Monday, September 30, 2013

Hike to scenic swimming hole in Yosemite

Mirror Lake. Photo courtesy NPS

Mirror Lake Trail heads to pond
reflecting national park's icons

Day hikers can enjoy a swim in a pool reflecting two of Yosemite National Park’s famous landmarks on the Mirror Lake Trail.

Located in Yosemite Valley’s east end, the trail to the pool – Mirror Lake – is popular during summertime. The trail runs 2-miles round trip but by heading up the canyon can be extended to either a 4.6-mile round-trip or a 5-mile loop around the lake.

To reach the trail, hitch a ride on the free shuttle to Shuttle Stop No. 17, where the Mirror Lake Trailhead is located. Head north across Tenaya Creek.

Incredible reflections
At the junction with the paved bike path (restrooms are there), turn right/west. The trail parallels Tenaya Creek, which is to your right. Past the next set of restrooms, a small loop takes you to Mirror Lake.

A small, seasonal lake on Tenaya Creek, Mirror Lake is more of a pond. It’s also the last vestige of the massive glacial lake that covered Yosemite Valley at the end of the last ice age.

Still, there’s no denying Mirror Lake’s beauty. With evergreens lining the surrounding high granite walls, the lake is famous for its reflections of Half Dome and Mount Watkins, especially during spring when its water level reaches its peak.

Half Dome soars a full 4,800 feet above the lake while in the distance Mount Watkins towers 4,500 feet higher than the valley floor. Among the earliest and most famous photographs of Yosemite is Carleton E. Watkins’ picture of Mount Watkins with Mirror Lake in the foreground.

And here’s one more good reason to bring your bathing suit for this hike: Mirror Lake is close to disappearing. Sediment accumulation is rapidly filling it in. It may be gone within our lifetimes.

After a dip in Mirror Lake, either return the way you came or you can continue onward where you left the path for the water.

If choosing the later, where the small loop rejoins the main trail go right/north toward the valley's north wall. The granite North Dome rises above the lake by more than 4,500 feet. The rock formed more than 66 million years ago when dinosaurs last walked the earth.

At the next trail junction, go right/northeast. You’ll parallel Tenaya Creek as walking further up Tenaya Canyon. The canyon runs for 10 miles from Tenaya Lake to the valley. The creek runs over several impressive cascades along the way.

Reaching the canyon
Upon reaching bridge just before where Snow Creek meets Tenaya Creek, the canyon narrows greatly. Though a hike beyond the Mirror Lake Trail into the canyon may be tempting, don’t attempt it. High water levels in spring and summer as well as slick granite rock makes the canyon dangerous to hike.

At the bridge you have the option of turning back or continuing the loop. If the former, you’re looking at a 4.6-mile round-trip.

Should you cross the bridge, the trail parallels Tenaya Creek southwest and returns you to the path that you took from Shuttle Stop No. 17. This makes for a 5.1-mile round trip. Be forewarned that sometimes this trail is closed due to rockfalls.

The short, paved trail to Mirror Lake is wheelchair accessible. Leashed pets are allowed on short trail, but pets cannot be on the full loop.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.