Yosemite National Park is my favorite national park in California. It’s absolutely stunning in every season of the year. I also love how there are trails to appeal to every type of traveler. There’s the insane hike up to Half Dome (that I’ll NEVER be in good enough shape for) and easy strolls around Lower Yosemite Falls and everything in between.
My FAVORITE hike in the Yosemite Valley is the Mirror Lake Trail hike. I’ve visited the park in the summer and also the late fall and it’s been a stunning hike each season. If you are visiting the park, I highly recommend hiking the Mirror Lake Loop one morning. It’s an easy hike, mostly flat, but really interesting, and will only take about an hour (no need to hike all day!)
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Directions To Mirror Lake Trailhead Hike
You can do the Mirror Lake hike at any point in the day, but I always prefer hiking it in the mornings. I like how empty the trail right away. If you’re staying at Half Dome Village (aka Curry Village) it’s so easy to just walk over right after breakfast and probably not see anyone else until you come back.
I also really like how the light looks on the Yosemite park mountains in the morning. If you’re lucky, the lake will actually be a lake (the water is frequently dried up due to the draught or just the time of year) and you can luck out on a cool reflection of the mountains during the morning golden hour.
The Mirror Lake Trailhead starts at shuttle stop #17. I highly recommend taking the shuttle. It’s free in the valley and takes you everywhere. It can get crowded during the busy seasons. If you are staying at one of the campsites nearby or at Half Dome Village, you can easily walk over to the trailhead instead.
If you are driving in and it’s NOT the summer busy season, I recommend parking at the North Pine Campgrounds parking lot and walking the .2 miles to the trailhead. Again, if you are visiting in the summer, you probably won’t be able to find a parking spot over here. It’s a good idea ot just park your car in the first lot you can find and then take the shuttle everywhere in the valley.
When you arrive at the trailhead, you’ll find a paved road. This is the trail! A little way up, you’ll see that the paved trail continues forward, but there is also a traditional non-paved trail that takes you to the right. I recommend taking this trail!
The paved trail is easy. If you are with little kids, the elderly, disabled, etc, then the paved trail will be easier. That being said, I think it’s a little boring. I prefer the actual hiking trail. This trial takes weaves you around the forest before popping you out at the lake.
You’ll get to walk around boulders and roots. It’s an easy hike, but it isn’t flat. Because fewer people hike this side of the trail, you’ll usually have it all to yourself. We even were surprised by a teenage deer munching away here on the last time we hiked it! We turned a corner and BOOM, he was there having lunch. We were about 3 feet away from him. He didn’t seem to mind us at all, but we have him space as we walked around him.
The Mirror Lake Trail weather totally varies based on the time of day you visit. I think the actual lake area tends to be a bit warmer because it’s in direct sunshine (compared to the trail in that’s in the shade.)
Make sure to check the weather and dress appropriately. In the summer you may want a light jacket for a morning hike, but It’ll heat up during the day. Lots of water is key! In the winter, you’ll need a proper coat and probably snow boots.
Once you are at the lake, you can choose to stop here and turn back, or continue on the loop. The valley loop trail follows Tenaya Creek beyond the lake, crosses two stone bridges after the Snow Creek Trail junction before returning past Mirror Lake on the south side of Tenaya Canyon. If you don’t want to hike further, you can just stop at the lake, though.
I like to pack in a lunch to enjoy on Mirror Lake. You get a nice view of Mount Watkins and other peaks. Something wildlife like birds or deer will mill about in the distance. It’s really relaxing, which is why this is my favorite of the Yosemite trails to hike.
If the lake is dried up, you can sometimes walk across the sand and connect with the paved trail so you can make your own loop trail, in case you didn’t want to hike back the way you came. If there is water in the lake, you’ll have to backtrack or walk the full loop. It’s up to you!
Are dogs allowed? According to the National Park, leashed pets, bicycles, and strollers are allowed on the first paved mile of the trail. Beyond that, they are prohibited. They also recommend that you pack in all the water you need as there are no service stations. There are also no restrooms on this trail.
Another word of caution directly from the Yosemite National Park service: “Be aware of slick conditions along the south side of this loop trail during winter and early spring. With few natural barriers to hold onto or to brace yourself, it is fairly easy to slip and fall. This section of trail often remains covered in snow and ice, even when the north side of the loop is snow-free. When winter conditions exist, consider making an out and back trip along the north side of the loop.”
I love Yosemite. It’s fun to visit all year round. If you are visiting, I highly recommend booking a few nights at Half Dome Village in one of their canvas tents. It’s like glamping! They are such a fun way to experience the valley. Learn more here.
If glamping isn’t your thing, the Ahwahnee Hotel (aka Majestic Hotel) is a nice hotel within the valley. Or, you can stay at Tenaya Lodge outside of the valley. We stayed here around Christmas time a few years ago and LOVED the cozy cabin vibes!
Or, spend a few days exploring the cute town of Mariposa before you head into the valley. You can also take a drive up to Tuolumne Meadows for a different day trip from the valley. No matter what you choose to do in Yosemite National Park, I know you’ll have so much fun!
I hope this post helps you plan your hike to the Mirror Lake Trail in Yosemite. It’s a beautiful hike! Another good easy/flat hike is the Yosemite Valley loop trail. If you want a bit more of a challenge, try the Vernal Falls hike. It’s mostly uphill, but you end up really close to the waterfall and it’s absolutely stunning.
If you go to the park, don’t forget to tag your Instagram posts with @whimsysoul and #whimsysoul so I can see your photos (and for a chance to get reposted!) Got questions? Leave them below and/or shoot me a DM on Instagram and I’ll be happy to help!
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