Nelson Lake Trail is a 11.1 mile out and back trail located near Yosemite National Park, California that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking and backpacking and is accessible from May until October.
Escape to a lake off the beaten path. Escape from the hustle and bustle of Tuolumne Meadows into the Cathedral Range! This route takes you a short distance but a long way away from the Yosemite's busy Tuolumne Meadows region and Tioga Road to a quiet subalpine lake surrounded by granite peaks. Nothing good comes without a cost, however, and the price you pay here is forsaking well-signed and well-graded trails. If navigation is not your strong point, this is not the trail for you. The hike starts by site B49 in the Tuolumne Meadows campground (there is parking and bear boxes by the trailhead), and climbs 1000 feet through the forest to Elizabeth Lake, where you are rewarded with a great view of Unicorn Peak and other parts of the Cathedral Range. Elizabeth Lake provides a wonderful place to stop, rest, catch your breath, and refill your water bottles. From here, the adventure begins as the Park Service trails fade out and well-worn use trails become your guide: continue south on a well-worn trail until it starts climbing up. The trails you'll be following from here on are generally easy to follow but not always. You break out of the trees at long last at 10,000 feet, just in time to crest the ridge and get beautiful views of Tuolumne Meadows and the high country north of there. Ahead of you is the long narrow valley of Echo Creek, with Cockscomb on the right (west). The trail then drops just as steeply as it climbed towards the bottom of Echo Creek Valley and wanders through two lovely meadows. Stay on the eastern side of the meadows, especially in the second meadow, as the trail to Nelson Lake will head east partway through the second meadow. Once you start climbing from this second meadow, the the use trail becomes trickier to follow and relies more on unreliable "ducks" (piles of stones left by previous hikers who might, or might not, have had an idea of where they were going). Continue heading east. Soon enough you begin to drop into the bowl of Nelson Lake -- there are campsites all around the lake and great places to watch the sunset on the ridge above. The open country around here has lots of possibilities for exploration. Retrace your way to the trailhead.