Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited parks in the country but that does not mean you can’t find peace and quiet.
This trip is a 33.4-mile out-and-back. We completed it in 3 days. There are a ton of lakes in the area as well as the potential for longer loops. We turned around at Moraine Meadows but if you can continue past this point and cross Red Peak Pass. This large loop would be a tough 3 days or a moderate 4 days.
The trip begins at the Fernandez Trailhead in Sierra National Forest and enters the Southern section of Ansel Adams Wilderness. For all overnight trips into the wilderness and Yosemite National Park permits are required. These can be obtained by mail or you can try your luck by arriving early at Clover Meadow Ranger Station. All trailheads into Ansel Adams Wilderness are on a quota system.
A free campground is located by the Clover Meadow Ranger Station; water and an outhouse are provided.
Day 1: Fernandez TH to Moraine Meadows, 13 miles, strenuous
You can begin your trip at the Fernandez or Norris Trailheads; they are on the same quota. We started at Fernandez; there is a a bathroom and bear boxes but no trash receptacles. The road is rough. Our Volvo made the trek but it was slow; high(er)-clearance is advisable.
This day is strenuous not because of the mileage but rather the climb to Fernandez Pass. You will climb from 7,520 feet at the trailhead to 10,200 feet. The climb is steepest at the switchback just before the pass. If you’re looking for a shorter trip, you can head North to Rutherford and Anne Lakes, about 1.6 miles and 1,000 feet below the pass. You can drop your pack and climb to the top with a lighter load. Rutherford Lake was our personal favorite.
The alpine meadows along the way are spectacular and the view from the pass is incredible. Personally, we found Ansel Adams Wilderness to be more impressive than Yosemite National Park, just on the other side of the pass.
Breeze Lake can be accessed by a .7-mile spur trail on the Yosemite side of the pass; this is where we spent our second night.
Looking at our map, water seemed to be plentiful, but it has been a dry year. Fill up when you can. Fernandez Creek and Merced River had water when we were there over Labor Day weekend.
Moraine Meadow offers a few good camping spots, just be sure to stay 200 feet from water.
Day 2: Moraine Meadows to Breeze Lake, 10 miles, easy
We had planned to complete the loop that would take us over Red Peak Pass but Luke left his hat at Moraine Meadow so alas, we had to turn around at Merced Pass. The climb to this pass is not particularly tough and affords worthwhile views.
Often on our hikes we take note of potential future camping spots. With the need to backtrack, we took advantage of one we sighted from Fernandez Pass the previous day. Breeze Lake has some GREAT campsites. The crystal clear water and the granite cliffs will give you the true Sierra feel.
While in Yosemite National Park, we saw no other visitors. In fact, the entire time we were in the park, we did not see another person. Most people tend to stay in Ansel Adams Wilderness since there are many lakes to camp near.
Day 3: Breeze Lake to Fernandez TH, 11 miles, easy
While we were able to fairly easily follow the trail up to Breeze Lake, we had a tougher time on the descent. Carry a map and compass and finding your way back to the trail will be no problem.
The toughest climb of the day will be after you connect back with the main trail. You will need to climb 600 feet back to the pass over .7 miles. Climb early to avoid the heat of the sun.
To add a bit of diversity on the return trip, we took the Walton Trail for the last 3 miles. This trail has a less elevation gain and gives you a fantastic view of the canyon formed by the San Joaquin River.
Ansel Adams Wilderness is littered with fabulous lakes and provides many loops for any length of trip. The area would be great for first time backpackers looking for an easy trip or for the seasoned veterans looking for challenging loops. Grab a map and start planning!
Visit our National Park Service Guide for more hikes in our national parks.