Backpacking 10 Lakes Basin Yosemite National Park

The Mission: Backpack to 10 Lakes Basin in Yosemite National Park

The Prep: Any overnight backpacking in Yosemite National Park requires a Wilderness Permit. I called a week in advance and was lucky to get a permit. You can book your permit in advance or there are some permits available on a first come, first serve basis at the Wilderness Center in the park.

The Gear: You’ll need all the Camping Essentials PLUS a bear cache- this is mandatory in Yosemite National Park and can be rented at any Wilderness center for roughly $5/week with a $95 deposit.

The Execution: 

We arrived at Yosemite National Park by car the day before we planned to hike 10 Lakes Basin and paid the entrance fee at the gate. We then drove to the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center to obtain our permit that we had reserved the week prior.  While we were at the Wilderness Center, we rented a bear cache for $5 for the week with a $95 deposit.  With permit and cache in hand, we headed to the Tuolumne Meadows campground.

The Yosemite Wilderness Permit allows you to camp at the Backpackers Camps in the park 1 night prior to your trip and 1 night after your trip. So we parked in the 15 minute loading zone and walked our gear up to the backpackers section where we chose a site, set up our tent and paid the $6/person fee (cash only) in the envelope provided. We then drove our car down the road to an area the ranger suggested we could park for the evening.

The next morning as we were packing our gear, we were struggling to find a way to carry the bear cache. The container is rather large at 12 in. long and 8in. diameter and weighs roughly 3 lbs empty. After several attempts at trying to put the cache IN our packs, we decided to strap it on the bottom of one of our packs as it was the most comfortable option.

We drove down to the 10 Lakes Basin trailhead and parked across the street at Yosemite Creek. Here we were able to use the restroom and store our extra food in the bear lockers provided. Once we were geared up, we walked across the street and started our trek out to 10 Lakes Basin.

The beginning of the trail is a slight uphill with a rocky base that continues up beautiful slabs of granite, exposed to the sun and elements. I had a bit of trouble adjusting to the elevation and heavy pack as we started the small uphill climb. As we crossed the slabs of granite, we realized that the trail was not marked. If we were to wander off the trail for any reason, it could be difficult to find the trail again and we could easily get lost. We decided to stick to the path to avoid getting lost and continued on until we were in a dense forest full of evergreens. The rocky trail transformed to soft, pine needle covered forest floor as it leveled off and we cooled down under the shade of the giant trees.

The 6+ miles from the trailhead to the basin is a gradual uphill climb for most of the trail. We passed a beautiful open meadow and then began a steeper climb up to the 9,600 feet peak going back and forth up the rocky switchbacks until we reached a beautiful flower filled meadow. We stopped for a snack as we watched some deer grazing through the meadow before we continued our journey. The final haul to the basin was a steep descent down more winding switch backs as we made our way down to the lakes once again finding ourselves covered by a blanket of trees.

We passed a few fellow hikers as we scoped out the best spot to pitch our tent. We found a cozy little area right near the water as the thunder started rolling through the area. We were luckily able to get our tent up and packs inside before the rain started. After a quick rain shower, we explored the area and searched for some fire wood for the evening as we gotten eaten alive by the massive amounts of mosquitos buzzing round. After a swim in the lake, we spent the night warming ourselves by the fire and admiring the epic beauty of the night sky. We found a spot for our bear cache safely away from our tent and had a peaceful nights rest in our secluded lakeside retreat.

We rose with the sun the next morning, ate some breakfast and filtered some water from the stream to fill our camelbaks for the journey back. I was dreading the climb up those switchbacks at to get back to the meadow, but we took our time and it ended up being not as bad as I had been imagining all morning! Once we made it to the meadow at the top of the hill, the rest of the hike back to the car was a breeze. Downhill and mostly shaded, we were able to make the trek back to the trailhead at record pace.

Tired, sweaty and dirty on arrival to our car, we were yearning for rest and a shower! We hopped in the car and took a drive down to Yosemite Valley where we would spend the night at another backpackers camp.

We headed over to North Pines campground where we again parked at the 15 minute loading zone while we hauled our gear over the footbridge to the backpackers camp. We staked out a spot and dropped our $12 into the envelope for the evening. We then took our car over to Half Dome Village where it would stay for the evening. After a bit of food at Half Dome Village, we were feeling refreshed and decided to take a quick hike to Mirror Lake.

From the backpackers camp, it was a quick one mile, leisurely walk to Mirror Lake. The weather was much hotter in the Valley (87 F compared to 70 F near Tuolumne) and we were eager for a swim in the lake. The water was frigid, but it felt amazing after a few days of hiking. After we cooled off in the lake with a beautiful view of Half Dome, we braved the mosquitos and walked the one mile back to camp. Exhausted, we had a short fire and something to eat before going to sleep for the evening.

We woke early to get a head start out to our hike for the day. We packed our things and dropped our packs off at the car at Half Dome Village. We packed a quick day pack with some water and snacks and grabbed the free Yosemite Vally shuttle at Half Dome Village and took it two stops to Mist Trail.

We decided to the 7+ mile round trip trail up to Nevada falls and back down the JMT (John Muir Trail). The hike up to Nevada falls was steep and at points treacherous. The water coming off Vernal Falls made the rocky stairs and trail quite wet and slippery. I guess there’s a reason they call it Mist Trail! Although we started on the early side (roughly 8am) the trail was quite crowded already. Luckily, as we got further up the trail towards Nevada falls, the trail got steeper and the people became fewer.

We stopped several times to admire the beauty of the falls and the massive amounts of water rushing down the granite faces. Once at the top, we took a quick break to have a snack and enjoy the view before heading down John Muir Trail back to the trail head. The JMT on the way down was much easier on the knees as the trail was mostly dirt instead of rock and switchbacks instead of stairs. The views were not as great as they were the way up the steep side of the trail, but if you have knee problems, I would definitely suggest taking the JMT up and down as it is less strenuous.

As we returned to the trailhead, we noticed that there were a ton of folks just beginning the hike and it was way more crowded than it was in the morning. We were thankful we started so early in the day and were able to avoid most of the crowds.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
  • Ensure you have a wilderness permit if you plan to camp in the backcountry.
  • All food and scented items are required to be kept in a bear locker or bear cache overnight.
  • Weather varies greatly from the valley to other parts of the park. Make sure to pack accordingly.
  • Some trails are not marked well. It’s a good idea to have a map and compass with you at all times.
  • The only place with cellular reception in the park is Yosemite Valley. Otherwise you will likely not have cell service.
  • Be sure to fill your car with gas before entering the park. There is a gas station in the valley, but it is extremely overpriced.
  • There is a grocery store and restaurant in the valley, but otherwise there are not many food options in other parts of the park.
  • A water filter is necessary if you plan on camping in the backcountry.

A Weekend in Yosemite

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The Mission: Spend a weekend camping at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley.

The Prep:
Depending on the year, the valley may not open until June based on that year’s snowfall. Accommodations in peak season are booked months in advance so plan ahead. I made a reservation for the Curry Village canvas tent cabins, but regular cabins with private bathrooms are also available.

The Gear:
Sleeping bag (blankets, pillows and towels are provided, but I prefer to use my own sleeping bag)
Headlamp
Hiking boots
Merino wool socks
Padlock
Camelbak
Extra layers
Earplugs

The Execution:
Living in central California, I was lucky enough to have Yosemite National Park at my doorstep. Only an hour from the park entrance, I traveled to the park most weekends for day hiking and exploring. When family came to visit, I decided to make a reservation at Curry Village so we could spend a long weekend in the park. I booked my reservation 2 months in advance and got one of the last tent cabins available. A tent cabin is basically a wooden platform and frame draped in canvas. Unlike typical tents, the tent cabins have an actual door. Inside, the tent is outfitted with cots including blankets, pillows, and towels. Outside, each tent cabin has its own bear proof storage locker. Communal bathrooms and showers are available for those staying in the village.

Upon arriving at the park, a fee is required for entry. The entrance fee is per vehicle, not per person and around $30 USD. I however possess an annual pass for all national parks which is a great deal at $80 USD/year. After entering the park, it’s about an hour drive down to the valley and Curry Village.  On the drive to the valley, we passed through a long tunnel opening up to one of the most magnificent views of the park, rightly named “tunnel view”. Here we got our first glimpse of the famous El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls.

After arriving and checking in at Curry Village, we went through all of our belongings and put aside ANYTHING that may have a scent to it. This includes all food, beverage, toiletries, chap-stick or anything else that has a scent and we stored these items in the bear locker outside of the tent. The bears in the park are very savvy so we secured our locker with our padlock and checked our car to ensure nothing scented was left behind. This may sound dramatic, but check out the car on display in the valley where a bear ripped the door off of a car because it smelled something inside!

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We spent the rest of the day exploring the park and taking in the natural beauty surrounding us. The park offers something for every activity and skill level; from short walks to the falls, rock climbing, rafting, bus tours, biking and long hikes there is something for everyone. One of the most famous viewpoints is at Glacier Point. Visitors can either make reservations for a bus tour or drive to the top where there is an amazing view of half dome.

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The next day, we decided to wake up early to conquer one of my favorite hikes in the park. This trail starts at Glacier Point and ends down in the valley. This is a one way trail so we took the bus up to Glacier Point so we could hike back down to the valley. There are two trails, but I prefer the 8.5 mile panoramic trail. While it sounds like this trail would be mostly downhill, it is quite the opposite. The trail is very strenuous and takes somewhere between six and eight hours to complete. Although this hike is demanding, it provides some of the most beautiful views of the park including panoramic views of the valley and an up close and personal encounter with Illilouette Falls. The trail eventually merges with the Mist Trail where you guessed it, it’s quite misty. Prepare to see some beautiful waterfalls, but also to get a little wet.

After an intense day of hiking, we spent our final evening in the park relaxing in the valley. That night, the valley turned intensely dark, ideal for star gazing and on this perfectly clear night, the stars were nearly bright enough to light the whole camp. A perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

The Highlights:

  • Make reservations early.
  • Take earplugs as the tents are close together and can be noisy.
  • Be sure to put all scented items in the bear locker.