Backpacking to Young Lakes in Yosemite

Lower Young Lake at Sunset, Yosemite National Park | Backpacking to Young Lakes

Backpacking to Young Lakes in Yosemite National Park via Dog Lake is about 14 miles with 2,818 ft of elevation gain. This out-and-back trail is rated as hard and is popular among backpackers looking to explore the Tuolumne region.

Permits

Permits are required for all overnight trips in Yosemite, including backpacking to Young Lakes, and can be reserved via recreation.gov

Yosemite Lottery:

From November 14th to May 14th, the reservable quota of wilderness permits is first allotted through a weekly lottery that is 24 weeks in advance of the entry date. Each group may submit one application to each seven (7) day lottery window. Multiple applications for the same lottery are not allowed.

Applicants may submit up to eight (8) preferred itineraries per application, with only one itinerary being awarded per week. The application period runs Sunday to Saturday, and notified of the lottery the following Monday. Successful lottery applicants must confirm their reservation by Thursday at 11:59 p.m. 

Any remaining reservable quota for each lottery window will be released and available for general on sale reservation on Friday at 9:00 a.m.

First Come, First Served Permits:

40% of permits are released online at 7am, 7 days before your trip date. If leaving to backpack to Young Lakes on a Saturday, they’ll be released on the previous Saturday.

Trail Information

↟ There is an alternate trail that starts from Glen Aulin Trail if you cannot get permits for Young Lakes via Dog Lake.

↟ Bears live in Yosemite National Park and are quite active! When backpacking to Young Lakes (or anywhere in Yosemite), bear cans are required, and bear spray is prohibited. The Black Bears are very skiddish and not dangerous, they just want your food. You should keep your can about 50ish yards from your tent, with all smelly products and trash inside it.

↟The correct trailhead for this trail is near the Wilderness Ranger Station, and ascends up near Lembert Dome. If you are backpacking to Young Lakes, make sure you are parked in a lot that has overnight parking. The trailhead most maps point to, right off of Tioga, does not allow overnight parking.

↟ No campfires at Young Lakes; and no campfires at all locations above 9,600 feet in Yosemite National Park

↟ Choose a campsite at least 200 feet away from lakes, streams, or trails.  It is very important to do this in order to protect fragile ecosystems. The Tuolumne Watershed is an extremely important ecosystem in California and all washing and waste must be done 300 feet away from water sources.

↟ Recreate Responsibly, and Leave No Trace. Stay on trail, don’t cut switchbacks, pack out your TP and trash, and be a good nature-loving individual.

Favorite Gear For Backpacking to Young Lakes

Mosquito Repellent: Being the middle of the summer, it’s now really difficult to avoid mosquitos- especially at alpine lakes like Young Lakes. The Middle and Upper Young Lake had a significant mosqutio population, so I would recommend coming prepared. For backpacking to Young Lakes, I brought my Picaradin Spray, the Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent, as well as my Bug Net. You can read more about my favorite Bug Repellents for camping and hiking here.

Sun Hoody: I recently picked up a lightweight, upf 50+ sun hoody from Mountain Hardwear, the Crater Lake Hoodie. It is a great purchase so far and kept me cool when we were by the lake or going through exposed meadow sections.

Hydration Tablets: Even though it wasn’t terribly hot during our trip, we we’re still drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated on the uphill sections backpacking to Young Lakes. I picked up a few Nuun Tabets from a stop at REI the day before, and am glad I had some extra!

Alpaca Wool Socks: Recently, I got a pair of Crew Performance Alpaca Wool Socks from a brand called Hollow. They’re super soft and lightweight, and surprisingly keep my feet super comfortable at night without my down booties. I normally don’t regulate enough body heat in my feet to keep myself warm with merino wool socks, but for some reason these magic socks keep me toasty, so it’s a win in my book!


Trail Report

Trip Dates: July 3rd-4th, 2022

Total Mileage: 14.79

Trail Type: Out and Back

Trailhead: Dog Lake, near Wilderness Ranger Station

We arrived in Yosemite National Park the day before our trip, just in time to drive around the valley and enjoy the sunset. The Valley floor was bustling with 4th of July-ers celebrating the long weekend with smores, campfires, and sleeping under the stars.

In the morning we drove to BOF Information Center to pick up our permits for Young Lakes. I was able to get permits for backpacking to Young Lakes last minute, and was excited to spend more time in Tuolumne. After a quick chat with the Ranger, we were off on our way to Tuolumne Meadows, about an hour drive on Tioga Pass. Dozens of PCT hikers packed the picnic tables outside of Tuolumne Visitor Center, filling themselves on the cheap snacks inside.

We eventually got to our correct trailhead, a parking lot just passed the Wilderness Ranger Station and stables in Tuolumne, that would lead us up to Dog Lake and Lembert Dome. The first few miles were slow to start, and steep as we gained a couple hundred feet into the first meadow. After the fork of Dog Lake, we didn’t see another person on the trail.

I started walking with a slow rhythm of breathing and stepping to power through the uphills. As we climbed into the second meadow, panoramic views of the Tuolumne region were there to greet us. We could see Cathedral Peak off in the distance, and in front of us- the backside of Ragged Peak, the point of the backdrop to Young Lakes.

We stopped here to have a quick lunch and take in the views. I snacked on half a bag of Albanese Gummy Bears (the best trail snack) and a small charcuterie spread of bread, cheese and salami. It was a nearly perfect day in Tuolumne, the sun was shining in the mid 70s, the sky was dotted with clouds, and the breeze was welcome after the long climb.

After the meadows, we started descending into a valley before heading towards Young Lakes after the Glen Aulin Trail junction. About 1.5 miles later, the Lower Young Lake finally came into view. After walking to the far side of the lake, we found a spot sheltered in the trees, and away from the other backpackers at the Lower Lake.

After a short break near the water, we hiked up to the Upper Young Lake to take in the views. The trail got much thinner on the climb between the Middle and Upper Lake, and had a few dodgy moves between boulders and a small waterfall. Once we were at the top of the climb, the trail disappeared. Though our maps said it continued up the summit, a designated trail was no where in sight. The Upper Lake was much more bare than the others, and resembled more of a high desert alpine lake, with little tree cover. There were a few camping spots within some circles of trees, but we saw no one setting up at the Middle or Upper Lakes.

Within a few minutes of sitting down at Upper Lake, we were swarmed by mosquitos. Mosquitos were not as big of an issue at the Lower Young Lake, maybe due to the plethora of trout you could see in the lake. We took in the views of the lakes from the trail, and descended back down to our camp.

We took our dinner and the stove down to the lake shore to enjoy the last bits of sun. I made instant jasmine rice and ramen, and enjoyed some Bark Thins for desert while reading a new book I had packed- The Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle. Reid dined on a typical backpacker meal, cold-soaked tabbouleh and tuna, with a sweet treat of sour patch kids- a hikers delicacy.

Once the sun disappeared behind the trees, the temperature dropped significantly. I climbed into my sleeping bag and set my alarm for the morning. During the night both of us got considerably colder then expected. I was thankful for my warm, merino wool shirt and Hollow alpaca socks, which were surprisingly warm in comparison to my down boots.

The sunrise on July 4th was much later than I anticipated. I sat in our tent, glancing outside every few minutes to see if the sun was hitting the peaks. It wasn’t until about an hour later, nearly daylight, that the alpine lakes saw some sun. The lake was still and quiet, the only ripples coming from a few jumping fish. On the opposite side of the lake I could see a small family of deer walking along the shore, enjoying the unbothered lake.

In the morning we enjoyed our food once again down at the water. We filtered some for our afternoon hike back to the car, but took some time to enjoy the scenery before packing up camp. On our walk back we ran into several groups of backpackers making their way up to the lake. Luckily, one long, steep climb was all we had that morning before the descent back to Tioga.

We made it back within a few hours, and drove straight to Tuolumne Visitor Center to buy a few cold drinks. The weather felt considerably warmer then the day before, and we were craving a jump in Tenaya Lake. We passed a few PCT hikers on their walk to the trailhead, and about a dozen outside of the Visitor Center. When we entered, I could immediately tell the thru hikers were cleaning them dry of snacks; the chip aisle nearly empty.

We drove towards Tenaya Lake and found a spot to enjoy the sun and cold water for a few hours. We ate the remainder of our trail food and read on the beach until the Tuolumne breeze turned cold, and the beachgoers began to pack up for the night. We threw our bags in the truck, set our sights back to the Bay Area, and drove the few hours home.


Have any questions or comments about this trail? Leave them below!

Happy Hikin’!


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