Explore the most popular backpacking trails near Groveland with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

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.

1 month ago

Hiked this as an overnight backpacking trip with my family: two girls, ages 13 and 15, and mid 40s wife. We did so in June and it was exceptionally hot! Once we made it to the falls though we were able to hydrate and cool off in the river. Upside of the temperature may be that we had the place to ourselves. There was plenty of fuel for a campfire at the time and multiple campsites to chose from. Nice trip for beginner backpackers given the distance and elevation change. The trail itself was pretty overgrown in parts and, as others have mentioned, you have to watch out for poison oak.

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.

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!

The trail to Lake Tilden from Racheria Falls was demanding giving the gift of time. Moments were everlasting to make me want more in the future. Best part was view of a canyon at Jack Main trailhead.

1 month ago

great hike but lots of poison oak. The trail goes right through knee to chest high poison oak especially on the first 1/3 of the trail. But other than that it was an awesome day hike!!!!

Lovely trail with beautiful spots to swim!
Remember to bring lots of water.

California Conservation Corps help rebuild this trail and rock steps !! ⚒

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.

3 months ago

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 :)

4 months ago

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.

4 months ago

Great out and back trail. It was pretty warm when my husband and I did this and we definitely should have taken more water. After the first couple miles there’s not much shade! We took a couple dips in the water to cool down and it was amazing. Make sure you have a hat and bring enough water! :)

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!

on Preston Falls Trail

4 months ago

This is one other amazing trail to hike. You hike along the bank of the vibrant river and its very refreshing.I had been on a mid spring sunny day when the weather was around 70F. I had started to hike by 1030 hrs and found it highly draining and had got dehydrated by the time i got back, may be I am used to hiking a lot during fall and winter and had still not acclimatized to the spring weather. My suggestion is to hike during dusk or dawn so that you will to get enjoy the hike thoroughly. It took 0430 hrs for me to hike this 8.9 mile hike.
Note on the travel direction: after you cross the vehicle bridge in the cherry lake road while driving from Highway 120, please turn to the right towards the cottages. There is no sign board directing to the trail head and mostly you will tend to get lost. from there it is just a 3/4 mile to the trail head and it is called as Stanislaus National Forest Trail Head.

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.

* 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.

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.

6 months ago

The Dece Scouts headed to Preston Falls for an early season backpacking trip. The weather was supposed to be horrible. We started the hike in the rain, walking along the very high and flowing river. The rain died down after an hour or so, and by the evening it was clear skies. Lots of trees down on the trail, and parts were flooded, but all in all, a great hike.

8 months ago

A fantastic day hike on a very mild Jan 2. Beautiful river with pools and rapids. We were the only two people on the trail. We didn’t start until noon so only got to large pool and falls about 3.5 miles in and came out to finish by dark. Will definitely come again to have more time.

10 months ago

Backpacked out to the falls with the dog weekend of 12/16 -12/17: his first backpacking overnight and this was a nice introduction on a pretty gentle trail. Trail was mostly clear, but especially in the last mile the path was covered in downed trees, branches and debris from a previous fire. Pup is about 20 pounds so I had to carry him for a lot of this final stretch as it was such a mess.

It was very quiet-- one other truck when I arrived but otherwise not a single person on the trail the whole 24 hours. Beautiful hike, and the waterfall at the end makes for a beautiful rest at the end. No snow or ice yet, just some frost in the shadowed areas of the canyon.

I put the coordinates from alltrails in Google Maps and it took me most of the way there: it ended on the switchback road down to the canyon. At the bottom of the switchbacks, turn right and drive past the dam and water plant all the way to the end (it looks like it might lead to a back lot for the plant at one point) and you'll get to the large trailhead parking lot.

10 months ago

We had a great time backpacking here the weekend of December 2nd 2017. This time of year it is hard to find a sutible place to go backpacking with my wife and 6 year old son. I was drawn to this place for it's low elevation, paved road access and close proximity to my home in the bay area. We were rewarded with a beautiful hike. We found a really nice camp spot about halfway. I really wanted to push on to the falls but my son was getting tired and the sun was soon to set. The natural beauty was abundant. This is a hidden gem that has been cast in the shadow of and often overlooked by Yosemite's grandeur.

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.

Monday, September 18, 2017

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Just did this Loop first week of September, Took us three days up and two day back....Great veiws, Tons of wild life...Amazing trip one to remember..

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.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

All in all, a great hike! The river was flowing today, and it was truly beautiful! My friend and I completed the hike in about 4 hours. Here's my advice though... Wear long pants! The trail is pretty easy to follow, but not very well maintained. I was in shorts today, and was definitely feeling the pain of branches and brush on my legs. Be aware of poison oak! There seems to be a ton of it around the trail. Bring lots of water! It gets long and hot, and easy to drink lots of water.

Friday, June 02, 2017

It was a pretty nice place for a day hike. I went in April after heavy rains so there was a marsh about 3 miles into the hike. The falls were an ok scenery but wasn't worth getting feet wet. I recommend going in the warmer months of the year. The camping is not that great only a small handful of spots to pitch a tent. Everything else is just overgrow or wet. There was definitely a lot of wood to burn though. It's a nice day hike but I wouldn't recommend for overnight camping.

Friday, May 26, 2017

We did this hike last Sunday. We drove in on Cherry Lake Rd from 120 – paved road sometimes narrow for dually truck but OK. Great hike very little elevation change and with the Tuolumne River running full bore it is breathtaking. We were wondering when we got to the falls where we should go. We were bouldering around the water’s edge to a flat rock in from of the falls. Great view but wondered if we should not have been above the falls. I think because of the river level the path was not clear. It was pretty wet through the large meadow and several paths could be seen. Hard to find the correct one. Would be good to have a tree marker on either side to show direction you should be going. We would recommend this hike to anyone. The only thing, there is lots of poison oak – long pants are a must and long shirt was required for at least half the hike.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The trail was hard to follow at times because it seemed minimally maintained. Only encountered two other groups of hikers the whole day. NOTE: Some of the trail is flooded right now (May 2017) and requires getting your feet VERY wet and possibly mosquito bitten to make it all the way to the falls. That said, powered through and found the falls delightful. They're short but loud and impressive, and there's nice space to sprawl and recover for the trek back.

Monday, March 20, 2017

According to a sign at the turn in, this hike is in a day use area that closes at 5 (with locked gate). After a 2 hour drive, I had to turn around b/c we got a late start and I didn't want to be locked in.

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