Mt. Hoffman's views - 360 degrees of Yosemite

Yosemite: May Lake High Sierra Camp to Mt. Hoffman 
4.2 miles – 1677 feet

The High Sierras, especially in the more remote backcountry of Yosemite National Park and Inyo National Forest, are without a doubt my favorite outdoor destination. With peaks and passes above 10,000 feet, the granite rocky terrain of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range meets the sky with oft-snow-covered peaks and pristine alpine lakes. It is also something very few people get to experience.

Part of the reason so few see much of the High Sierras is it is protected wilderness. If you look at a map of California, the Sierra Nevada range which encompasses lands from three national parks (Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon) and numerous U.S. Forest Service wilderness, has barely an inroad. Only a couple highways cross the range and to truly experience it, you need to head out into wilderness on foot or pack animal (with a wilderness permit, of course). There are no amenities: no water spigots, no hotels, no bathrooms, and very few designated camp sites. It’s just you and the mountainous wilderness and arguably that is the appeal.

Having said that, the National Park’s mission is not only about wilderness protection but also recreation. And the High Sierra Camps, seven in Yosemite, one in Sequoia National Park and one in Giant Sequoia National Monument, are a way for those who might not be able to handle more than day hiking (such as families with young children or those with maybe that can’t quite keep up with carrying full backpacking gear) to still experience the backcountry. Six of Yosemite’s High Sierra camps are a day’s hike from another and provide beds in tent cabins and communal meals. All supplies in the backcountry are packed in by mule and there’s no electricity. So while posh by backpacking standards, make no mistake this remains a wilderness experience.

To do the full Yosemite circuit of camps, you’ll need to enter a lottery held each fall. If you don’t get a slot, there are often single space cancellations or random openings mid-week that you can book here. May Lake is the most accessible of the Yosemite High Sierra Camps at about 1.2 miles from a parking lot. It is located on the gorgeous May Lake just beneath the towering 10,850-foot Mt. Hoffman. If you happen to find yourself at May Lake, here are a couple day hikes worth doing. I recommend for a one night overnight at May Lake coming in early the first day and hiking out to view spot for lunch or afternoon snack. Then after waking up refreshed head to the peak of Mt. Hoffman (described below) for incomparable 360-views of Yosemite from the peak at the geographic center of the park.

Distance 4.2 miles | Time 4 hours
Elev. Gain 1677 ft. | Elev. Loss 1705 ft.
Difficulty Strenuous [?] | Trail Signage None[?]

The Route

May Lake » Mount Hoffman » May Lake

Download

Trail Maps

  • GPS track: Download the GPX file
  • Physical map: Waterproof map of Tuolumne Meadows and the High Sierra Camps

The Route In Detail:

1. The trail to Mount Hoffman is completely unmarked, but well-enough traveled to be fairly easy to follow when the ground is snow-free. To find the trail from May Lake High Sierra Camp simply follow the path next to May Lake as it wraps around the southern edge of the lake, just beyond the backpacker camp sites.

2. This path will continue heading up and toward the looming Mount Hoffman peaks just in front of you. Keep your eyes out for the well-worn path and any rock cairns that mark the way.

3. The overall trip to the top of Hoffman is less than 2 miles from May Lake, but it is a grueling 1,500+ foot climb. You’ll pass through meadows, follow switchbacks up a rocky expanse and cross a grassy expanse with potential marmot sightings before reaching the toughest part of the day: a 400-foot scramble up boulders to the peak (of the two peaks in front of you, the one on your left is the 10,860 foot summit).

4. As you are approaching the rock scramble to the peak with it’s large radio tower on top there are two distinct routes. One veers to the left and up some loose scree appearing and disappearing from view as you go (there are parts where there’s no obvious route, you should just pick what you are comfortable with). The alternate route if you follow the rightmost path heads up a steeper, boulder route with less scree near a cliff edge. If you are comfortable hoisting yourself up some big boulders and not too fearful of drop-offs a few feet away, this rightmost route may be preferred, but otherwise, the leftmost route is the way to go.

Whichever route you take, this scramble isn’t easy and for those with shorter legs may require a little teamwork to help you up some of the larger boulders, but the view is worth the struggle. You’ll feel like you are on top of the world as you peer down on Half Dome a couple thousand feet beneath you.

5. After you’ve taken in the summit (please don’t feed the marmots!), you will descend back down the scramble. In our GPX track we meandered across the plain toward the second peak of Mt. Hoffman to have a look around. Feel free to do the same before heading all the way back down to May Lake High Sierra Camp.

Photos

Logistics

Booking Your Stay At May Lake

The High Sierra Camps can book up quickly. Here are a few options for booking an overnight stay at May Lake.

Trail Notes & Tips

Difficulty: Strenuous with rock scrambles

The trail is steep, gaining nearly 1,700 feet in a mere 2 miles with a Class 2 rock scramble to the top.

What does Class 2 mean? Basically it means that you don’t need to carry a rope, but you will find yourself needing in spots to use your hands to pull yourself up big rocks.

The biggest difficulty beyond the scramble is on the downhill return because of loose rock on such steep terrain. Be careful not to roll an ankle – several years ago I did just that and tore a tendon in my ankle. Even experienced hikers can slip.

Be sure if you get shaking quads to take breaks and give your legs a chance to relax so you don’t get sloppy on your footing.

Signage

As mentioned in the route description, there is no signage for the trail between May Lake and Mount Hoffman. At the beginning it will be a fairly easy to follow, well-worn path, but as you enter the rocky switchbacks you’ll want to keep an eye out for rock cairns. As you approach the summit, there are two paths to the scramble, but once you are in the scramble you’ll want to pick the route that you are comfortable with. There is no one singular path to the peak as you enter the rock scramble.

Make it a day hike

If you can’t get a spot at May Lake High Sierra Camp you can do Mt. Hoffman as a day hike from the May Lake parking lot. This will add another 2.5 miles to the route and about 550 additional elevation.

Make it a 3-day backpack

If you want a longer trip, here’s a three-day backpacking option to Glen Aulin and May Lake High Sierra camps, with a swing by Mt. Hoffman to boot.

Getting There

Directions

From San Francisco and the Bay Area
  • Take I-580 East
  • To I-205 East
  • To Highway 120 East (Manteca) into Yosemite National Park.
  • Follow signs for Tuolumne Meadows, staying with Highway 120/Tioga Road.
  • Park in the May Lake Parking Lot
  • Hike 1.2 miles to the May Lake High Sierra Camp
From Sacramento
  • Highway 99 South
  • To Highway 120 East (Manteca) into Yosemite National Park.
  • Follow signs for Tuolumne Meadows, staying with Highway 120/Tioga Road.
  • Park in the May Lake Parking Lot
  • Hike 1.2 miles to the May Lake High Sierra Camp
From Lake Tahoe/Reno
  • Take US 395 South to Lee Vining
  • Take Highway 120 West into Yosemite National Park
  • Continue past Tuolumne Meadows, staying with Highway 120/Tioga Road.
  • Park in the May Lake Parking Lot
  • Hike 1.2 miles to the May Lake High Sierra Camp