Gaylor Lakes : Alpine Lakes in Yosemite National Park
We almost always plan trips based on where we want to camp. From there, we research what hikes are nearby, and choose based on how long we are there and what we feel up for. I (Kim) had a random moment of checking out the Tuolumne Meadows campground to see if there was anything open before it closes for winter. There was one site that was open for a Saturday between then (late July) and the end of October. I checked our schedule, and it was clear, so I claimed that one night! Then we had to decide what hikes to do with the very little time that we would have. We live in Southern California so it was about a seven hour drive to get up there. That would leave us just half of Saturday and Sunday morning to do a couple hikes. After reading about all the options, (this website that has great info) I decided I really wanted to hike to Gaylor Lake. It is one of the lesser known hikes off Tioga Pass, and I always go for anything that is more secluded and away from the crowds.
The trailhead for this hike is literally about 20 feet past the National Park entrance. There's a small parking lot that will hold about 15 cars, with bathrooms and a bear box. One thing worth a mention, we put our food in the bear box and the latch on it was very stiff and sliced open my thumb. Be careful!
- 3 miles round trip, give or take depending on how much you wander around the lakes
- Elevation Gain - 600 feet
- Elevation at trailhead - 9,950 feet
This trail is not extremely difficult, and it is quite short. Because of the short mileage, the climb up is a leg buster. We, and the few groups of people we passed (or that passed us), were definitely feeling the burn. It starts out pretty mild as you go through some wooded meadows, but very quickly it starts the switchbacks and climbing. If you have bad knees, we definitely recommend trekking poles for the hike down.
Once you reach the top of the climb, it levels out in the pass with some great views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. We stopped here and had a snack and enjoyed the view and caught our breath! From here the trail drops down to Gaylor Lake...
This whole area is spectacular. We haven't really been in much high alpine areas. The closest thing to compare this to is Rocky Mountain National Park and our hike up to Dream, Nymph and Emerald lakes.
We only saw a few people once we reached the lake. They were all fishing, so this seem like a great fish spot, if that is your thing!
We hiked around the lake a bit and then continued on the trail to Upper Gaylor lake. This lake still had snow on one side. We saw no one up here and it was less than a 1/4 mile from the other lake. We didn't really know this lake was an option, except that a great Ranger stopped and chatted with us the previous day. He mentioned this is one of his favorite hikes in all of Yosemite, and that it feels almost like an infinity pool when you get at the lake level. His description was right on, and this may now be one of our favorite hikes.
On the return, we stopped and had another snack and just sat and enjoyed this crazy beautiful area. These lakes are so clean and reflective, it really is a stunning area to see. The hike down was definitely faster than the climb up, but hard on the knees!
If you are looking for something more secluded around Tuolumne Meadows, we highly recommend Gaylor Lakes!