Though Sentinel Dome and Taft Point offered some of the most magnificent views in Yosemite, without a doubt the most tranquil place we hiked to was Elizabeth Lake.
You won’t hear much about Elizabeth Lake because it tends to be overshadowed by its more famous neighbors, the Cathedral Lakes. (The Cathedral Lakes trail also gets more foot traffic.)
However, Elizabeth Lake is pristine, uncrowded, and definitely worth a visit.
The trailhead is located off of Tioga Pass Road near Tuolumne Meadows. If you’re wondering what a real meadow looks like, here you go (fairies not pictured):
The trail is 4.6 miles roundtrip to the lake and back (about 3-4 hours), so it’s a good half-day hike that can be combined with other activities in the area.
You’ll have to trek to the back of a campground adjacent to the meadow to begin the hike. It’s a little tricky to find your way, but you’ll eventually find the trailhead sign if you follow the paved road in the all the way through the campground.
Then the climb begins.
I was surprised at the intensity of the initial ascent. I don’t know what I was expecting, given we were hiking up a mountain… logic can be funny sometimes. But I digress.
The first mile or so is straight uphill, and it’s strenuous. The best thing to do is take your time and take frequent breaks for water and rest. There isn’t much scenery during that part of the hike anyway, so you’re not missing much if you just buckle down and make your way up the incline.
The reward for conquering the incline is pristine scenery. I especially loved the red underbrush that created a storybook blanket on the forest floor.
Before long we had made it to the lake, which is located right beneath Unicorn Peak. The water is so calm and clear that you can see straight to the rocky bottom.
It would be easy to turn this into a full-day hike if you spend time wandering around the lake and scrambling up the boulders at the base of nearby Unicorn Peak. A word of caution, though: It may appear easy enough to get to the top of Unicorn Peak when you’re standing at the lakeshore, however, upon further reading it becomes evident that it requires some real climbing skill and equipment to make the summit. So, do emergency services a favor and keep your adventurous spirit contained to the beginners’ rocks near the lake.
We took the lazy route and found a nice spot along the lake to enjoy lunch. I was overcome with a peaceful feeling as we sat there, surrounded by nature, silence, and the cool mountain air.
Eventually we made our way back down the trail, through the campground, and back into the valley. I wished we would have had more time to hike along Tioga Pass Road – this was our one and only hike in Yosemite’s high country. But it gives me a good excuse to go back!
What to Know If You Go
- Trail: Elizabeth Lake
- Distance: 4.6 miles roundtrip (7.4 kilometers)
- Time: 3-4 hours
- Getting there: Take Tioga Pass Road to the Tuolumne Meadows Campground. The campground entrance will be pretty obvious – there will be many cars parked along the road. Park on the road and walk into the campground, following the road along to the right all the way to the back.
- Check for any road closures before you go. A nearby wildfire threatened to close the road while we were there, and there are no other roads that go back to the valley if you get trapped up in the mountains!
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