Hiking May Lake | Yosemite National Park
Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
Hiking May Lake: Hike Details
Starting Elevation: 8,877 ft.
Distance: 3.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 538 ft.
Hike Type: Day-hike
Difficulty Level: Easy-Moderate
Food Storage: There are bear boxes at the trailhead. During our visit, the parking lot was not very busy and it was easy to find place to store our scented items.
Restrooms: A pit toilet is available at the trailhead and at the May Lake High Sierra Camp.
Cell Service: Limited
Crowd Factor: Moderate-High. This is an easy hike by Yosemite standards, so expect it to be very busy during the peak summer season. When we visited at the end of October, the hike was lightly trafficked.
Permit: None required for day-hikes
Date Hiked: October 30, 2020
Hiking May Lake Yosemite
May Lake is an easy-moderate hike that starts after following a roughly paved road for a few miles, just off Tioga Pass. During our visit in fall, parking was easy and plentiful, but we can imagine this would be very crowded during the summer.
A soft sandy trail starts your hike, and is flat for a minute or two before a short ascent. From here, the trail climbs gently, but steadily, through a mixture of forest and granite. Mount Hoffman is visible to the northwest. The trail continues to ascend to stone steps until you reach the bathrooms and May Lake High Sierra Camp at 1.15 and 1.20 miles respectively. As we visited in 2020 and during the Covid-19 pandemic, the camp and restrooms were closed.
We reached the shore of May Lake at 1.25 miles and 460 ft. of elevation gain. Be sure to climb up the rocks opposite the lake (on your right when you reach the HSC) for views out to Tenaya Lake and Cathedral Peak. Also in view: Echo Peak, Tressider Peak, Colombia Finger.
Because we were planning a bigger hike the next day to Cloud’s Rest, we opted to end our hike at May Lake. However, for those looking to extend their adventure, you can continue on to climb Mount Hoffman where you can spot Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley.
Additionally, May Lake High Sierra Camp is the easiest of the five to reach and a great place to spend a night or more.
Final Thoughts on Hiking May Lake
Having passed over visiting May Lake in favor of more challenging hikes, Julie and I were both pleasantly surprised by the short trek. The lake itself is very pretty and Mount Hoffman makes for an impressive backdrop and future challenge. While you shouldn’t expect to find much solitude at May Lake, it’s a worthwhile destination for some alpine beauty.
Shop our favorite gear for this adventure:
More adventure ideas in Yosemite National Park:
Hiking North Dome