The Vogelsang and Lyell Canyon Loop in the Tuolumne region of Yosemite National Park is a roughly 20 mile trail to some of the parks most remote lakes and basins. This loop trail has roughly 2350 feet of elevation gain and is rated as moderate on Alltrails. When backpacking Vogelsang counter-clockwise, the trail starts up the Rafferty Creek trail, passing the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, Fletcher Lake, and Vogelsang Lake before gaining a bit more elevation to Evelyn Lake. After coming down the pass, you’ll join the John Muir Trail at Lyell Canyon and have a few more miles of relatively flat trail before heading back to your starting point.
Permits for Backpacking Vogelsang
Permits are required for all overnight trips in Yosemite, including backpacking Vogelsang, and can be reserved via recreation.gov
Check for your desired backpacking dates above on Outdoor Status or sign up to receive a push alert to your phone if your desired dates become available. You can reserve permits for either Rafferty Creek or Lyell Canyon and this will determine the direction you hike the trail.
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 for Backpacking Vogelsang:
40% of permits are released online at 7am, 7 days before your trip date. For example, if your plan is to start backpacking Vogelsang or the Vogelsang-Lyell Canyon loop on Saturday, they’ll be released on the previous Saturday.
↟Tuolumne Meadows closes after the first snowfall of the year and can stay closed until early summer (sometimes even July depending on how much snow they have gotten). For the most updated conditions visit the park website here.
↟The road in this area of Tuolumne Meadows is frequently under construction. You may need to prepare to park at Tuolumne Meadows Visitor center to walk to the main trailhead, this is flat and will add about a half mile each way.
↟ There is a backpackers camp near the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp and Fletcher Lake. During the summer, the High Sierra Camp may create more traffic to the area so be advised it may not be very solitary. The backpackers camp has plenty of sites that are spread out and are good if you are hiking in groups. There are not many spots passed the backpackers camp until you hit the JMT junction at Lyell Canyon.
↟During the summer, mosquitos are everywhere in these meadows! Make sure you bring adequate equipment, and mosquito repellent. I have an entire blog post dedicated to my favorite products that you can read here.
↟The Rafferty Creek trailhead IS Half Dome eligible. It is common for some hikers to start from Rafferty Creek and head to half dome instead of completing the loop when backpacking Vogelsang
↟ Bears live in Yosemite National Park and are quite active! When backpacking the Vogelsang and Lyell Canyon (or anywhere in Yosemite), bear cans are required, and bear spray is prohibited. The Black Bears are very skiddish and rarely 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.
↟ 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.
↟Fires are prohibited in the Vogelsang area, at Boothe Lake, and above 9,600 feet.
↟ 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.
Trip Dates: August 19th-20th, 2023
Total Mileage: 20 miles
Trail Type: Loop
Trailhead: Rafferty Creek
Day 1: After making our way to the Tuolumne Wilderness Ranger Station, grabbing our permits, and storing our “smellys” in the parking lot bear boxes, we were off on trail. Our permit was for Rafferty Creek, and weather permitting we planned to hike the loop up and over the Evelyn Lake pass area, and follow the trail back on the JMT in Lyell Canyon. The night before, we camped under a clear sky at the backpackers camp in the valley, but knew of some reports of thunderstorms over the weekend. We set out anyway, hopeful the weather would cooperate enough so we didn’t have to bail on our plans.
The trail up towards the High Sierra Camp was beautiful, and relatively mellow. We crossed a footbridge about a mile into the hike, splitting off from the lollipop about a half mile after. At late summer, the wildflowers were still out the play and in full color. The lingering snow from an unusually high snow year in the Sierra had given us prolonged greenery, and a low wildfire season, but our worry about bugs still perservered.
We stopped for lunch at a small waterfall off the trail, and refilled on a litre of water for the remaining few miles. As Vogelsang and Fletchers peak came into view, the trail opened to a beautiful alpine meadow with storm clouds gathering in the distance.
For a Saturday in Yosemite, it was a relatively quiet trail with only a few groups out and about in the area. In the summer, the High Sierra Camp welcomes visitors to stay in their village, filled with tent platforms, pit toilets, and showers. Visitors can stay at the High Sierra trip and book guided or unguided trips, as well as just meal-only accommodations. This is a great option for hikers who are backpacking to Vogelsang, and looking for a “five-star” wilderness breakfast and dinner.
We got to the High Sierra Camp in the early afternoon, and made out way to the backpackers camp next to Fletcher Lake. There were plenty of spots open and we found one that could easily accommodate two tents, and provide some shelter from the brewing storm. A few groups trickled in after us, but the spots were spread out enough that it felt quiet and private.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring near Fletcher Lake, filling up on water for the evening and snacks. As it got darker, we made our way back towards camp for dinner, games, and late-evening chats as we watched the flashes of lightning in the distance over the valley and neighboring Tuolumne peaks. I was hoping for a great sunset with the beautiful alpine peaks, but was unsure if the clouds would break enough for the sun to shine through.
Sure enough, minutes before the sun set for the evening, the valley clouds broke slightly for a bright pink to shine on Fletcher peak, and scatter red around the High Sierra Camp.
Day 2: We woke up that morning inside the clouds, and crawled out of our tents slowly. We werent sure if the weather would lift enough for us to continue, but luckily every few minutes the cloud cover got higher and higher, until we could finally see Fletcher Peak.
As we climbed up and out of the backpackers camp towards Evelyn Lake, lupine scattered the sides of the trail. Growing denser towards the alpine meadow, wildflowers of all colors and varities dotted the grasses at the basin. In the distance, you could see the neighboring northern peaks, with dramatic views of the alpine lakes nearby. This was my favorite area of the trail without a doubt.
As we continued our climb to the top of the trail, we could slowly feel the weather starting to set back into the area. We descended quickly towards Lyell Canyon, stopping to put our rain gear on about half way through. Once we made it to the trail junction, the trail opened up into the canyon from the denser forest, and onto the John Muir Trail. From here, there were only a few more miles back to the Wilderness Ranger Station. On our way we had passed a few thru-hikers, and weekenders already setting up for the rainy afternoon-evening.
We stopped for a quick lunch near a bend in the river under a small shelter of trees, grabbing the last of our tuna packets and gummy bears before continuing on the last three miles. Not long after lunch, we passed another couple coming up the trail, who stopped and alerted us of a mother bear and her two cubs that they had seen about a half mile before us. The family had apparently not given the presence of humans much attention or worry.
Our heads pivoted fiercely that next half mile, and by mile .6 we were sure the bears had moved on to greener pastures in search of food. After passing the footbridge at the loop junction, we passed a rock to our left and stopped with a jolt, seeing two small pairs of eyes staring back at us as a baby bear reared up on its hind legs to get a better look at us.
We slowly backed up, my head on a swivel looking for mama bear, and speaking loudly to try and get her to come out. She popped up behind the rock, a bit to close for comfort, and we continued backing away as she approached a nearby tree and stated digging. Her and the two cubs were pawing at a bees nest in the ground, seemingly finding no food as they continued to approach the trail, heading east away from the junction. We continued to watch them for a few minutes, before turning and heading towards our final destination.
After arriving back to the car in the afternoon, just as the rain was about to come down harder, and the weekenders were headed out of Yosemite. We joined the caravan of visitors leaving on Highway 120 towards the Bay Area, making sure to stop at our favorite pot-stop in Oakdale for post-hike nutrition. Nothing like a burger, fries, and an adult slushy to end a fabulous trip.
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