Cathedral Lakes Trail is a 8.7 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Yosemite National Park, CA that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible from March until October. Horses are also able to use this trail.
The trail is fairly steep, rising 1,000 feet in about 3.5 miles. The trail is also located at high elevation, so the air is thinner, possibly causing those that are not acclimated to the elevation to tire faster, and fatigue. The view upon arrival is worth ever bit of work it takes to get there. Cathedral Peak rises beyond a pristine alpine lake. Along side of the lake a beautiful meadow filled with wildflowers adds color to this amazing landscape. It is truly paradise. But it is essential to register early if you plan to stay overnight. The campgrounds fill up fast.
This is a beautiful hike but it’s not without its difficulties and challenges.
First and foremost this trail has a lot of elevation gain and the first half of the trail starts out as a combination of uphill and steps, levels out for a bit, and then goes in to rocky switchbacks. It then levels out again for a while, and you then either have to uphill for a short while to get to the upper lake, or downhill to the lower lake.
Make no mistake, this is a difficult hike. I am overweight and out of shape, and guys who were obviously thru-hiking were even commenting that this is a difficult hike, so I didn’t feel TOO bad about it. It took my wife and I much longer than the rated times to complete this trail, I think it took us around 6.5 hours.
The scenery however is fantastic; there is something to see throughout the trail. The trail starts heavily wooded, along the way to the lakes you will find a nice stream with some good photo opportunities, and eventually the spot in the ground where the water bubbles out and created the beginning of the stream. Along the way you will also see some wonderful views of the Eichorn Pinnacle, Cathedral Peak, and of course the lake itself.
Because it had taken us so long we only went to Lower Cathedral Lake, so I cannot comment on the views of the upper lake. The Lower Lake however has a fantastic walk through a sub-alpine meadow before you get to the actual lake, and then you get to a huge rocky area along the shore of the lake, where you will see fantastic views of the clear blue water, as well as the mountains overlooking the lake.
There is also a lot of traffic on this trail, since it’s part of the John Muir Trail there were a lot of people on the trail who were on their way to Sunrise Camp, we saw people easily every 5-10 minutes the entire way, on the way out we saw a steady stream of people heading back out until fair late.
One downside is that since this trail goes to one of the High Sierra Camp’s is that they use pack horses to transport stuff back and forth, which means there is a TON of horse poop all along the trail. There was horse poop every couple hundred feet, so you have to dodge it the entire way. When the trail is level it’s not so bad, but when coming back down the rocky switchbacks it makes picking a route difficult because not only are you trying to find the safest way down, but you also have to dodge horse poop.
I really enjoyed this hike, despite the difficulties that it gave me. The views are some of the best I have seen on a trail and if you can manage to overcome the elevation gains, it’s well worth it.
Such a beautiful hike. I think I was smiling the entire time. We left from Tuolumne Meadows campground so added about five miles overall but it was so nice to come back straight to our campsite instead of having to drive anywhere.
The lakes are gorgeous and peaceful. There were a good number of hikers and equestrians at Lower Cathedral but for how big the lake is it seems everyone was pretty spaced out and it didn't feel crowded. Upper Cathedral Lake was really where we had the best time as we only saw two other hikers and they only stayed briefly.
At Upper, we had a nice little lunch and then had a quick swim (cold water feels great on a hot day but the wind was picking up). Total seclusion. Just the best time. Wildflowers everywhere in the meadows you cross to arrive here and snow still up on some bluffs in July.
Would do again and again and again. Great hike.
We started the hike from the sign on the road showing the trailhead to Cathedral Lakes. It was a little over 7 miles round trip and took 3 hours. The views of the surrounding area and alpine lakes were amazing. This is a popular trail, cars were parked all along the road. There were a few stream crossings and the trail was muddy in some parts.
This is a popular hike judging from the many cars at the trailhead alone. Get there early and find a nice space. The hike is not very hard. A few sections uphill but nothing major. There are many people coming and going because this is part of the JMT, so you will run into a lot of backpackers most likely. Cathedral lake, the lower one, sits beautifully under cathedral peak. The pass and the upper lake is a nice place to visit too. You can do it. This maybe a nice place to backpack and relax, and perhaps allow you to see numerous sites nearby.
Hiked mid-June and found much the trail still covered in snow. Thanks to all trails, I was able to keep my group and a few others on the trail! Loved the views at Cathedral Lake! Very rewarding at the end of the 4 mile hike. Budget at least 6 hours for a round trip.
One of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done
Great hike! The lake was beautiful.
Beautiful alpine lakes. Perfect for swimming.
Great little hike with a beautiful lake at the end.
This is another gorgeous Yosemite hike. The first half is the hardest, but then it becomes pretty relaxed and pleasant. Most of it is wooded. The lakes are stunning. We hiked from Tuolomne campground, so it was a bit longer. A lot of backpackers on it and there is a backpackers' campground at Upper Cathedral Lake.
John Muir considered Cathedral Lakes the closest place he had ever seen to a church, thus the namesake. He was right. It is truly amongst God's greatest beauty. Worth the hike, which is on the harder side of moderate. So, so worth it. About a five hour hike total. Loved every minute of it!
I agree with Ricky, it depends on where you begin. We started at Tuolumne and we got to Cathedral Lake upper, after hiking most of the day. It was the end of July, very warm and what seemed like a never ending ascent! What a site to behold when you make it to the very edge, at the base of Cathedral peak, to see the lake glistening down the mountain! We made our way down and set up camp for 3 days~ no fires were allowed, but that didn't take away from our camping trip! It was a full moon on the lake~ gorgeous!
One of my all time favorite hikes! Easy enough without being a cakewalk, good distance and beautiful waters!
Absolutely awesome hike though it's all about the destination in this case. The journey is strenuous because of lack of oxygen up there. And 7 mile is very subjective and depends where you start as our hike totaled 10 miles because we started from tuolumne campgrounds.
Went 7/7/12 Saturday. Not crowded at all.
Unfortunately I did suffer from altitude sickness after the hike. Fever, nausea and insomnia. I have never suffered from alt sickness before. As soon as I made it out of the park in the morning I was fine. I guess there is a big difference between 8000 ft(my previous high) and 9000 ft.