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Suggestions for setting up camp in Yosemite's backcountry?

Madison, Wisconsin
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Suggestions for setting up camp in Yosemite's backcountry?

Hello! Myself and two other friends are backpacking through Yosemite from Yosemite Falls, towards Tenaya Lake and heading down past Clouds Rest and ending at Happy Isles on a 5 night trip from August 20th-August 25th. We have an idea of where we kind of want to end up each night, but were looking for suggestions of the best places to set up camp. I was thinking the general areas listed below, but would love some input!

20th: Camp near North Dome (I hear that watching the sunrise here can be beautiful)

21st: Camp near Mt. Watkins or Olmsted Point? Maybe Tenaya Lake?

22nd: Camp near upper sunrise lake

23rd: Camp near Clouds Rest? Looking for more suggestions about this!

24th: Camp in Little Yosemite Valley

Thanks in advance!

Note: We are watching the fires closely but want to keep planning the trip in hopes that everything clears up.

8 replies to this topic
Los Angeles...
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1. Re: Suggestions for setting up camp in Yosemite's backcountry?

First, you need to go to a specialized trail forum and ask there, you're asking for very specific information.

Second, are you aware that if you are starting from the Valley - at the bottom of Yosemite Falls - that you can't get there right now? Yosemite Valley and all roads to it are closed.

Can you use your wilderness permit to start from a different trailhead (if that's the one)? Do you have a topo map? Would you consider a satellite phone, considering it's fire season? You can rent them.

Sunrise right now is highly changed by air quality - especially when looking out over a distance. Check out the high country web cam.

Sunrise Lake and Cloud's Rest should be amazingly beautiful (but dry).

Little Yosemite Valley is in the path of the fire. That's why I asked about your trailhead. The rangers will assume that you did not start from the foot of Yosemite Falls, as it is closed. Therefore, they will not know where you are unless you properly re-register your permit (somehow - the Backcountry Office is closed; Park Headquarters has evacuated).

If it were me, I would start from Lake Tenaya and explain to the first ranger that I saw what the situation was. If no rangers, then I think you will be sorry if you don't have a satellite phone (to call a friend, who will be checking on the fire).

It would be very difficult to describe the various on-trail camping sites that I, personally, have used (no one camps near Olmsted Point, because there are too many people walking around - all the way to the Valley on that trail, every day, including now).

You assess the situation, if you have a water filter, you look at your map for creeks and creek crossings. Some may be dry (you will of course bring water for the whole trip and turn back if you see you've used half).

The trail forums (google the name of one of your trails, you'll see a couple of competing forums) may be able to help you know where water is best found along those trails (I'd camp near there). I also like shade and distance from the main trail. I do have a compass, I've never gotten turned around (but people do). So it's a decision - there are designated backcountry campgrounds, just for backpackers, if I were you - I'd head for those.

Atlanta area
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2. Re: Suggestions for setting up camp in Yosemite's backcountry?

LeBiscuit's comments about the impact of the fires are extremely relevant, this could change everything about your plans. With that in mind, let me offer further comments on the assumption that there will be no fire issues on your travel dates...

First, you do know that you need a permit for backpacking? Do you have a permit reserved? If not, keep in mind that 40% of permits cannot be reserved ahead of time and are held back for walk-up only. Other regulations include the need to carry a bear canister and store all food and smellables in it, and other restrictions? Rangers do patrol the trails and check backpackers for compliance, violations earn you a fine and/or escort out of the park.

You cannot have a permit for one trailhead and then enter at another. No need to worry about that concerning a Yosemite Falls permit, however, because you can't get your permit until you are in the park and on the day of or day before your entry date, so if Yosemite Valley is closed then you won't be able to get a Yosemite Falls trailhead permit in any event, the rangers won't be giving them out.

Among the park's backcountry restrictions are that you must camp at least four trail miles from any trailhead and at least one air mile from any road, plus you must camp at least 100 ft from any trail or water source. These restrictions mean you cannot camp at Olmsted Point or Tenaya Lake. I believe you also cannot camp on North Dome itself because the trail runs out onto the dome.

As for your other ideas -- I think going up Yosemite Falls trail and then all the way over to North Dome / Snow Creek area could be a lot for one day, depends on your experience, stamina, and tolerance for altitude. Have any of you ever hiked at and slept at high altitude before? Keep in mind that your group can only go as fast as the slowest / sickest person.

From North Dome to Mt Watkins would be too little mileage for a second day, though camping on top of Mt Watkins is great. It's a problem to camp past Watkins because you soon get too close to Tioga Rd and can't legally camp until you are up the Sunrise Trail to the junction with the Cloud's Rest trail.

From that junction, if your goal is Cloud's Rest I would suggest continuing that direction rather than going to the Sunrise Lakes (unless you really want to see them) because that would involve backtracking the next day. If you head towards CR there is a small lake on the right side of the trail and then a stream crossing with campsites about 2-2.5 miles before the CR summit.

I hope the fires clear for you -- and everyone -- by the 20th, but I'm not optimistic.

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3. Re: Suggestions for setting up camp in Yosemite's backcountry?

Excellent post, JR. I just assumed they of course had a permit. But OP didn't mention one. No way to get one now, that I know of.

Atlanta area
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4. Re: Suggestions for setting up camp in Yosemite's backcountry?

Thanks. No one can get a permit more than a day before entry date. You can get a reservation for a permit, but that isn't the permit itself, you still need to appear at a ranger station day of or day before entry date to get the actual permit and get the lecture about regulations.

Madison, Wisconsin
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5. Re: Suggestions for setting up camp in Yosemite's backcountry?

Yes, I am aware of all of the closures because of the fires right now, as I stated in my original post we are watching it closely and making alternate plans just in case. We may either go to Sequoia Kings Canyon NP or maybe reroute to hike up near Hetch Hetchy or Tuolumne Meadows area if we can get a wilderness permit. Yes I of course have a wilderness permit for Yosemite Falls on Aug. 20th, and we won't be able to switch trailheads if the valley is still closed, we would just have to find a way to get a permit for another trailhead that is accessible. I have a topo map and know that I want to camp somewhere near a water source, but I hadn't thought about a satellite phone! I will check into that especially since we will be out multiple days. Thank you for the pointers, they are very appreciated!

We have a bear canister as well, and we plan on starting early in the morning on the 20th, hiking around 8 miles or so that day and I have heard that leaving from yosemite falls trailhead can be pretty tough. All three of us going are in good shape and are prepared, but this is our first major backpacking trip so we will be paying attention to how we are feeling. I do believe that you can camp right off of north dome a bit from what I read-maybe a question for the rangers. From what I saw, from North Dome to Mt. Watkins will be about 7.5 miles which seems about right for our group, unless I'm wrong there.

Thank you for the responses! I will take them into account while planning. Now we pray that everything clears up.

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6. Re: Suggestions for setting up camp in Yosemite's backcountry?

Yes, there is a camp area near North Dome (not on it), and it is about 8 miles. It's not just that the trail is pretty vertical, it's also that a ton of people are on the trail, in both directions. Old people, people with babies, kids, selfie takers, you name it.

My personal guess is that you will be able to get to the Yosemite Falls trailhead by then, along with throngs of people who will enter the parks at once, after the closures (including plenty of backpackers).

The ranger station in Tuolumne is currently open (but no way to get there from the Western side). Fire Command was reported this morning to be reviewing the reopening of 120 on a daily basis (they have to wait until Foresta is completely secure from fire, is the upshot).

Atlanta area
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7. Re: Suggestions for setting up camp in Yosemite's backcountry?

Looks like you are aware of the key things for Yosemite backpacking, that's great. Didn't mean to be talking down to you or anything, just that it's pretty common for people to ask here about backpacking without the first clue about permits, bear canisters, etc.

North Dome from Yosemite Valley very well may be doable for the three of you, just hard to gauge. Mileage from ND to Watkins is that far if you follow the trails, I was thinking of ways to cut that mileage by going cross-country, but unfortunately while I've been through there I couldn't tell you exactly how to shortcut the official trails. That area also can be pretty dry by August, so tank up when you do find water. Watkins would be a dry camp.

Good luck!

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8. Re: Suggestions for setting up camp in Yosemite's backcountry?

The water issue is very real, especially this summer. I'm sure you know to take purification system and yes, do tank up when you see water. Carry sufficient collapsible water carriers to do this. I'd take one more than I thought absolutely necessary, just in case.

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