Tioga Pass and Kearsarge Pass
The summer crowds at Yosemite National Park are never inviting, but I’ve noticed that they’re much less noticeable if you can avoid Yosemite Valley. Tioga Pass, or Highway 120, has plenty of trailheads and lakes that have fewer people than anything in the Valley. Camping in Yosemite can be tough however, so we planned to exit to the east and drive down to Bishop, where there’s almost always camping available.
Date Range – July 30-31
Campground – Bitterbrush Campground
Distance – 475 miles (via Tioga Pass)
Closest Town – Bishop, CA
While in Yosemite, we hiked to Lukens Lake in the morning and then to the Gaylor Lakes later in the afternoon. Lukens Lake was more secluded, with tons of wildflowers littering the meadows in the forefront of the lake. Gaylor Lakes trail was pretty tough, as you gain just under 1,000 feet of elevation in a mile, but like always the views make it worthwhile. Instead of walking down to Gaylor Lake, I decided to try and go higher to get better view of all others as well. This gave me great views of Gaylor Lakes in front of me, and Dana Meadows behind.
Gaylor Lakes from on top of Tioga Pass
That night we stayed at Bitterbrush campground, one we pass often on the way towards South Lake and Lake Sabrina. There was little tree cover, which allowed me to get some great shots of the moonless night sky from within the canyon. This was the clearest I’ve ever been able to see the milky way, barely beating out the dry summer skies of Arizona.
The new moon provided some of the best views of the milky way I’ve ever seen
The next morning, after clearing the ant infestations off our tents, we headed south to Independence and Onion Valley. We were going up towards Kearsarge Pass, the plan to make it a 5 mile out-and-back trip to Flower Lake. We stopped briefly at Little Pothole Lake and Gilbert Lake on the way to a longer break at Flower Lake. The water at Flower Lake was a deep green with a steady supply of pine trees, lush meadows, and tall craggy peaks in the background. Hiking back was mostly downhill, cutting out a good chunk of walking time. The first three lakes were enough to make me want to come back for a longer stay next time.
Flower Lake, the third lake on the trail to Kearsarge Pass