Begin this hike through Lyell Canyon at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge. A parking area is signed for the John Muir Trail, which is the path that leads through the canyon. The trail leads 12 miles southeastward to the park boundary at Donohue Pass.
From the parking area cross the access road to a trail that crosses the Dana Fork. Ultimately you want to reach the John Muir Trail (JMT) so follow any signs you see for it. After crossing the Dana Fork the trail leads south approximately one half mile to another junction. This is the JMT leading eastward along the Lyell Fork from Tuolumne Meadows Campground. Turn left on this trail and follow it one half mile to the next junction. At this junction follow the left fork along the Lyell Fork. The right side of this fork follows Rafferty Creek.
From this trail junction the path crosses two branches of Rafferty Creek before entering Lyell Canyon. In the next four miles the route turns southward along the western riverbank. Views along the path include the Kuna Crest which rises above the eastern wall of Lyell Canyon. After four miles of hiking through flood plain meadows and conifer forests the trail reaches a junction.
The right fork of this split leads southwestward to Vogelsang High Sierra Camp. The left fork leads southward to the head of Lyell Fork. Follow the left fork, which will bring you to some excellent riverside campsites. These sites are best for camping in late July through mid September after the mosquito population diminishes.
The level terrain continues past the trail junction. Within a half mile the trail crosses Ireland Creek as it follows the western bank of Lyell Fork. Approximately three miles from the trail junction the JMT reaches an excellent camping site shortly beyond the mouth of Kuna Creek. This is the last resting area before ascending the southern canyon wall of Lyell Canyon and a good place to camp.
Beyond this flat area the trail climbs 2,000 feet in the next three miles. It winds its way up the canyon crossing the headwaters of the Lyell Fork. Close to the summit of Donohue Pass hikers will enjoy views of nearby glaciers among other natural features. The high point of this segment of the JMT is Donohue Pass at 11,100 feet.
Directions from Tioga Pass: Follow Tioga Road westward approximately 6.5 miles to the access road for Tuolumne Lodge. Turn left on to this road and follow it to the John Muir/Dog Lake trailhead.
July through Mid-October
(NOTE: Opening and closing dates may vary depending on snowpack.)