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Hiking & Walking: California > Yosemite National Park

Quick Facts

Merced Lake Trail

Beginning Elevation: 4,020 Feet (1253.1 Meters) Happy Isles Trailhead
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain, One-way: 3,200 Feet (997.5 Meters)
Ending Elevation: 7,216 Feet (2249.4 Meters) Merced Lake
Length, One-way: 14 Miles (23.33 Kilometers)
Other Maps: Trails Illustrated 206 Yosemite National Park
Recommended Season: Summer
Usage: Heavy
Vehicle Accessibility: Passenger Vehicle

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Satellite and Topo Map

General Description

The trail leading to Merced Lake begins at the Happy Isles Trailhead in the eastern end of Yosemite Valley. Backpackers can parking in the backpackers parking area immediately east of Curry Village Day-Use Parking Area. This trek can be completed in two nights and three days, but more time is always better in this spectacular backcountry.

Begin hiking from the southeastern edge of the backpackers parking area. Within half a mile the trail intersects a trail that leads eastward to Happy Isles. Bear left on this trail and cross a boggy area on some logs. Across this bog you'll enter the Happy Isles Trailhead area. Continue walking east an across a bridge to a stream gauge. The John Muir Trail begins here leading southward. Follow this trail to the Vernal Bridge where Mist Trail leads left along the river. Follow the John Muir Trail to the right bypassing Mist Trail.

Separating from Mist Trail at an elevation of 5,500 feet the John Muir Trail climbs a series of switchbacks to Clark Point. Beyond Clark Point the John Muir Trail continues to climb but less steeply. One mile from the Clark Point Trail, the Panorama Trail begins leading southward. Continue walking northeastward past Nevada Fall and toward Liberty Cap.

Almost one half mile from Panorama Trail Mist Trail and John Muir Trail join on the northern shore of the Merced River. Bear right at this junction. One mile from the end of Mist Trail is a fork. Follow the right side of the fork into Little Yosemite Valley. The next two and a half miles through this river valley are level, but the trail surface is sandy making it tough on the ankles.

At the eastern end of the valley you'll pass Moraine Dome and begin gaining elevation. There are a few backcountry campsites through the valley that are more desirable, and quiet, than those at the backcountry campground at Little Yosemite Valley. The elevation of the valley is approximately 6,000 feet. Passing Moraine Dome the elevation is 6,200 feet. In the next mile the trail follows the river closely. It begins to switchback near Bunnell Cascade, then turns sharply southward to cross the river. The next mile leads to Bunnell Point, a 1,900 foot cliff.

The trail reaches 7,200 feet then turns eastward following the rive into Echo Valley. About a mile and a half east of Bunnell Point the trail reaches the High Trail to Merced Lake. This route can be used on your return trip. It is less scenic and has more elevation gain than the lower Merced Lake Trail.

If you bear right and continue walking eastward you'll travel through Echo Valley. At the eastern end of the valley is Merced Lake. Follow the river to this alpine beauty, which lies at 7,216 feet. Camping is not permitted on the lake shore, but a dispersed camping area is available at the northeastern end of the lake.

Directions from Arch Rock Entrance: Follow Highway 140 into Yosemite Valley. Bear right on to Southside Drive and follow it to either Curry Village Day-Use Area or the Backpackers Parking Area. The trail begins from the Backpackers Parking/Happy Isles Trailhead.

Seasonal Information:
Normally Open: Mid-June through Mid-October (NOTE: Trails may be snow covered in the Early Summer and Late Fall.) .

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Recreation Opportunities
Activity Remarks On Site
ICON Trailhead Parking Merced Lake Trail - Backpackers Parking Yosemite Valley
ICON Backpacking Merced Lake Trail
ICON Dispersed Camping Merced Lake Trail
ICON Geology Merced Lake Trail
ICON Cold Water Fishing Merced Lake Trail - Merced River, Merced Lake
ICON Hiking & Walking Merced Lake Trail
ICON Horseback Riding Merced Lake Trail
ICON Animal Identification Merced Lake Trail
ICON Bird Identification Merced Lake Trail
ICON Plant Identification Merced Lake Trail
ICON Wildflower Identification Merced Lake Trail
ICON Swimming & Waterplay Merced Lake Trail

Related Activities
Half Dome Trail - This trail leads from Happy Isles to the summit of Half Dome east of Yosemite Valley. Commanding views are the rewards of the hard work it takes to reach this summit.

Mist (to Vernal Falls) Trail - The Mist Trail leads along the Merced River, climbing 500 granite stairs to the crest of Vernal Falls. It can be used in conjunction with the John Muir Trail for a loop hike.

Nevada Falls Loop - This trail leads in a loop ascending on the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls then descending along the John Muir Trail.

More Information

Visitor Information:

Yosemite National Park, P.O. Box 577 , Yosemite, CA, 95389, Phone: 209-372-0200, Fax: 209-372-0220, TTY: 209-372-4726


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