Taylor and I were patiently and excitedly waiting for our turn to talk to the park ranger. Per usual, the crowds in Yosemite Valley were nearing insanity levels and we were beyond ready to hit the trail.
We had our eyes set on the north section of the park, specifically the summit of Clouds Rest. Promises of a much smaller crowd and unbelievable panoramic valley views had put the trip high on my bucket list.
When it was finally our turn, we greeted the park ranger and pointed to the desk map, expressing our interest in a wilderness permit for the Clouds Rest trailhead.“Sorry, I’m afraid we aren’t issuing permits for camping on that trail anymore today.” Our hearts sank. It seemed everybody else had read the same “Secret spots in Yosemite” trip guides we had.
But it wasn’t the first time overcrowding had thwarted our Yosemite weekend so we prepared ourselves for a change of plans.
“Do you recommend any other hikes for an overnighter?” I asked.
“Well, there is a hike to Ten Lakes from Tuolumne meadow… ”
No, we had hiked that trail a few trips back.
“What about Ostrander lake…?”
We had already hiked there last April.
Hiked there too.
Not to be stumped, the ranger thought for a moment before continuing, “Well, I don’t normally recommend this one to people. If you ask me, it’s not as pretty as Ten Lakes or Ostrander. But if you’re looking for something new, I have permits available. Have you hiked to Young Lakes?”
Taylor and I exchanged glances. No, we had not. In fact, we hadn’t even heard of it. Sure, why not!
And that’s how we discovered one of the best-kept secrets in Yosemite National Park.
The trail to Young Lakes climbs 1,389 feet in a moderate 6.4 miles. The name comes from a string of lakes appropriately named lower, middle and upper young lake.
While it’s not a summit hike, there are plenty of opportunities for peak bagging along the way. Not to mention, a hiker can find a place to fish or swim (if you dare) in each of the lakes.
We acquired our backcountry permit around 9:30 AM and after a scenic, winding drive through Yosemite National Park and down Tioga Road, we were dying to ditch the front country.
As soon as we set foot on the trail, the traffic and the crowds vanished. And as we learned on the Young Lakes Trail, running into another human soul is actually pretty rare.
For 6.4 miles, we shut our brains off and enjoyed the climb, the granite and the panoramic views that were becoming more and more outstanding.
How were we the only ones on this trail?!
When we at last reached the terminus of the main trail, middle Young Lake, we didn’t know what to expect. But this is Yosemite, and of course, towering granites engulfed us from all sides.
We never made it to Upper Young Lakes, because as the sun began to set, a kaleidoscope lightshow of colors danced on the nearby peaks. It left us mesmerized and frozen in our seats on the sandy beach.
Warm tones of pink, red, orange and grey bounced off the crystal clear water for at least an hour. Nature’s 4th of July.
This was Yosemite as it was intended.
The solitude and silence inspired us to laugh and talk well into the evening hours. When it finally became too cold, we retreated to our tent and sleeping bags – another adventure put to rest.