Lembert Dome is one of the most recognizable features of the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite National Park. It is also a popular destination for Yosemite’s rock climbers, but you don’t need a rope and belayer to reach the top. A trail circles the dome, and a spur trail leads to the summit, with a small little scramble at the end to make things interesting.
A couple of weeks ago I was on my way to the Eastern Sierra for a backpacking trip and found myself with a couple of hours to spend in Tuolumne. Despite my numerous trips to the park, I somehow have never made it to the top of this iconic Dome. I decided to change that and mapped out the loop around the dome from the Dog Lake parking area. Including the spur trail to the summit of Lembert, this loop hike is about 4 miles long with about 1000 ft of elevation gain and loss. In order to make the final few steps to the actual summit of Lembert, some simple friction slab walking and scrambling is required, but it’s fairly straightforward.
This hike starts out at the Dog Lake parking lot, commonly used for backpacks up Lyell Canyon so it can get busy. An alternate is to park at the Tuolumne Wilderness Permit station or at the base of Lembert Dome. The key is knowing that you don’t have to walk along pavement to make this loop. A nice trail parallels the side road to the trailhead between Dog Dome parking lot at the Wilderness Station, and then on to the Lembert Dome parking. I often see people walking on the narrow shoulder of 120 through here, so know that it isn’t necessary.
The views are also better along this stretch. As you walk west from Dog Dome, the view across the meadows towards Cathedral and other peaks is a small taste of what is ahead from the summit.
Cross the pavement of 120 at the Lembert Dome turnoff, then cut over to the Lembert Dome trail. As you do so, you’ll circle around the steep slabs of the southwest side of Lembert. Look up and pick out the climbers taking the more direct route.
The trail then climbs to the northeast along the drainage from Dog Lake. The grade here is pretty good, and before too long you’ll reach the fork in the trail. Take the right to head to Lembert Dome. Left goes to Dog Lake and locations beyond.
You’ll climb gently up and over a forested saddle, then start dropping down the other side to the south. Shortly after the trail starts downhill, you’ll see the signed spur trail to the right that leads to the summit of Lembert and Dog Domes. It climbs gently to the base of the granite slabs that lead to the summit of Lembert.
At the granite slabs, the trail disappears. From here it’s a short trek to the summit. The beginning of the slabs are almost stair like and easy. At the shoulder above these short steps you get the first view of Lembert’s summit.
It’s this final stretch that is the most fun to me! There are several options to scramble up to the summit. You can take a class 3-ish direct line up the face using the cracks that wiggle their way through the granite. Alternately, you can cut left to the gentler slope and friction climb the slabs towards the top. Both work and both are fun.
I climbed this on a Thursday afternoon and had the summit to myself (unless you count the marmots). The views are as beautiful as to be expected in Yosemite, with a straight line of sight to the Cathedral Range, Lyell Canyon, and the Kuna Crest.
If you have some extra energy, don’t miss the summit of the gentler dome right next door, Dog Dome. The views are similar, but if you’re a summit addict like me it’s fun to tag something else. It’s not labeled on the map, but you can see the point in my GPS track on the map below.
Finally, retrace your steps to the junction of the spur trail, and then follow the switchbacks south back to the Dog Lake parking lot. Additional photos describing the route can be found here.