There are some truly beautiful lakes in Yosemite that you don’t want to miss. Whether you’re looking to hike to a lake with epic views or swim in an easily accessible lake, we’ve got a spot for you on this list!
Yosemite is located deep in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and is home to Yosemite National Park. In terms of popularity, it’s second only to Yellowstone. The sculpted granite walls, spires, domes, and gables entice visitors, who also come to hear the roar of the waterfalls.
This park has one of the world’s tallest falls and supports 400 species of fauna, making it a vital habitat.
Within the national park, there are several opportunities for outdoor activity. Several paths go to various lakes and natural views, making it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
The lakes in Yosemite provide a wide variety of outdoor activities and breathtaking scenery for you to enjoy. Don’t miss these top 15 gorgeous lakes in Yosemite on your next lakeside adventure!
15. Tenaya Lake
Tenaya Lake is situated in Yosemite’s high country, or alpine zone, of Yosemite National Park, between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows. It has an elevation of 8,150 feet above sea level.
Kayaking, boating, swimming, and even sunbathing are all popular activities here, so it’s known as the “Jewel of the High Country” by some.
Tenaya Lake has a medium level of thronging. Because it’s so far from Yosemite Valley and less popular than other water sites like Yosemite or Bridalveil Falls, Tenaya Lake can be on the quieter side. However, don’t expect to be the only one there – it’s gorgeous and is definitely a destination.
Tenaya Lake has three granite mountains on each side, making it a mile long. One drawback: Tioga Road runs along the lake’s northern shore.
You might encounter difficulties if you want to cross the lake’s outflow on the western bank in spring and early summer. The route includes wading across the lake’s entrance and outflow, then strolling beside Tioga Road on the north shore. The whole journey, however, is well worth it.
If you want the most incredible views of Tenaya Lake in the shortest amount of time, park near the lake’s western side and walk south along the coastline until you reach the lake’s exit. You can see the stunning mountain vistas without putting in any effort.
You can get to the lake by taking Tioga Road for 31 miles east from Yosemite Valley’s Highway 120, which will lead you to the Crane Flat turn-off onto Tioga Road. From there, the lake is right alongside the road and difficult to miss. The lake is 15.5 miles west of Yosemite’s east entrance near Tioga Pass.
14. Cathedral Lakes
The Cathedral Lakes are two lakes on one trail in Yosemite National Park. The lower lake is 9,288 feet above sea level, while the upper lake is 9,585 feet. The lakes are about a mile southwest of Cathedral Peak and two miles east-northeast of Tenaya Lake, with Tresidder Peak nearby.
Hikes beginning from the Tuolumne Meadows area are some of the most popular in the Tioga Road region, and this one is no different, with a large crowd expected. John Muir Trail is part of the renowned trail, and you’ll likely see other hikers along the main route and at Lower Cathedral Lake (a half-mile diversion off the Muir trail). Hiking up into the Yosemite high country, you will find folks who are considerably happier and friendlier than you would find in a place like your workplace.
A high level of scenery awaits you here—one of Yosemite’s most stunning High Sierra lakes in Lower Cathedral Lake. There are three mountains around it: Cathedral Peak on the east, Echo Peak on the south, and Tresidder Peak on the north.
After the swamp crossing, a big rock shelf on the smaller lake’s eastern shore is gorgeous and restful.
The Tioga Road is usually open from June through October, making it a great time to visit. Early in the season, expect swampy conditions, and towards the end of the season, be ready for cold and storms.
You can reach the trailhead by car from Tioga Road, located at Tuolumne Meadows’ westernmost tip. Road 120 at Crane Flat is 38 miles east, while Tioga Pass is 9 miles west of this location.
Cathedral Lake is one of the most popular lakes in Yosemite and is definitely where we recommend starting! However, be prepared for some serious crowds, especially on warm days.
13. Young Lakes
Two trails (6 miles long each) lead to the Young Lakes, a great day hike spot near Tuolumne Meadows. The western trail is less attractive, mainly passing through dense forest, but the eastern course opens up to stunning views of the Ragged Peak range, granite mountains, and Alpine meadows. The lakes themselves are nestled beneath these spectacular peaks.
The route ends at the shore of the biggest area of the lake, but you can locate these two peaks (rising above the lake) by going along a shorter track, which ascends a little farther east. Several notable peaks are visible from the path: Sheep Peak, North Peak, and Mt. Conness.
The short side road to Soda Springs and Parsons Memorial Lodge, a popular destination in Tuolumne Meadows, is the starting point for both paths to the Young Lakes. There are two ways to get to Dog Lake and Lembert Dome from the Glen Aulin Trail: the eastern route, which begins at the Soda Springs road intersection, and the western path, which branches north after one mile of the Glen Aulin Trail.
There is a junction around 5.5 miles, and the lower lake is a mile further. On the east side of Ragged Peak, towards the upper end of Dingley Creek, large meadows provide wide-ranging, long-distance viewpoints, making it a more picturesque route.
12. Lukens Lake
At an altitude of 8,230 feet, you can find Lukens Lake along Tioga Road at the park’s west end. Lukens Lake, surrounded by dense pine and fir trees, is one of Yosemite’s less beautiful lakes (compared to other lakes in this list).
It lacks the magnificent mountain background in the High Sierras to the east. Instead, the primary attractions are the flowery meadows along the trail, the water’s stillness, and the deep woodland.
You can expect a medium level of thronging here. At the lake, it’s not unusual to see a group of people, despite this being one of the less impressive lakes, mainly because it’s closer to the campgrounds.
If you’re traveling the long route, the closest restrooms are at the White Wolf campsite, which is 1.9 miles west and 1.1 miles north of the trailhead.
Through paths, you can access Lukens Lake from the highway or White Wolf Campground. The trail to Lukens Lake winds through a mature forest before dropping to the water’s edge. There is a mild elevation change on the courses, making for an enjoyable trek.
There is plenty of room for parking at a pullout on Tioga Road. When the wildflowers bloom in early June, it’s a great time to come.
If you go a long way, you can find a restaurant and a snack store at White Wolf Lodge, right across the road from the trail start.
11. Mirror Lake
As Bald Mountain approaches during your hike, you’ll see Mirror Lake. On a clear day, you’ll see a lake and surrounding cliffs from here. Only non-motorized boats are permitted, making the site ideal for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing.
The picturesque attractions include the pool at Mirror Lake and the vista of Mt. Watkins (8,500 feet), which rises over the extreme north end of Tenaya Canyon.
Open year-round, it features an easy-to-moderate trail. There are informative exhibits about the local animals and plants along its tracks. You can see wildflowers from your campsite, set in a wooded area. It’s also possible to go hiking, biking, horseback riding, or see animals while you’re here.
Expect serious crowds at Mirror Lake, especially during the summer. It’s easily one of the most crowded lakes in Yosemite, mainly because it’s a great swimming hole.
If you’re a swimmer, the best time to visit is when the weather is hot. The route is still available in the winter, but the crowds aren’t as bad as in summer.
The trailhead is located at the easternmost tip of Yosemite Valley and is well-signposted. Hike east from Curry Village or the Ahwahnee Hotel via the trailhead shuttle or on foot from either location to get there.
10. Dog Lake
Dog Lake is nestled in a wooded valley with a backdrop of granite peaks and towering domes in the background. Although, despite its lack of grandeur, this lake is still beautiful and one of the most accessible in the park since it is only 1.4 miles off Tioga Road. The story behind Dog Lake’s name is one of its most appealing aspects.
In this area, evergreen trees encircle lakes surrounded by mountains and meadows. In 1898, the US Geological Survey sent Robert Marshall here to retrieve an abandoned sheepdog and her litter of pups, giving the lake its name. You won’t be able to see any dogs here now, though. They’re permitted in Yosemite’s constructed sections but not on the park’s unpaved paths.
Even though the lake isn’t as awe-inspiring, the short climb to get there is worth it.
From June through October, Tioga Road is open. There are generally many people around since the trek is so short. It’s definitely one of the most popular Yosemite lakes due to the ease of the trek.
To get there, you must first travel Highway 120 ten miles from Yosemite Valley to the Crane Flat turn-off onto Tioga Road, and then follow Tioga Road 40 miles east. The trailhead is located 7 miles west of Yosemite’s east entrance at Tioga Pass.
Many hikers combine the Lembert Dome trek with the one at the trailhead because of the nearby parking lot. You can find a trailhead for this path east of Tuolumne Meadows.
9. Ostrander Lake
At an elevation of 8,500 feet, Ostrander Lake is a picturesque alpine lake surrounded by the High Sierras peaks. Skiers undertake the 10-mile trek from Badger Pass in the winter to take in the views.
Ostrander Lake is a typical High Sierra mountain lake with a granite shoreline that adds to its allure. First, you’ll walk through meadows and streams, and if you’re there at the proper time of the year, you’ll see more wildflowers than you can count – not only in the meadows and along the stream banks all over the route. After a short distance, you’ll come to a wide-open area with views of the backside of Half Dome and the surrounding peaks.
This lake has a moderate hike. There is a lot of elevation in the second part of the path, but at least you’ll be able to warm up with some enjoyable walking through meadows before that happens.
The trek to the lake is just 12.4 miles round-trip in the summer. This hike is at its busiest during June and July when the meadows and stream banks are blanketed with vibrant wildflowers.
8. Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
The first sights of Hetch Hetchy Valley are when you round the bend and glimpse the dance of light on water. You can see water cascading from rocky heights hundreds of feet downhill. In the spring and early summer, you will hear the roar of the falls.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir’s deep motionless water reflects sunlight, clouds, and the bold shadows of the surrounding mountains in the foreground. As John Muir put it, “a great landscape garden, one of Nature’s rarest and most beautiful mountain temples.” Hetch Hetchy Valley is one of these temples. It’s truly a beautiful sight!
When Yosemite Valley is bustling with tourists in the summer, Hetch Hetchy provides a welcome respite. Only a tiny percentage of Yosemite’s tourists make the trek to this remote park area.
You won’t find any Starbucks or RVs on the road here. A valley that’s been likened to Yosemite Valley in size is instead the star of this stunning landscape. It’s ideal for anybody who enjoys seeing new places and wants a quiet nature hideaway.
Hetch Hetchy gets very few tourists, but the hike to Wapama Falls is where most congregate. To begin, cross the O’Shaughnessy Dam and go east along the reservoir’s shoreline. You can view the water and Kolana Rock from the pleasantly sloping ground, a 2,000-foot-tall cliff.
Also, it is part of Yosemite National Park, although the park’s entrance is located at a distinct location. Just beyond the Big Oak Flat Entrance gate and 12.5 miles east of the little town of Buck Meadows, turn north along Evergreen Road to go to Hetch Hetchy. You can reach Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in 16.5 miles by driving up the ancient Hetch Hetchy railroad grade, which passes via many remote routes.
7. Evelyn Lake
A typical above-the-tree-line pure water lake, Evelyn Lake, is 10,330 feet north of the Vogelsang High Camp plateau and has sandy beaches where you can dip or bathe your toes.
Evelyn Lake has a 350-foot slope to the south, so tourists can’t see Vogelsang or Parsons peaks, but they can see the Gaylor Peaks and the white mountain area of Yosemite to the north.
It is possible to reach Evelyn Lake from Vogelsang High Camp via the Rafferty Creek trail or Lyell Canyon by the Ireland Lake trail near Potters Peak and then continue east to reach Evelyn. The second path has a substantially steeper ascent compared to the Rafferty Creek Trail.
South of Evelyn Lake is a distinctive alpine bluff with a tundra-like atmosphere with multiple ponds that feed the lake in the early part of each season. You will see a unique perspective of the peaks above Townsley Lake and all the other peaks in the area from atop the bluffs.
6. Saddlebag Lake
When you visit Saddlebag Lake, you feel like you’re at the world’s top. The lake is surrounded by some of the most incredible fishing and trekking opportunities in the Eastern Sierra.
One of the region’s highest-accessible lakes, Saddlebag Lake, is only short from the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park.
Access to the 20 Lakes Basin is made possible by the Saddlebag Lake Resort’s water taxi service, which transports guests across the lake’s almost 340 acres. Fishing for brook and golden trout is excellent in the basin.
Saddlebag Creek runs out of the dam and provides excellent brook trout fishing and stunning mountain vistas. Saddlebag Lake and its surroundings are vast and seldom seem crowded, making it an ideal location for a family vacation.
It is roughly 12 miles from highway 395 and highway 120 to Saddlebag Lake Road. You can reach the lake in about three miles by following the route.
5. Cherry Lake
Cherry Lake, the Stanislaus National Forest’s biggest lake, is located in the Groveland Ranger District just outside Yosemite National Park. Dion R. Holm hydropower units are powered by the reservoir lake, which provides drinking water for the San Francisco region.
The lake is a popular summer destination for fishing, boating, and water sports. It’s open year-round; however, the road leading to it can be blocked during the winter months.
Cherry Creek’s branches run southwest from the Emigrant Wilderness and feed Cherry Lake. As far as whitewater rafting goes, Cherry Creek has some of the most challenging whitewater in the United States.
The Andresen Mine Trail is a moderate 4.5-mile climb that rises from 2100 feet to 1900 feet in elevation. It starts at the foot of the bridge. You can drive to Cherry Lake Road one mile beyond the Kirkwood Powerhouse. Take a left onto 1S23Y and park in the middle of the road.
Another hiking trail, the North Mountain Trail, is a challenging trek with a 2,500-foot ascent over three miles. You will see an abandoned fire tower at the trail’s ridge path. You can drive to Cherry Lake Road about 5 miles from the District Office. Approximately two miles beyond the Kirkwood Powerhouse, turn right and go up Cherry Lake Road.
The gated road is a mile away on the right-hand side. Ensure you don’t go too close to the gate when you park. Just beyond the locked gate, the trail starts on the right side of the road.
Cherry Valley Campground offers scattered camping on the lake’s southwest coast in its 46 campsites.
4. Townsley Lake
The Vogelsang Region of the High Sierra has Townsley Lake, situated between Fletcher and Parsons Peaks. Like many of Yosemite’s other lakes, it’s known for its crystal clear waters, rocky shores, and sandy floors.
At 10,353 feet above sea level, the lake offers spectacular views of granite mountain ranges and green meadows. The only way to get to Townsley Lake from Fletcher Lake is by an unofficial route that leads to the lake. Over the year, visitors with their fishing gear have carved out pathways.
On the extreme eastern edge of Townsley lake, there is an entirely different lake experience. After a challenging ascent, the Basket Lake sits a few hundred feet above the granite rock field. No one will hear you even if you cry for aid from this height.
Hanging Basket is a deep, frigid lake surrounded by granite spires, making it one of the most peaceful spots you’ll ever find. Swimmers should use care due to the very chilly water.
Backpackers can bypass the Vogelsang base camp location and proceed to Townsley Lake since you can camp around the lake. As a hammock camper, trees were numerous on the North slope, but tree sizes varied, so locating the appropriate spot can take some time.
The trees shrink and dwarf with brutal winters, and the only flatlands appear on the lake’s far eastern shore. There are several rock croppings on the north shore slope where you can find tent sites.
3. Lake Eleanor
Lake Eleanor, Yosemite’s most prominent natural lake, was enlarged in 1918 by constructing a concrete dam across its eastern shore. This dam was built to provide water to the San Francisco area.
The isolation of Lake Eleanor and its stunning vistas draw visitors to the lake. With 953 acres of surface area, this Yosemite National Park lake is a favorite destination for hikers seeking peace while taking in the beauty of the water shimmering in the sunlight.
You can find Yosemite National Park’s Lake Eleanor northwest of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on the park’s northern border. Driving to the Cherry Lake Dam and then heading east to the lake are viable options for getting to this spot.
Miguel Meadow and Kibbie Lake are both nearby trailheads. It’s a pleasant hike since there are no high hills. Although it’s a four-mile journey to get to the lake, the reward is worth it.
Fishing is allowed year-round, but the summer months are the most fantastic time to visit Lake Eleanor in Yosemite National Park.
Trolling from a canoe on Lake Eleanor is some of the most incredible fishing, but getting there requires quite a portage. From the beach, you can also catch fish. Anglers can catch rainbow and brown trout. A short distance away, Frog Creek is an excellent place to start.
In Yosemite’s backcountry, you’ll always have the opportunity to encounter animals. Try to observe bald eagles, deer, and even black bears while you’re there.
2. Gaylor Lakes
Gaylor Lakes comprises two lakes: the upper Gaylor and the lower Gaylor. A short but challenging climb will take you to the lower Gaylor lake. You can then climb to the upper Gaylor lake from there.
From the start of the trek, the landscape is breathtaking. The trail begins with a challenging ascent, but the rewards are the spectacular views of Dana Meadows and the surrounding mountains, including Dana, Mammoth, and Gibbs.
The view from the top of the pass is stunning, with mountains to the east of Yosemite and the high Gaylor Lakes valley, which has prehistoric air from the peak when you look down on it. There are five lakes in the valley, all gorgeous, and you can glimpse the mountains surrounding Tuolumne Meadows beyond the valley’s horizon. Located above Upper Gaylor Lake, there is also an abandoned 1870s mine.
Compared to Yosemite Valley, the Tioga Road area is a post-Ebola wasteland on weekdays and a bustling tourist destination on weekends. It’ll be easy to identify other hikers in the Gaylor Lakes valley because of the wide-open scenery, but they’ll be dispersed around the basin’s several picturesque sites.
If you’re coming from Yosemite Valley, travel Highway 120 for ten miles to Crane Flat, where you’ll turn right onto the Tioga Road, which will take you 48 miles east to the trailhead.
To get to the trailhead from the east entrance at Tioga Pass, drive through the Yosemite entry gate and immediately turn right into the parking area.
1. May Lake
Visit May Lake, which is noted for its short, straightforward climb. To see all the lake offers, you only need one day. Tioga Pass provides access to the lake through a one-mile ascent. It has a lake camp where you can unwind and go fishing.
Like many high lakes in Yosemite, May Lake is situated at the foot of spectacular granite cliffs (Mt. Hoffmann). With its low side giving access to a drop-off overlooking the Tioga Road region to Clouds Rest and Tenaya Lakes, May Lake ranks as one of Yosemite National Park’s most spectacular lake hikes.
If you don’t fly with Horizon Air, you won’t have many opportunities to see Clouds Rest and Half Dome from the air, and the views of the northern wilderness are almost as impressive. There are also some excellent views of May Lake from the Mt. Hoffmann hike. Even though May Lake is lovely, Mount Hoffmann elevates this trip to the next level.
Since it’s a short trek and the May Lake High Sierra Camp is located on the eastern side, you won’t be the only one here. The crowds aren’t as bad as they would be if it were situated directly adjacent to Yosemite Valley, like Mirror Lake.
To get there, you must reach Tioga Road from Yosemite Valley by driving ten miles north on Highway 120 to the Crane Flat turn-off and another 28 miles east to the May Lake turn-off. Take the Tioga Road west for 20 miles from Yosemite’s east entrance at Tioga Pass to the turn-off. The parking facility at the trailhead is 1.8 miles away from the turn-off.
Tips on Visiting Yosemite
Here are some of the tips when visiting Yosemite:
1. Make a Reservation in Advance: Reservations are necessary to drive into Yosemite National Park from May 20 through September 30, 2022, during peak hours (6 am – 4 pm). There will be no first-come, first-served campsites in 2022 since campgrounds will need reservations in advance.
2. Be Patient and Adaptable: Yosemite attracts millions of visitors from April through October. Most people see Yosemite Valley, but other attractions are across the park.
3. Retain the Wild: Respect animals from afar. Never approach, feed, or allow animals to come to you. Getting too near to park animals might be harmful to both of you. Injuries from squirrels and deer outnumber bears and mountain lions in Yosemite. Living around animals exposes you to sickness. Always store food properly and obey speed restrictions.
4. Safely Enjoy Rivers and Falls: Be cautious while near Yosemite’s rivers, lakes, and waterfalls. If you want to cross a river or a stream to cool down, look for a spot with calm water. Choose a site downstream that isn’t near rapids or waterfalls if you’re worried about being carried away by concealed currents. Keep a safe distance from fast-moving water. All it takes is a slip-on wet (or even dry) rock to be carried away.
5. Get Ready for Your Trip: The weather is warming up, and you want to go hiking or climbing. Great! Make sure to prepare and plan ahead of time. Someone should know where you’re going and when they would expect you to return so they can find you. A headlamp or torch (with additional batteries) plus a map and compass are essential for any outdoor adventure.
If you want to get away from the city’s hustle and bustle and spend quality time with your family, consider visiting one of Yosemite’s most gorgeous lakes.