Cathedral Lakes Trail

Difficulty
This reflects the 10Adventures difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.
Moderate
Duration
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
3-4.5h
Distance
This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.
11.7 km
Elevation
This reflects the total elevation gained throughout this route as measured by the GPS file. This includes all ascents and descents, and is higher than what is quoted in most route guides, which simply measure the distance between the starting-point and high-point of the route.
396 m
User Ratings
These ratings are completed by users who have completed this trail and not subject to reviews by 10Adventures.
Overall Rating
This is the average user-submitted overall rating on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest.
9.9
Physical Difficulty
This is the average user-submitted rating on the physical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Technical Difficulty
This is the average user-submitted rating on the technical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
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Directions to Trailhead
Cathedral Lakes trail in Yosemite National Park, California

The hike to Cathedral Lakes in Yosemite National Park allows you to savor what may be the most perfect lake we have ever been to. Although this lake doesn’t have the stunning turquoise color of those in the Canadian Rockies, we think it’s one of the best lake hikes in Yosemite. The scenery is spectacular and this is a place well worth a day of exploration.

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Route Description

The Cathedral Lakes trailhead is very near the Tuolumne Meadows village. All of the parking is located along the road. The trail starts on the north side of the road, and is very well marked.

The first part of the Cathedral Lakes trail is fairly bland, working slowly upwards through the trees. You will pass several ponds, and have views of nice rocky peaks through the trees. There are a few streams that need to be crossed, but just one major one.

After climbing over half the elevation, the path levels out and remains mostly flat for the remainder of the trail. At the end of the route you will enter a meadow that can be waterlogged early in the season. To keep your feet dry, you will need to sneak through the labyrinth of streams, canals, and marshes. There are a few small steps to cross, even with very careful route planning.

The lake itself is exquisite, almost picture-perfect, and we’re sure you’ll agree that this is one of the best lake hikes in Yosemite! The entire lakeshore is completely rocky. You can see the large meadow, a gorgeous peak, and a small view of the valley. The waters of the lake are very cold, but the shore is a lovely place to linger, and the vista is beautiful, so plan to spend the entire day there. Bring a picnic and plenty of water and sit back, relax, and enjoy the sun, mountains, and beautiful shimmering lake.

Trail Highlights

Cathedral Lakes

The Cathedral Lakes are a pair of stunning lakes in Yosemite National Park. They take their name from the nearby Cathedral Peak, so named for its church-like summit, and the mountain looms high over the water, creating a beautiful backdrop for the lakes. Both lakes are a product of the intense glacial activity that shaped this stunning landscape long ago. As immense glaciers scraped the valley bottom, they eroded a deep basin that was later filled with water.

The scenic beauty of this lovely spot has long attracted hikers and day-trippers, and Cathedral Lakes is now a very popular excursion within Yosemite National Park. The crystal waters provide the perfect mirror for the surrounding peaks, and there are plenty of places for picnicking and camping around the lakeshore.

As the glistening water beckons, you may be wondering whether it is possible to swim in Cathedral Lakes. Whilst it’s certainly possible to take the plunge and jump into the inviting waters, both lakes are extremely cold, so you probably won’t want to stay for long!

If you want to find more great hikes in Yosemite, check out Clouds Rest, Sentinel Dome, Yosemite Valley or Panorama Trail!

Insider Hints

  • This is our favorite place for really hot days, and we make sure to bring drinks and snacks and explore all around here.
  • This is a great location for backpacking as some great trails lead from here.

Getting There

To get to the Cathedral Lakes trailhead, take the Tioga Road (Highway 120) east from the Crane Flat gas station for approximately 54.0 km past Tenaya Lake to the hike’s trailhead. Park on the shoulder of the road.

Route Details

  • When to do

    June through October

  • Backcountry Campsites

    Yes

  • Toilets

    Trailhead

  • Family friendly

    Yes

  • Route Signage

    Average

  • Crowd Levels

    High

  • Route Type

    Out and back

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