Nelson Lake Trail

This reflects the 10Adventures difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.
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.
This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.
17.9 km
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.
782 m
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Directions to Trailhead

The Nelson Lake Trail is a picturesque day-hike through Yosemite’s high country. Escape the busyness of Tuolumne Meadows and venture this primitive path through the granite summits of the Cathedral Range to the shimmering alpine lake nestled in a mountain basin.

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Route Description for Nelson Lake Trail

The Nelson Lake Trail would be a great addition to any intrepid adventurer’s bucket list in Yosemite. If you don’t mind navigating a primitive path in the backcountry, then we know you’ll enjoy this scenic trek through the Cathedral Range! As much of the terrain is exposed, we suggest checking the forecast prior to your trek to avoid getting caught in a nasty afternoon storm. Additionally, be sure to pack plenty of sun protection and wear layers ,as conditions are known to rapidly change at such high elevations. Wear sturdy footwear and bring along the trail GPS to easily navigate the route. The National Park charges an entrance fee; refer to the NPS website for additional details.

Setting out from the trailhead, the Nelson Lake Hike follows the Elizabeth Lake Trail south along Unicorn Creek. Soon, you will reach Elizabeth Lake beneath Unicorn Peak, where you can revel in the views before merging onto the Nelson Lake Use Trail and continuing south. The path will climb up a rocky ridge, marking your departure from Tuolumne Meadows as you enter the Cathedral Range. Here, you will gradually descend the ridge and follow the waters of Echo Creek.

Eventually, you will reach a charming meadow where you will be diverted east to Nelson Lake. Revel in the beauty of the charming alpine lake and enjoy the sights of Rafferty Peak looming above. If you have a wilderness permit and your gear, then take some time to set up shop at one of the dispersed campgrounds along the shore. If not, simply retrace your steps along the route all the way back to the trailhead.

Getting to the Nelson Lake Trail Trailhead

The Nelson Lake Trail departs from the Elizabeth Lake Trailhead in the Tuolumne Meadows Campground off Tioga Pass Road.

Route Information

  • Backcountry Campground

    Backcountry Camping, Wilderness Permit Required.

  • When to do


  • Pets allowed


  • Family friendly

    Older Children only

  • Route Signage


  • Crowd Levels


  • Route Type

    Out and back

Nelson Lake Trail Elevation Graph

Weather Forecast

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Nelson Lake Trail Reviews

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