the perfect time for the hike. July brings green meadows and lots of mosquitos, late September brings very chilly nights and no services at the trailhead.

The trailhead is just off the Tioga Pass Road in the Tuolumne Meadows region of Yosemite; this is a summer hub of activity for the park and a beautiful place to visit. If you are carless, there are shuttle services to Tuolumne Meadows.

For an independent backpacking trip, a hiking permit is required; permits can either be reserved up to 6 months in advance or obtained the day before first-come-first-served. For the described hike, you will enter via Lyell Canyon, or the hike can be reversed, entering via Vogelsang. The reversed hike has a more steady climb up front versus the long, flat approach via Lyell Canyon. Saturday permits are hard to grab first-come-first-serve during the summer, except possibly during early season - be prepared to show up at the Permit Office as soon as it opens the day before.

As a High Sierra Camp trip, you will need to enter a lottery for places, usually in February. See the High Sierra Camp page for more information.

Weather-wise, expect warm days and cool nights; temperatures in the 40F range are common even at the height of summer, while it can warm up to 85F at the height of summer.

Bears are active day and night, and bear-resistant food canisters are required.

Points of Interest

Water
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Mammoth Mountain and the Lyell Fork

Mammoth Mountain rises over the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, right by the crossing of the Tuolumne River (bridged). Your trail will go right by Mammoth Mountain through Lyell Canyon.
Junction
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JMT/Rafferty Creek Trail Junction

Here, the outbound hiker will want to continue straight (along the John Muir Trail/PCT towards Lyell Canyon), while the return hiker will rejoice at the return to relatively flat ground.
Viewpoint
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Potter Point and Amelia Earhart Peak

Potter Point and Amelia Earhart Peak rise over Lyell Canyon, next to Ireland Creek. You will be heading up the valley along Ireland Creek shortly.
Water
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Summer Runoff

Snowmelt raises the level of the normally placid Tuolumne River in Lyell Canyon. This viewpoint is shortly before the junction with the Ireland Creek Trail. This particular spot is an excellent place to cool your feet or filter water before the Ireland Creek junction.
Junction
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Ireland Creek Trail Junction.

At the (unobtrusive) sign, leave the PCT/JMT/Lyell Canyon Trail and start heading upwards. There are excellent campsites just around here, right by the creek.
Campground
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A Break in the Trees

An opening in the forest along Ireland Creek. This is a possible campsite -- the first since leaving the Lyell Canyon floor -- but there are better ones up ahead, as you traverse along the side of the ridge. Most of the camping from here until the Ireland Lake Trail Junction has great views but water availability is limited after early summer.
Junction
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Ireland Lake Trail Junction

Ireland Lake Trail Junction. Head south about 2 miles to Ireland Lake, camp here (there are some sites right by the trail), or keep heading up towards the ridge. Numerous nice campsites are just a little bit further on as you traverse the ridgeline; there are seasonal creeks in early summer but nothing permanent. This is the last reliable water for 4 miles.
Campground
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Tarn 10,425.

Early July finds the tarn surrounded by snow and lush growth. With lush flowers come bugs, which may be slightly better on the southwest side than the north side. The north side has very nice camping, but the lakeshore is boggy (filter water by the outlet stream).
Viewpoint
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Sills.

Note the layers within the granite on the way towards Vogelsang. This is on the descent to Evelyn Lake and is an intriguing look into the geology of the park.
Campground
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Evelyn Lake

Evelyn Lake is big, beautiful, and windswept. Plenty of camping here, but be gentle! (And note the lack of trees to stop the wind, if it's a windy night).
Campground
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Fletcher Peak, Fletcher Lake.

Fletcher Peak rises next to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. From this point on, you're by the High Sierra Camp.
Viewpoint
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Vogelsang Peak.

Vogelsang Peak, just above the High Sierra Camp. You can follow the trail to Vogelsang Lake and climb the peak from there (search Everytrail for useful links).
Junction
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Vogelsang Trail Junction

Head north (down) towards Tuolumne Meadows.
Mountain
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Tuolumne Pass.

Tuolumne Pass represents the last bit of climbing from Vogelsang - it's a long gradual downhill from here down to the Tuolumne River.
Viewpoint
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Rafferty Creek Falls

Two creeks merge with a delightful waterfall. From here on, the gradual drop of the trail becomes considerably steeper on the way down towards the Tuolumne River.
Viewpoint
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Lyell Fork

The Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River winds through Lyell Canyon. Donohue Peak rises in the distance. This is an example of the open spaces -- and delightfully flat terrain! -- in Lyell Canyon.
Viewpoint
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Lyell Canyon

The John Muir Trail winds through Lyell Canyon.
Viewpoint
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Moonrise, Fletcher Peak.

An example of the views you can expect descending towards Vogelsang.
Viewpoint
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Sunset, Cathedral Range.

Viewpoint
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Ridgeline.

Near the ridge seperating Rafferty Creek from the Tuolumne River. You are almost at the high point here. The really nice campsites are mostly behind you but the views just keep getting better.
Viewpoint
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Cathedral Range

The eastern Cathedral Range from the ridge line over Lyell Canyon.
Viewpoint
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View from the Ridge.

Looking south from the ridge between Lyell Canyon and Rafferty Creek.
Viewpoint
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Fletcher Peak and Tarn 10,425

A small tarn provides nice campsites near Fletcher Peak. This is the first water since the Ireland Lake Trail Junction; there is good camping on both sides of the tarn, but note that the north (near) shore is fairly boggy in early summer.
Viewpoint
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Western Cathedral Range

Viewpoint
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Tuolumne River.

Wildflowers speckle the banks of the Tuolumne River in Lyell Canyon in early summer.
Campground
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Near Tarn 10,425

Wind limits tree growth near tarn 10,425. You can see how this makes for great camping, however.
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Wildflowers

Wildflowers carpet the meadows near Tarn 10,425.
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Corn Lilies

Corn Lilies and wildflowers brighten up the side of the trail along Ireland Creek, making the continuous climb not so bad.
Pictures in this guide taken by: steverod
Reviews
AshMarie
This hike was amazing. My boyfriend and I did it over 3 days, our favorite camp being under Fletcher peak near Vogelsang. The trek out of the meadow after Ireland Creek junction is definitely a lung-buster but so very worth the effort. When you come up and over the mountain there is a small unnamed lake before Evelyn which we loved!! This lake deserves a proper name! October was a great time to hike, the days were cool enough and with enough layers the nights weren't too bad. Plenty of green left and some beautiful changing colors. Would do it again in a heart beat.
Visited on Sep 30, 2000

by AshMarie on Oct 07, 2014

Lyell Canyon-Vogelsang Loop Trail Map


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About the Author

steverod
steverod
10 guides
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I've been backpacking and hiking for 20+ years, the last 15 in California (and am now a thoroughly spoiled...

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