It’s only June and I’ve already managed to squeeze in two overnight backpacking trips in Yosemite.  I hope this is the start of a good season! In late April I backpacked to Rancheria Falls, and this past weekend I visited Ten Lakes Basin, a good overnight destination off of Tioga Road.

The conditions this year are extremely dry, so the conditions we experienced were closer to an average July than early June. Rangers had warned that there would still be ‘plentiful snow’ and that the lakes were still iced over, but having driven by the pass already over Memorial Day weekend I strongly suspected they were exaggerating. They were. We had a beautiful visit to the lakes with just enough snow to keep the beers cold.

Ten Lakes is a good level-setting backpack. It’s not overly strenuous, but it’s hard enough that you’ll know if you have some work to do! I had some new gear to try out, including a new backpack, so the goals of this trip were two-fold: test out new gear and enjoy the Yosemite backcountry (a worthy goal by itself!)

The trail climbs steadily from the parking lot (Yosemite Creek) at ~7600 ft to Half Moon Meadow at ~8900 ft over four miles. Most of this hike is through shaded pine forest, but there are sunny exposed sections that pass through smooth granite where the trail has been blasted into steps or simply marked with cairns. At this time of year the flowers are blossoming, lining the trail with bright colors.

Rockwork along the trail to Ten Lakes

Rockwork along the trail to Ten Lakes

View towards Mt Hoffmann from an open stretch of trail

View towards Mt Hoffmann from an open stretch of trail

Water runs nearby but there are only a couple of creek crossings before the meadow. At this time of year you could fill your water bottle there but I suspect they will be dry sooner rather than later.

From Half Moon Meadow the trail steepens and climbs another mile to Ten Lakes Pass at approximately 9700 ft. Gaining Ten Lakes Pass is one of the best trail experiences in Yosemite. After emerging from the treeline you walk across an open rocky grassland and suddenly the peaks of Northern Yosemite rise up over the horizon. You’ve gone from quiet forest to grand sweeping views in a couple of steps. It’s beautiful!

Half Moon Meadow. Ten Lakes Pass is ahead beyond the trees

Half Moon Meadow. Ten Lakes Pass is ahead beyond the trees

Cresting Ten Lakes Pass

Cresting Ten Lakes Pass

There is a lovely napping rock at the pass, so I removed my new pack (quite comfortable, I might add) and sat down. I might have snoozed a little bit. After taking in the view and picking out some peaks to climb in the future, I started down the back side of the pass for the final mile in to Ten Lakes Basin. A curious marmot watched me for a while from his perch on a rock.

New Pack (Osprey Aura 65) and Napping Rock at Ten Lakes Pass

New Pack (Osprey Aura 65) and Napping Rock at Ten Lakes Pass

Did you bring me any food? Asks the curious marmot.

Did you bring me any food? Asks the curious marmot.

Given the early season weekend and the fact that the rangers were reporting snowy conditions, there were very few people in the basin this weekend. It is usually a popular weekend destination and permits book up months in advance. I had expected it to be busier and planned on going to one of the higher lakes to camp, but since it was so quiet we plopped down at the first, most popular lake.

Descending in to Ten Lakes Basin. We'll camp at the main lake in the middle.

Descending in to Ten Lakes Basin. We’ll camp at the main lake in the middle.

The lake was not iced over, and in fact, it was a perfect temperature for swimming. It’s rare to find a lake that is swimmable at 9000 ft at this time of year – usually fresh snow runoff keeps temperatures way too cold! While some of us swam, David caught dinner. Those fish must have been hungry after winter – he caught limits in about 30 minutes.

No ice!

No ice!

The mosquitoes were out but not at their maximum yet. For some reason they ignored me in favor of chewing on some of my friends. Good for me, not for them (the friends, not the mosquitoes). They still have a few weeks to peak swarms, I think (the mosquitoes, not the friends).

Heading out is easier than the hike in since the only elevation gain is climbing the several hundred feet back to Ten Lakes Pass. It’s actually my favorite stretch of this trail.

Climbing back to Ten Lakes Pass

Climbing back to Ten Lakes Pass

In the coming weeks the crowds will descend on this trailhead, but I still recommend it as a nice overnighter if you want to get a good feel for the variety of what the Yosemite backcountry has to offer.


In and Out dayhike on trail. Can be done as a side trip if backpacking through the area.


13.4 miles round trip from Sunrise/Tenaya Lake

Elevation Gain:

+/- 3100 ft

Trailhead and Permit Notes:

Permits are required for overnight use in Yosemite National Park and can be reserved ahead of time or obtained through walk-up services. The trailhead at Yosemite Creek is only accessible after highway 120 opens in the summer, and no overnight parking is allowed after mid-October (check with the park for specific dates).

Camping Tips:

While this is a popular destination, the many lakes (hey, there are ten of them!) offer plenty of opportunities for solitude if you have the patience to explore. The busiest area of the lakes is along the shore of the first lake you approach as the trail drops into the lake basin (lake 8947 on the map).

Useful Guides and Gear:

Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Mountain sports addict. Dog Mom. Craft beer drinker. Tech nerd. The best days are those spent above 10k ft. Meet me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google +


Kevin · June 30, 2013 at 9:23 am


Josh · July 5, 2013 at 7:06 am

This is epic! Nice pictures

Anne Fairbairn · June 11, 2015 at 9:48 am

This answered MANY of my questions — thank you! I plan to do this hike (my first backpacking trip in 25 years) later this month. Being record-breaking drought, I’m guessing that there will be less snow, but will come prepared. Our group leaders will probably know this, but I’m wondering how far the other lakes are.

Michael Brown · July 11, 2015 at 2:40 pm

Made this trip with a friend of mine several years ago. His first backpacking trip, several for me. One of my favorites because of the changing scenery. From open granite faces, to meadows and forests. Thanks for sharing your pic’s, inspires me to make plans to take my son on his first trip. He’s 4, so maybe May lake instead.


raquel · August 9, 2016 at 2:18 pm

Is there disperse camping allowed or will there be any camp grounds around?

Dave · August 1, 2017 at 9:11 am

for those who read that this is a 3-4 hour hike of moderate difficulty, consider yourself forewarned! This hike is moderate to difficult and not do-able in 3 hours. maybe 4 if you are very fit and very fast. We left about the same time as two other groups and we all arrived about the same time and it took a little over 5 hours. But take your time, it is a beautiful hike! Would suggest doing this with a two night stay so you have time to really enjoy it. Oh, and if you see dark clouds and hear thunder, there may be a chance that you are about to get a half hour hail storm in the middle of summer.

Richard Sheng · September 6, 2017 at 12:52 pm

I’ve done this hike a few times, the first with my wife before we had kids. It’s my absolute favorite short-medium trip in Yosemite. You can stretch it out by establishing a base camp on the far side of the first lake (there are some awesome campsites) and then do day trips to the other lakes in the basin or even go back and check out Grant Lakes.

Essential Reading – Campfire Chic · July 5, 2013 at 3:06 am

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