Seeking the Impossible: Solitude in Yosemite NP

ansel adams wilderness; california; sierra national forest; sierra nevada A view of (right to left) the Minarets, Mt. Ritter, and Banner Peak from Fernandez Pass

A view of (right to left) the Minarets, Mt. Ritter, and Banner Peak from Fernandez Pass

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

california; lake; sierra nevada; yosemite national park This small water source is located near Breeze Lake but is beautiful unto itself.

This small water source is located near Breeze Lake but is beautiful unto itself.

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.

ansel adams wilderness; california; lake; rutherford lake; sierra national forest; sierra nevada Only a few miles from the trailhead, Rutherford Lake is apparently a popular destination. The t-storm kept backpackers at bay and we didn’t see anyone while we visited.

Only a few miles from the trailhead, Rutherford Lake is apparently a popular destination. The t-storm kept backpackers at bay and we didn’t see anyone while we visited.

ansel adams wilderness; california; sierra national forest; sierra nevada The colors in the high alpine meadows were amazing. Sharon preferred this stretch of wilderness to Yosemite.

The colors in the high alpine meadows were amazing. Sharon preferred this stretch of wilderness to Yosemite.

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

california; sierra nevada; yosemite national park A small patches of water in a dry area. I would love to see this place in the spring.

A small patches of water in a dry area. I would love to see this place in the spring.

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.

california; lake; sierra nevada; yosemite national park This quiet lake in Yosemite National Park served as a great water source for us. The day was a bit cold for swimming.

This quiet lake in Yosemite National Park served as a great water source for us. The day was a bit cold for swimming.

california; campsite; sierra nevada; yosemite national park Sharon found warmth in the tent while I framed this shot of the Milky Way.

Sharon found warmth in the tent while I framed this shot of the Milky Way.

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; california; sierra national forest; sierra nevada The pass serves as the boundary between Sierra National Forest and Yosemite Naitonal Park. This is the view into Sierra National Forest.

The pass serves as the boundary between Sierra National Forest and Yosemite Naitonal Park. This is the view into Sierra National Forest.

 

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.

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  • Ganesh

    Hi, First of all thanks for sharing your adventure. I like this trip’s itinerary. I am trying hard to infer your route on this trip. Am trying to make sense of direction on the google map to approximate the trail details, location of over night camping to fill up for permits. Please share some information for me to plan properly.

    Thanks
    Ganesh

    • Ganesh, thanks for reading and commenting. Glad you’re interested in the itinerary. We started from the Fernandez Trail Trailhead. On the first night we camped at Moraine Meadow, a tough 16 miles. We turned around the second day and did an easy hike back to Breeze Lake. There are some nice sites on the spur trail to the lake. The third day consisted of hiking back to the trailhead.

      • Ganesh

        Thank you very much for quick reply. I was in the process of filling up the permit form when i got your reply just in time 🙂 Hoping i will get the permit for Memorial day weekend! Would you have any suggestion to break that first day 16 mile hike to something smaller so we could break this over into 2nd and 3rd day? We could do 16 miles a day, but it would be nicer if we could distribute this evenly (if possible) over 3 days

  • You can just hike out to Breeze Lake the first night. 11 miles if I remember correctly. It’s still quite the hike as you have to go over Fernandez pass. If you’re only out for 3 days, that area is so pretty that you can consider staying at Breeze Lake both nights. Just day hike or play around the lake on day 2, and head back on day 3. If you’re doing 4 days, you can go out further for the second night and return to Breeze for your 3rd nigh or complete the longer loop over Red Peak Pass and Icebound Pass. If on the other hand you’re looking for a more relaxed weekend, Rutherford Lake is about 6 miles (if I remember correctly) from the trailhead and right before you start the step part of the climb. Also a beautiful Lake. My distances may be a bit off. I’m away from home with no access to my maps right now so please do double check. Good luck getting your permit. This trailhead is nowhere nearly as busy as the ones in Yosemite so you shouldn’t have a problem.

    • Ganesh

      Super like! thank you very much for that first hand information