One of the most popular day hikes in the Tuolumne Meadows area, Cathedral Lakes explores some of the grandest glacially-carved terrain in the Yosemite high country. An 8-mile round-trip hike visits the shores of both Lower and Upper Cathedral Lakes and passes through splendid alpine scenery including the shapely granite pinnacles that form Cathedral Peak. Tack on another mile round trip from Upper Cathedral Lake to reach Cathedral Pass for an even better view.
From Highway 120 in Tuolumne Meadows, the trail for Cathedral Lakes follows the John Muir Trail (JMT) southwest through a lodgepole pine forest as it gains elevation en route to the Cathedral Range. After climbing 600 feet in just over a mile, a view opens to what appears to be a massive granite dome; this is in fact Cathedral Peak’s north-facing shoulder. Don’t worry, this isn’t Cathedral Peak proper. The views get exceptionally better from here on out.
The sandy trail continues around the west flank of Cathedral Peak’s north-oriented backbone, passing through less densely spaced fir and lodgepole forest and crossing over a fork of Cathedral Creek. A little more climbing and the trail flattens out before descending slightly to the junction for Lower Cathedral Lake at 3 miles.
Head right on this spur trail for a half-mile to to visit Lower Cathedral Lake located at the base of a picturesque glacial cirque. The spur trail opens to a meadow with Cathedral Peak’s Eichorn Pinnacle towering above to the east. Large granite slabs surround most of Lower Cathedral Lake, making for great rest and picnic spots. Backpackers are permitted to camp at the lake, by permit only. This area sees lots of use, so please be sure to practice Leave No Trace ethics if you are considering an overnight here.
To reach Upper Cathedral Lake, retrace your steps to the JMT junction, turn right, and continue uphill in the shadow of the Eichorn Pinnacle. The pinnacles of Cathedral Peak, along with the renowned Southeast Buttress, offer classic multi-pitch climbing routes that beckon climbers to the Tuolumne area. John Muir is said to have the first ascent up Cathedral Peak in 1869.
Upper Cathedral Lake lies a half mile from the junction, or 3.5 miles from the trailhead, below the watchful guise of Cathedral Peak’s spectacular craggy southern aspect. Spend some time soaking up the views at Upper Cathedral Lake or continue another half mile up to Cathedral Pass for a world-class vista of the Cathedral Range and beyond.