Backpacking Yosemite: Lyell Canyon Day 1

The trip to Yosemite is a long one – about 11 hours by car from Phoenix, which means you have to be invested in the trip to endure it.

Adam, Austin, and I left Phoenix around 8 pm on Friday evening, planning to be in the park for sunrise. The plan worked out swimmingly. The drive up the I-395 follows the Sierras north and passes through various small towns as you wind your way up in elevation towards eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park.

Tioga Pass, the highest point you can travel in the park by car, sits at 10,000 feet, meaning the weather is dramatically different than that of the valley floor (where most spend their time in the park). This trip, though, we were staying away from the busyness of the valley floor and staying in the Yosemite high country of Tuolumne Meadows.

As we ascended into the park, the weather went from overcast to wintry. That’ll happen as you go from 7,000 to 10,000 feet and head directly into the high Sierras.

Yosemite National Park

Once we had entered into the park, we drove about 15 minutes in and pulled over to take a few photos and look around. While we had warmer clothes, I was still wearing my sandals. Pro tip, walking around in a light dusting of snow in sandals does nothing to keep your feet warm.

Once we had seen enough at Lembert Dome, we drove toward Tuolumne Meadows where I wised up and put on my boots. The views across the meadow were stunning. It got even better as we arrived at the river where steam was rising off the water as the sun began to break through the clouds.

As we’re all photographers (or we pretend to be…not sure), we loved the changing lights and the reflection possibilities off the Tuolumne River.

By this time, it was nearing 8 am, the time our permits would become available at the Rangers Station. We headed out of the meadow, now completely engulfed in the sun versus the snowy conditions we arrived in.

Getting the Permits and Onto the Trail

When we arrived at the Ranger Station, I sort of expected we’d be the only ones there. I mean, Columbus Day Weekend isn’t exactly a holiday everyone gets and the weather – snowy that morning and more expected later that evening – might’ve chased some people away. However, there were three or so groups ahead of us. The wait for our permits ended up taking 20 minutes or so. Not bad at all.

Once we had convinced the rangers we weren’t going to burn down the park or die in the wilderness, we strolled out, permits in hand, ready to take on the weekend.

And then it took over an hour to get everything ready. Oops.

The hardest part was figuring out what should go in the bear canister for the hike and what you wanted easily accessible to eat on the trail. Once those decisions were made and we had fully packed our packs, it was nearly 11 am.

Starting later really wasn’t a bad call as we only had 8 miles ahead of us and I’d rather hike with sunny skies versus whatever we were dealing with that morning. Plus, I think the elevation gain over those 8 miles was something under 400 feet. We were basically walking in a meadow the entire time so it was pretty peaceful.

We also hiked with little to no urgency, stopping to take pictures here and there. Stopping for a break here and there. At the 5.5 mile mark, we realized we were going extremely slow so we turned on the jets the final 2.5 miles and finished within the hour.

Good thing too, as the weather began its shift from sunny and nice to cloudy, windy, and then snowy.

Luckily, we had all of our shelters set up and food eaten by the time the weather rolled in. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad as it gave us all a chance to nap, considering none of us got more than a few hours of shut-eye on the drive in.

Sunset in Lyell Canyon

Considering the conditions we slept through, none of us had any expectations of a sunset. That meant we were stunned when the sun began to set and we were given a private showing of mother nature at her finest.

As the views got better and better, we kept looking at each other in shock, not believing what we were seeing with our own eyes.

Once the sun dipped behind the mountains, it got dark real fast. Once we grubbed a little bit more and then did our camp chores, we headed back into our tents to get our snooze on.

It had been a helluva 24-hours, starting in Phoenix and ending up in the middle of a secluded canyon in one of the greatest National Parks this country offers.

Stay tuned for Day 2 as we head into the mountains. 


Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

You can follow along the journey on Facebook and Instagram or shoot me any questions and comments about places to go. And don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to be notified when new posts come out!