Favorite Yosemite Spots: Upper Cathedral Lake


Photo by Kristal Leonard

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors. Olmsted Point is a favorite spot of Kristal Leonard, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley. Kristal is also one of the Valley’s most prolific photographers, often spending time in the backcountry to capture the perfect Yosemite moment. You can see more of Kristal’s work at Kristal Leonard Photography.

“One of my favorite places in Yosemite National Park is Upper Cathedral Lake. This beautiful alpine lake, along with its companion Lower Cathedral Lake, is situated in the Yosemite high country at the base of Cathedral Peak. It is far enough from the road to seem remote but it’s easily accessible via a seven mile round trip hike. My husband and I planned an overnight trip to the upper lake in August last year. There was a 30% chance of thunderstorms that weekend, which was exciting for me as a photographer considering how beautiful the high country gets during or after a thunderstorm. After a 3.5 mile, moderately strenuous hike, we arrived at the lake and found a campsite away from the water but with an amazing view of the lake and surrounding peaks. The thunderstorm was clearing right before sunset so we were treated to beautiful clouds and reflections on the lake. After dark, another thunderstorm moved through the region, so I set my camera up for timed exposures to see if I could capture the lightning that was hitting the nearby and more distant peaks. The next morning, everything was so fresh from the recent rains. We stayed for breakfast and then packed up camp and hiked back to Tuolumne Meadows.”


Photo by Kristal Leonard

Cathedral Lakes is a favorite backcountry destination in Yosemite’s high country due to the relatively easy hike that takes you into the backcountry. Part of the John Muir Trail – the famous hiking trail that is part of the cross-continental Pacific Crest Trail – the trail to the Cathedral lakes takes you through classic Sierra Nevada alpine environment. Accessible only for a short time each summer when the Tioga Road is open, Upper Cathedral Lake sits at an elevation of 9,585 feet, while Lower Cathedral Lake just lives up to its name at 9,288 feet. Both lakes provide views of the steeple-like formations of Cathedral Peak. In 1869, John Muir climbed Cathedral Peak and wrote in My First Summer in the Sierra, “A mile or so to the westward there is a handsome lake, and the glacier-polished granite about it is shining so brightly it is not easy in some places to trace Front of Cathedral Peak the line between the rock and water, both shining alike.”


2 comments on “Favorite Yosemite Spots: Upper Cathedral Lake

  1. Pingback: Favorite Spots: Upper Cathedral Lake | Yosemite Sentinel

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