Nelson Lake Trail

MODERATE 7 reviews
#114 of 234 trails in

Nelson Lake Trail is a 11.1 mile out and back trail located near Buena Vista, California that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, camping, fishing, and backpacking and is best used from May until October.

Distance: 11.1 miles Elevation Gain: 2,565 feet Route Type: Out & Back








wild flowers




no dogs

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.

9 months ago

We - five somewhat-fit middle-aged guys with packs ranging in the mid 30s to mid 40s - covered the hike in five hours. We used an AllTrails GPX file downloaded to a Garmin watch to assist with navigation, and it was very helpful in the last 3/4 of a mile to find our way to Nelson Lake coming out of Echo Creek valley. While the hike was a bit strenuous, recorded at 9 miles and 2K ft in climbing, the views and destination were worth it. We pretty much had the trails and the lake to ourselves. For the fishermen, one of our group brought a fishing rod and caught five trout over about a 90 minute period (using a small spinning lure). I highly recommend this trail. If you're traveling in the fall, be prepared for some changing weather. We experienced a couple of small snow flurries plus a night of howling wind.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

We (four fit moms) covered this trail in 4.5 hours (one way) with one lunch break. It was beautiful and do-able. But wouldn’t recommend it without a strong sense of adventure and direction as the trail often disappears. This app was crucial in helping us find and stay on the trail. The trip can be two days easy with tons of down time. And if you love the quiet, wilderness and few to NO people this place is for you. We left on Friday and didn’t see anyone else til we headed back on Saturday - around Elizabeth Lake.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Went late July 2017. A lot of snow just in areas near trail made route finding tricky. Mosquitos during the sunrise/sunset hours and near low lying areas-bring headset! Great views, lots of trout at Nelson.#14 black caddis worked well at sunset! Wish I had more time to cross country it to Reyman lake and up/over to Rafferty creek.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Absolutely stunning hike with meadows, streams, lakes, and incredible views of Yosemite Backcountry. Bring a map and compass because the last bit to the lake is off trail.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Planned a 4 day backpacking trip. Trail is beautiful. Ditto for the lake. The only negative was the mosquitoes. They turned our 4 day trip into a 3 day.

9 months ago

Saturday, August 26, 2017

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