Trails.com is merging with AllTrails! Please click here to read more.

Hetch Hetchy Loop via Lake Vernon

HARD 59 reviews
#56 of 244 trails in

Hetch Hetchy Loop via Lake Vernon is a 25.8 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Groveland, California that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, camping, fishing, and backpacking and is best used from May until October.

Distance: 25.8 miles Elevation Gain: 5,662 feet Route Type: Loop

backpacking

camping

fishing

hiking

forest

lake

river

views

waterfall

wild flowers

wildlife

blowdown

bugs

rocky

snow

no dogs

Hikers can also add Laurel Lake to this loop - adding several miles to the trip.

hiking
blowdown
1 month ago

hiking
bugs
over grown
rocky
1 month ago

Just completed the loop (August 15-18, 2019). Amazing views the whole way but the temperature was unexpected especially in the open areas. The highs were in the +100 degrees so it slowed us down a lot. Plenty of water along the trail which helped out a lot. We went counter clockwise with our first night stay in Tilltill Valley by the creek. The meadow heading into the valley was full of mosquitoes which completely covered us in bites regardless of how much bug repellent we used. Also, the switchbacks after Rancheria Falls were a killer! I highly recommend taking a break at the falls and completely refilling your water supply before making the trek into the valley. The campsite was great with a creek next to us. Our second night was spent at Vernon lake. The switchbacks heading to the lake were not as bad as the first day’s but still strenuous. Campsite was hidden on the NE part of the lake. The floor was rock which was nice and flat. I would have preferred to stay closer to the river on the SW side of the lake, just before the footbridge but the site we chose was an amazing view. There was an active black bear in the area but he didn’t bother us. He paid us one visit and left us alone the rest of the day. Our third night was spent at Laurel Lake, only about 5 miles away. The hike was strenuous at first but then eased up a little bit. Our campsite was on the S end of the lake just before the creek coming from the lake. Beautiful view and a Great Lake to swim in. Lots of deer walking around at night but easily scared. On the fourth day we hiked 8 miles back to our car with mostly down hill trails. I highly recommend this hike but with a warning, plan on a tiring couple of days. Some sort of physical endurance is required but it is definitely rewarding. This trail doesn’t have a lot of visitors, you will feel very secluded until you enter Laurel Lake. A lot of weekend warriors stay there but still not as busy as Yosemite Valley.

hiking
2 months ago

Did counter clockwise, 3d/2n. 1 night at Tiltill Valley, 1 at Lake Vernon. Beautiful hike along Hetchy Hetchy. Very intermittent shade on the climb from Rancheria to Tiltill. Rough in the midday sun. Trail thru Tiltill Valley is still pretty marshy. Great little swimming hole at Tiltill creek near the established campsites. Mosquitos are there, but not too bad. Trail to Lake Vernon pretty overgrown at points by small bushes, but still easily discernible. Lake Vernon was beautiful. A little disappointed I didn't decide to camp along Falls Creek a little south of the lake: If you hook a left/south directly after the bridge, there's an area with calm water and a cool swimming spot. Maybe next time. Stayed at the north end of Vernon for my 2nd night. Reedy grass in the water, and ankle deep tenacious mud, but definitely still very swimmable. Two smaller bears spotted. According to the rangers, a small black-colorated black bear has been pretty successful in getting food this summer. I did see this bear: it stole some recently caught fish from a neighbor's site, and later did approach my site, but was easily chased off. It did not come back or attempt to disturb my canister overnight. Hiked out back to HH via Beehive the next morning, skipped Laurel Lake. Fresh raspberries on the trail were a treat. Very nice little long-weekend loop!

hiking
blowdown
2 months ago

hiking
2 months ago

One of the most incredibly beautiful treks I've ever completed. We missed out on Lake Laurel, you might consider planning for 4 days instead of 3 like I did.

backpacking
rocky
2 months ago

I've made this loop for 3 days, with camps at Rancheria Falls and Lake Vernon camping sites. The view of all falls and lakes along the trail is amazing. Mid July was very hot 35C at the day- and 15C night-time. 2nd day 10 mile hike and climbing with heavy backpack was difficult for me, but doable. Twice at Lake Vernon (N-W near trail junction and N-E near camp) I saw probably the same pretty nice black bear eating fern. In both cases he fled with no rash making an impression that he does not want to see me. Taking into account of how difficult to get a permit, I expected to see crowd on this trail. Nope! 2nd day I met one person only for entire day! Most people turns at spectacular Wapama falls. Two persons were camped at Rancheria falls. At Lake Vernon AllTrails map for this loop trail shows campground in a wrong spot. In reality it is close to the granite rock beach. Water in the lake was warm and good for swimming. Another option for camping might be at the south part of the Lake Vernon, on the granite slab where trail reaches the lake. There is a creak with fresh water along the descending trail, which is not shown on the map. There are couple of inlets on S-E part, but it is too far to go around swampy East side.

hiking
3 months ago

We had to do an out and back counterclockwise on the loop after scoping out the falls and deciding it was too dangerous to cross due to the bridge railing being blown out by the water in parts that looked quite sketchy. This was on 6/21/19. I have heard from others that the bridge has since been fixed and the crossing is less scary since the water levels have decreased. We did see a missing person sign that said he was last spotted at the falls and that was enough to make us turn out and do an out and back instead. We camped for two nights at each of the lakes: Laurel and Vernon. Lake Laurel was very marshy getting down to it from the trail. Stay to the right after you cross the stream and you should be able to avoid the buggy marshy areas that we encountered while going to the lake (we only found the less marshy route when coming back up). The hike is easily doable in 3 days. We loved camping at Lake Vernon. It was beautiful.

hiking
muddy
off trail
rocky
scramble
3 months ago

This trail was amazing did the whole loop in 3 days, we wanted to take it slow. The incline from Tiltill Valley was a bit hard since there were so many fallen trees blocking parts of the trial. Saw a small bear in Tiltill Valley. Were warned about two bears at Vernon Lake that got near other hikers camps, but were lucky and didn't see any.

backpacking
no shade
4 months ago

Hiked this in July 2017. The road from the west didn’t open until the week before. Found out at the gate that the bridge at Rancheria was destroyed that week so had to do an out and back trek instead. Below is up to Mt Vernon. Left overnight lot at 10:30am. Switchbacks are a little rocky, but not a scramble by any means. Still quite a lot of climbing and by noon it seemed like 90% sun and 10% shade. After switchbacks are finished there's more shade. 3pm made it to Beehive Meadows. Was a bit wet and buggy trying to get to Laurel . Made it there around 5pm to camp on the north side. There were 2 fire circles within 50 yards of each other. I was the only person @ Laurel that evening. Left Laurel around 10am the next morning. After crossing Frog Creek and halfway up the hill I saw a beautiful brown bear come out from behind fallen trees about 15 yards away. Neither of us were in a rush. >> started descending to Vernon around noon, hardly any shade once you come out from the trees. Caught a 12in rainbow trout and cooked in foil over coals, sharing with the neighboring campsite.

camping
Saturday, October 13, 2018

Solid hike. Can be done in 1 night. I left the site at 9am from the campsite and went counterclockwise (see Sweeney review below, very helpful) and went until 5pm, made it most of the way to Lake Vernon but was just too spent from the elevation gain so just found a spot for myself. The next day I took the detours to Lake Vernon and Laurel Lake, finding the latter MUCH more worth it, started at 9am and was back in my car by 6pm. It's doable but I was moving. Set aside some time to get around Laurel Lake, you won't regret it. You get some views of the Lake that are really spectacular and much better than some you get of Lake Vernon. I passed an gentleman on the trail who said he had also camped lakeside at Laurel, and I would recommend that much over camping near Lake Vernon based on what I saw. Per the review below, I agree that the trajectory of the trip gets a little odd if you go clockwise, but there's a way to make it work. Overall, good trail, lots of varied and interesting terrain. lovely views. Will likely do again with friends or family.

backpacking
Monday, September 10, 2018

Start to Tilltill Valley; Via Rancheria (10 Miles flat then uphill) Tilltill Valley to Lake Vernon (7 Miles uphill) Lake Vernon to Finish (10 Miles downhill) I did this loop over Labor Day weekend. There were 4 of us (two guys and two girls, late 20's and various degrees of in-shape) Paces would vary but we all handled the distance and elevation gain well. As has been posted before, this trail is more than 23 miles. We were told by a very confident ranger that the trail is actually 27 miles, and if you include the extra distance of walking around Lake Vernon - or going over to Laurel Lake it can climb to 28-29 miles. We wanted to spend the most time at Lake Vernon so we went the Rancheria Falls route. This time of year Rancheria Falls was pretty much dry, which blew one of our comrade's minds who had seen it in full force a year earlier and who said they needed to cover their bags to keep everything inside from getting drenched from the waterfall. The hike to Rancheria Falls campsite was pretty easy and flat. We stopped and swam in crystal clear (relatively small) body of water that was there before continuing to Tilltill Valley, which I enjoyed much more as a campsite. At this time of year Rancheria's campsite seemed dry and the trees a little thin, but Tilltill Valley was a nice valley, very green with a great open view while also being encompassed by trees. The trail from Rancheria to Tilltill was much harder as the elevation gains start kicking in. The next day, we left camp around 11:00 and made it to Lake vernon by 2:30, but went around the lake to find a campsite, and that took another 40 minutes. This was all uphill until the last mile, and bugs at the initial switchbacks were relentless. Regardless, the hike was beautiful, and swimming in and spending the day / night at Lake Vernon was magical. The last day, there is an initial climb out of Lake Vernon for about 1-2 miles before you finish off the last 8 miles going downhill. About 2 miles into this hike we saw the mama bear with her cub from a distance (which people had seen at Lake Vernon the lake the day before). Bugs weren't nearly as bad on day 3 and finishing up going downhill was very welcome. My personal tip - I recommend the counterclockwise loop, and I also recommend making it to Tilltill Valley for your first night. Going from Rancheria Falls to Lake Vernon seems like a rough journey, and if you go clockwise making it all the way to Lake Vernon (10 miles) with that elevation gain would be tough. And if you go clockwise and stop by Laurel Lake the first night, you will need to continue past Lake Vernon so you won't be able to spend a night there (Given you're doing a 3 day / 2 night trek). 10/10 would recommend.

hiking
Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Really enjoyed our trip. First, the description here says 23.3 miles, but the flyer at the entrance gate says 29 miles. I added the distance we actually hiked, including the detours around the lakes, and came to ~29 miles too vs. 23. Completed over Labor Day Weekend. Half day, full day, Half day. We are two experienced, fast, pretty in-shape hikers in our early 30s. Been in drought, so water was all low. Very good workout with sore legs after! Day 1 was a late start, as after getting permits and all at Big Oak (weren't sure of our plans), we actually didn't get on the trail until 5:30pm. First stop was the dam itself, which is a site to see. Would have missed this otherwise, and worth the drive to Hetch Hetchy just to see the dam and valley. Started the ascent towards Laurel Lake, which involves a series grueling-for-me switchbacks. I found this to be the most difficult part of the hike, with the steepest ascent. Cleared the switchback and tried to find water before dark. Frog Creek was dry, so we continued on in pitch blackness (w/ headlamps) to Laurel Lake and arrived ~9:30am. Very nice mountain lake, but not as impressive as some others at Yosemite (now that's a very high bar though). Day 2, we slept in, lounged around camp, broke camp at 11am. It was warm! Hiked to Lake Vernon, which was beautiful. Surrounded by High Sierra bluffs. One of the prettiest I've seen. Jumped in the lake, ate lunch, really enjoyed the time. Heard there was a Mama bear w/ cub nearby, and later saw a video from another hiker to verify. Thus, if camping here, heed the bear warnings and all. Ascended from Lake Vernon (another steep climb, saw a group that was stopped and struggling a bit) headed towards Tilltill Valley. Negative was the bugs, as starting ~4pm, these little face flies were everywhere. They didn't bite, but they could be constantly buzzing in your ear and landing on you. Arrived ~6pm keeping a fast pace. Incredibly beautiful spot, overlooking the mountains, with lots of clearly defined campsite too. Take me back! (Bugs died down after dark ~7:30pm) Day 3 we got a much earlier start, breaking camp at 8:15am. Very few bugs! (Must have been an evening thing). We pushed a really aggressive, power walking pace, nearly jogging at times. The path along the reservoir was more rugged and up-and-down than expected. Even had some switchbacks. Rancheria Falls was basically a trickle, so not much to see there, and the other Falls were all dry. Oh, and it was hot too. Wear sunscreen if sensitive to sun. At this point, the post-backpacking meal was the driving motivation, and we powered through, passing only a hand full of day hikers. Beautiful view of the reservoir. So pretty. We made it back to the Dam at 11:15am, and our legs were definitely wobbly or gassed. Really great workout and exercise. Cleaned up and had a cheeseburger back in civilization. Awesome, incredible weekend! Recommend this loop for sure. Would be nice to complete with more water earlier in the season just to see the Falls. Love Yosemite!

backpacking
Saturday, July 14, 2018

This was an awesome hike and the views are indescribable. I had not been backpacking in a few years and most of my trips have been in the Smoky Mountains so I was not completely prepared for this grueling hike in the dry heat. We stopped at Laurel Lake and decided to make this our home as I was too exhausted to go further but it was the perfect site. We stayed on the Southside and had the camp completely to ourselves. We didn’t see any bears but heard about a camper at Vernon Lake who had his backpack raided that previous night. We did have a big buck walk right into our camp only about 15 feet away like he owned the place. I definitely recommend this trip but maybe in a cooler part on the year. We were there the last few days of June.

backpacking
Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Great section of the park that I've never had a chance to explore before. We just went to Laurel Lake and back since it was so flipping hot. Never hiking in 95+ degree weather again :)

backpacking
Thursday, June 14, 2018

I did this trail clockwise with a friend over 4 nights, 3 days plus we added our first night at Laurel Lake. Being pretty fit ourselves, we found this to be a challenging trip and very sunny/warm. Sometimes water stops are not frequent so be sure to carry plenty of water! Several boggy spots where you will get quite muddy/dirty: headed into Laurel area, headed up after Vernon Lake, Tiltill area. Heading into Laurel area you will also have to cross a river to about the knees. Bear tracks and sightings, be very careful and aware of your surroundings at all times! Many downed trees and overgrown paths so be sure to have GPS or maps to avoid getting lost. Overall very beautiful and a wide array of scenery as you hike along.

backpacking
Thursday, May 31, 2018

We did this trip over Memorial Day weekend so we saw a good deal of people. Overall, this was a nice 2 night, 3 day backpacking trip. You get to see quite a few different landscapes and get a pretty good workout overall. Day 1 and 2 is about 10 miles with day 3 around 6.5. There's some good climbs but overall, not to bad. Be prepared for some bugs in TilTill and possibly flooding in the valley. Be on the look out for bears too in the Beehive area. Both locations have sites with fire rings. I'd recommend this for anyone looking for a fun, moderate 3 day backpacking trip. Remember Leave No Trace!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

clockwise May 19 2018, 3 days 2 nights. Camped at Vernon lake and Rancheria (considered Tiltill but limited sites and unlimited mosquitoes). In the early season, this is as good as any Yosemite backcountry hike (lakes, waterfalls, views, variety of ecosystems and vegetation) + and no crowding (walked up for permit, saw fewer than 10 people when away from lower trail along the reservoir). In later season I can imagine the dust and heat and aridity might change the balance and drop a star. It may distract from your enjoyment if you think about the history of Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Consider the info from online and national park service as well as from San Francisco department of water that is on the placards. Prep suggestions: * we liked clockwise, not only to get elevation out of the way early, but facing into nice view coming back down to Hetch Hetchy : * be ready for wearying uphill and downhill out of and then back in to Hetch Hetchy Valley * check if you will need to wade thru Tiltill Valley (water above boot line and no way around, for approx 20 yards each side of the valley). Soft soil and grass meant barefoot was fine for most of our group. * fair amount of bogs and rock hopping and downed trees changed our time calculus. Highlights: * great campsites + no fire restriction * water at Wapama falls is enough to get wet walking across the bridge but not enough to close the trail * wildflowers!! (So so many and so many species, especially at lower elevations) * Tiltill Valley = spectacular in a peaceful way, well worth seeing (think baby Yosemite or tiny pre flood Hetch Hetchy) * Vernon lake, especially from the ridge above the lake (toward Tiltill/Rancheria) Note on mileage: Trails illustrated is 25, not counting unavoidable .5 each way from parking to the dam and variable to get from junction to actual camping at Vernon (.3 each way, but could be more). My gps said 27.5. I would use 25+ for planning assumption, not the 23 from AllTrails (sorry guys!) Final note that the backcountry office says 28 miles, but I believe that is the trails illustrated 25 plus 3 miles optional extra around laurel lake.

backpacking
Monday, May 07, 2018

Good early season trip. It was clear the trail crew hadn’t made their rounds...many down trees and overgrown sections. Did the loop counterclockwise staying at Vernon night one. Very pretty lake with better campsites in the eastern side. Lingering snow near Mt Gibson. Tiltill Valley is beautiful but bogged out requiring forging the meadow through calf deep water which was much funnier in the car ride home than it was while we were doing it. The trail from Tiltil Valley to Rancheria Falls is pretty exposed and overgrown. All the sites at Rancheria we’re either taken or to too close for comfort so we ended up heading for the car. The bridges at Wapama Falls were fun to cross and a nice mid-day soaking.

backpacking
Monday, September 25, 2017

This was my first experience in Yosemite, and we chose this trail because we'd heard there was less traffic and we were looking for true wilderness and not many people. We'd originally planned to go up on Moraine Ridge and down into the Jack Main Canyon, but because of the still high levels of snow there in mid-to-late June, the rangers recommended against it. They also warned that we may not be able to cross Falls Creek because of the amount of snowmelt. The switchbacks were hard and gruelling in 90 degree heat, but I made it and am proud of that (at 58 and not backpacking in almost 40 years, that is saying something). We hiked toward Beehive Meadow which was nothing but mosquito-filled because of all the wetness on the trail. But arriving at Lake Vernon, we were thrilled. The granite surrounding the area, the lovely lake, the camping areas, the side trails, the wildflowers, the wildlife... all quite wonderful. I fell in love with this backcountry, for sure. So beautiful, so peaceful. We were not able to make the loop because of the raging water covering the footbridge at Falls Creek, but we spent a couple nights here before heading back down. I definitely want to do this trail again, but go onto the Ridge and the Canyon too, in a season and year when the snows aren't so prolific.

backpacking
Monday, September 18, 2017

Awesome trail! I loved the views and the peacefulness. I defiantly recommend doing this trail.

backpacking
Saturday, August 05, 2017

Actually, my review pertains to the Lake Vernon Leg, only, done in September '71, and August '72. There are a few terraces, past the Lake Eleanor Service Road portion, commencing at about the 4,200 Ft. elevation, that comprise PURE, to nearly pure Ponderosa Pine, with Jeffrey Pine, and Jeffrey/Ponderosa Pine hybrids, until about at the top of this stretch at Beehive Junction (Left Trail eventually to Bond Pass, out of The Park; with the Right Trail being the fairly level 1.5-2 Mile Inrun, to Lake Vernon.), with elegant Red Fir, too. If, you are a Dendrologist, or know someone who is, I'd STRONGLY advise you to be directed to this more or less contiguous big grove of these species, to record NEW CHAMPIONS of these! Many have assumed the appearance of Sequoias, they are THAT giant! Huge buttresses at their bases; Diameter Breast Heights of at least 8 Feet; Total Heights MORE than 220 Ft.--I'd guess; negligible Taper, up to about 120 Ft.; with the first HUGE limbs occurring at about 80 Ft. And those limbs could be trees in their own right, at about 3-4 Ft. diameter! Granted, there may be some Sugar Pine and White Fir giants mixed in here and there, but it's the Ponderosas and Jeffreys that most definitely COMMAND your attention, with their metallic-looking alligator hide-patterned Barks, and tiers upon pagoda tiers of Limbs, ending in the glossy candelabras of long, thick foliage. At Beehive, and towards the Lake's East end, you will find some handsome strapping Quaking Aspens too, if I recall correctly. Also, at the Inrun stretch of trail, there is a vast field of level to gently sloping glacially polished Granite, polished so heavily (with a few boulder erratics), that it's like tombstones or kitchen countertops, and if the sun hits it just right, you can not look directly at it--absolutely blinding. Soon after exiting the Dam Tunnel, you will encounter highly anomalous Pinon Pines, mixed in with the Digger Pines, and a few Knobcone Pines. The reason for that, is that Hetch Hetchy was along a prime Trade Route, between the more localized Miwok peoples, and the mostly East-Slope peoples of the Monos, Bannocks, Paiutes, Shoshones, and other tribes, where the Pinons more naturally grew. Either a few seeds sifted out of their baskets, or the Miwoks/Ahwhaneechees tried to plant their own groves, so that they wouldn't have to depend upon the Easterners. These sights and more, will make for one heckuva unforgettable experience that you will ALWAYS treasure!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

This trail was not my favorite. It felt grueling and very hot, with little pay off. The lake access is limited due to vegetation. However, the granite surrounding scenery was pretty impressive. It wasn't recommended by the rangers to cross Falls Creek because the water level is much higher than normal, therefore we could not complete the entire loop. That may have changed my rating. Going to just Lake Vernon and back from Hetch Hetchy was not worth the heat and work.

hiking
Thursday, September 17, 2015

headed out from the dam to do a loop around Hetch Hetchy area..lots of elevation going up to Lake Vernon and Laurel Lakes, but well worth it. Many campsites around Vernon, some have cliffs to jump off, others have soft mud but clear water. Views are great, so many peaks to look at..the descent to Tilltill and Rancheria was fun, lots of running down hill, only saw 5 people in 3 days..once we arrived at camp near the Falls, we explored the pools and waterfall and cliffs, great place.

hiking
Sunday, January 12, 2014

In the spring this is my favorite place. -Till Till Valley: -Water logged in spring so bring your water shoes. - Bears either live here or frequent this area in early spring so be mindful of them. - Two camp sites that I've seen offer a place to rest before you continue on to Lake Vernon. Lake Vernon: - Beautiful granite encased lake. - Camp sites on both sides of the lake - Bears are here in the spring. (watch out for Jack, he likes too steal your food) -Good fishing for you anglers. (caught a beautiful 3-4 lbs rainbow trout.) - Water is Crystal clear and very cold.

hiking
Saturday, January 11, 2014

If you made it to Rancheria falls and didn't want to die you are in good shape. Why not continue to Till till valley? It's only a short hump over a mountain! If you love the Sierra Nevada mountains like I do then it's worth every step. The novice hiker or backpacker may want to overnight at the Rancheria falls camp ground and either day hike up or just move camp to till till. (only a couple camp sites at till till) In the spring the valley is ringed with or sometimes completely flooded with about shin deep water so bring your water shoes

Load More

Featured Trails