Yosemite Backpacking
Backcountry Trail Crew | Vermilion Valley Resort/Edison Lake
Muir Trail Ranch | John Muir Trail Pacific Crest Trail | Florence Lake  | High Sierra Camps15' & 7.5' Vogelsang TOPO! trail maps | Great DVD on backpacking and hiking trails all over the park!

Backcountry snow survey

(4/3/13) Results for the April snow survey show that the Merced River basin snowpack is at 53% of average while the Tuolumne River basin is at 52% of average for this time of year. Last year, the Merced was at 47% while the Tuolumne was at 43%, but the distribution of snow is much different this year. Last year, the snowpack was fairly consistently about 45% of average at all surveyed elevations. This year, the snowpack is about 70% of average down to around 8,000 feet, but drops off substantially below that. So, those early-June high-elevation backpacking trips that might have been possible last year will probably be much snowier this year


Go Here for backcountry wilderness permit reservations.

Recommended items-to-bring list. Go Here

Second thoughts on the need to filter water in backcountry locations in the Sierra Nevada.  VERY interesting article: Go Here.

Bear-proof food canisters MANDATORY in the backcountry!
The Park Service announced today (5-11-04) revised wilderness food storage regulations in an effort to reduce the number of incidents of bears obtaining food from backpackers in Yosemite’s backcountry. Yosemite’s Bear Council endorsed this recommendation by Chief Ranger Steve Shackelton. Bear-proof canisters are required within seven linear miles of park roads. This includes the Wawona Road (Highway 41), the Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120 West), the Tioga Road (Highway 120 East), the Glacier Point Road, the Hetch Hetchy Road, and the Lake Eleanor Road. Bear-proof canisters are required within one-half mile of the shoreline of Benson Lake and above 9,600 feet (above tree line). Yosemite National Park still strongly recommends backpackers use approved bear canisters throughout the wilderness.

A map delineating the new wilderness areas requiring bear canisters can be viewed at Within the green shaded areas, backpackers are required to store food items, items carrying food scents, and toiletries in bear canisters.

National Park Service approved bear canisters are available for a minimal rental fee from wilderness centers, some concession outlets, and the Hetch Hetchy entrance.

Approved bear canisters:

Conditionally Approved Canisters

Approved panniers (for stock use):

  • DeCarteret Aluminum Stock Panniers
  • Berner Bear Box
  • Bear Aware Panniers

Conditionally Approved Panniers

Steel salvage drums with a security lid may be used until panniers are purchased.

Vogelsang! This is where the angels spend their summers; opens early to late July.

Yosemite Backpacking Fundamentals (Read This First)
A few things you must know unique to Yosemite even if you are an experienced backpacker:

1) There are many rules and regulations that the rangers are very serious about when allowing people into the backcountry.  Most people who venture into the wilderness are cognizant of  their actions, but a surprising number of idiots would destroy it all if they did not have strict controls over allowable conduct.  I know, this is a pain in the ass, especially if you are used to other areas in the US which do not have such strict controls in place, but with the fools that come into this park, it has become necessary.  Here's a list of the basic rules you MUST not ignore; Go Here (I'll also give you a few ways to bend these rules and work around them without compromising the integrity of wilderness preservation but still keeping your butt out of trouble with The Man In Green.)

2) Bears must always be a consideration when storing food.  This cannot be emphasized enough.  Do not disregard or slight this admonition.  Go Here for info on bears.  

3) The weather in summer is VERY predictable.  It doesn't rain!  Well, at least not like it does back east or in the northwest.  IF it rains, it is in the form of a very brief, benevolent thunderstorm that will come and go inside of 90 minutes, and this may happen about once or twice a month at most! The weather should be absolutely spectacular!  I have been backpacking for 21 years in Yosemite and neighboring regions, and it was only last year I got caught in enough rain to materially affect my trip.  But even then, everything was dried by the time I bedded down for the night.  I never bring rain gear, and rarely bring a tent; only if I'm with some gal or child who needs the psychological "protection" of a tent. Go Here for more on Yosemite weather.

4) Mosquitoes can be brutal.  NEVER venture into the backcountry without either mosquito netting or repellant, preferably both.

5) Strange as this may seem, you should never go backpacking in Yosemite (or anywhere else in the Sierra) without some sort of lip balm. ChapStick. The water in the streams is very hard and full of minerals, and while this might be a good thing (to a point) for your diet, it's brutal on your lips when you are drinking it frequently from water bottles.  Plus, Yosemite is a very low humidity environment, and when your huffing and puffing along trails for miles on end, the exertion can dry your skin, lips included.  How many times have I been on the trail and had someone lunge at me when they see me applying ChapStick along the trail and offer me big money for my Chapstick.  "NO WAY!" I always say.  (I always let them use some, though) Get in the habit of putting it on before you bed down each night.  Severely chapped lips on the trail is a monumental discomfort.

Yosemite National Park  

This is in Kings Canyon National Park (Evolution Valley), but comparable vistas like this can be found all over Yosemite.

I put this shot in just because I love this spot and this is a great picture!  You should have seen it live! 

Backpacking is a bittersweet experience at Yosemite.  Some of the grandest backcountry in the nation exists in the park, but during holiday periods and weekends,  trails near the populated areas can sometimes resemble an L.A. freeway and carry abject fools.  I see people on their way to Half Dome on a day trip with only a quart of water, light-weight athletic shoes, no hat and no sunglasses.   Dogs are strictly prohibited on trails, but guess what I see constantly.  Some people should be turned away at the gates from entering Yosemite.  They have no concept of what it takes to manage this park in the face of STUPIDITY, SELFISHNESS AND CARELESSNESS.

There is a quota system on all trails, and strict fire regulations exist at higher elevations. No fire at all above 9,600 ft.; This is strictly enforced!!

Yosemite National Park  

The headwaters of the San Joaquin River in Evolution Valley, about the 9,500 ft. elevation. 

Yosemite National Park

It was late afternoon, and I was just finishing a tough leg of the trip to Vogelsang from the back way, (Lyell Canyon) and happened on this shot of a couple I had been hiking behind for quite a while. Notice the well-worn trail ditch.  As you can see, this is a well traveled path

Wilderness Permits Mandatory

You MUST check in at the ranger station in Tuolomne Meadows, the valley floor or Wawona for trailhead permits.  Permits are available either on a reservation basis from 24 weeks to 2 weeks in advance, or first-come-first-served basis.  Advance reservations are $3, and 50% of the allocation is saved for first-come-first-served, which can be obtained from the ranger stations in Wawona, valley floor, or Tuolumne. On holiday periods, it would be wise to allow at least 6 weeks advance reservation of your permit, or plan to be at the ranger station when it opens the day BEFORE you plan to leave.   Ranger stations open at 7am on the valley floor and Tuolumne, and 8:30am in Wawona. 

See the MAPS area for details on particular backpacking trails, but one you should NOT pass up is Vogelsang  from Tuolumne Meadows (see map and photo below; also see photo page).  Absolutely breathtaking.

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park Copy of tuolmap.gif (144888 bytes) Click on the image to the left for a larger view of the Tuolumne Meadows wilderness areas.

The John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail "ends" on the valley floor, (or begins, depending on your perspective.)  211 miles long, it is the most awesome trail in the western United States, Grand Canyon included.  It will take you from the valley floor, to Tuolumne Meadows, through the Sierra National Forest, into Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks and to the top of Mt. Whitney (elevation 14,495 ft.) This is the trail where true bragging rights are earned for walking the whole thing.  It is a life-changing experience.

The true appeal of the John Muir Trail is the combination of astoundingly beautiful scenery, and that there's a 90% chance that it will not rain AT ALL during your 21-or-30 day hike, and the skies will be cloudless cobalt-blue during the day, and give you a completely unobstructed view of the stars night after night.  The humidity will be low, and there is simply no way to get better weather for enjoying the wilderness, short of ordering it out of a Sears catalog.  When set in that atmosphere, the John Muir Trail is truly a once-in-a-lifetime thing-to-do.  I am blessed to be able to access this area at will.   Bob and I have hiked many parts of the trail, but never the whole thing in one bite.

GREAT John Muir Trail trip narrative. 
VERY well written and full of useful information.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

The beginning (or end) of the John Muir Trail at the Happy Isle Nature Center, plus starting point for various day-hikes and weekend backpacking trips from the valley floor.

Recommended: Half Dome & Top Of Nevada Falls. Clouds Rest is next to Half Dome; a few self-abusive people do both in the same day. NOT for those with a fear of heights.

Notice bottom entry, John Muir Trail,
211miles long


The Vermilion Valley Resort

(or just plain-old "Edison"; You say "We're goin' to Edison." Everyone knows what you mean.)

If you're planning to do the entire John Muir Trail, a good place to cache is Vermilion Valley Resort.  (7,500 ft. elevation)  The folks who own this back-country fishing resort know what backpackers want and how to cater to them. Located by a spectacular lake at the end of a very long dirt road, which extends from the end of a 22 mile narrow mountain pig-path, there is NO TV, radio, newspapers, and only one sort-of cell phone. They have electricity only from 7am to 10pm.   They have an excellent restaurant, comfortable beds, pay-showers, and a ferry to and from the trail head, cost about $7.50.  This is a very remote resort.  It takes 3-1/2 hours to drive from Fresno, a mere 75 miles as the crow flies.  You are not encouraged to drive your two-wheel drive car here.  Although you can, you are much better off with a 4-wheel drive, or heavy duty pickup. This should tell you about how remote and primitive this area is. But is it ever relaxing and gorgeous!!  Good camping, nice people, and, sometimes, a decent fishing guide who knows how to go after the big Brown Trout that are in Edison.   There are some monster Browns in this lake, but catching them is not easy.  The Fish and Game biologist I was talking to said he thought that the world's record Brown is in this lake.  It is very deep, has plenty of food and fishing pressure from May to August only.

Fishing here was bad during the drought of the mid-eighties, but we were able to map out the bottom, and learn where all the deep water is.  Now that it is full each summer, we try going to that deep water just to see what will happen.   Nothing has so far.  But we also learned where the creek-beds are that used to wind their way down the river bottom during the drought.  Big fish hang out in the troughs, and the fish-finder has repeatedly given back some huge images.   (We know the bottom here, and know there are no obstacles to give a false image.)   We troll, offer live bait, and they just don't like what we're serving, evidently.   The big ones are hard to catch.


I throw this in only to show one of the several hot springs at Mono Hot Springs, located on the way to Vermilion Valley Resort.  This particular one was a perfect 103 degrees, crystal clear water, and an expletive-spewing Gracie not liking that I was taking her picture naked.  Circa 1982.