I first discovered Mirror Lake at Yosemite National Park back in March 2014. The Mirror Lake Trail has stunning views of Half Dome, Tenaya Canyon, Mount Watkins, Washington Column, North Dome and Tenaya Creek. It is well worth a visit. This 2 mile round trip hike is easy to moderate and is absolutely breathtaking. When you go at the right time of day and year, the view and reflections are amazing. Here are some pointers to help you discover the beauty of Mirror Lake for yourself!
The Mirror Lake Trailhead is located near Half Dome Village in Yosemite National Park
Dave and I decided to camp at the Upper Pines Campground and so we were able to walk to the Mirror Lake trailhead from our camp site. If you are coming via car, the Mirror Lake Trail is still easy to find. The easiest way to access the Mirror Lake Trail is to park at the Half Dome Village parking lot (formerly Curry Village).
If there is no parking there, then you can park elsewhere and take the shuttle bus to stop #17. There is a paved service road on the first mile of the Mirror Lake trail that takes you directly to the lake.
At a normal pace, the hike will take about an hour round trip (though we took longer because I kept stopping for photos.)
After you reach the lake, you can turn back or continue on to complete the 5 mile loop around the lake. Adding this loop, however, will add several hours to your hike so plan accordingly.
For the Best Chance of Water at Mirror Lake, Go in the Early Spring
Mirror lake is a seasonal lake split up into several large sections connected by several skinny sections. These lakes turn into a full meadow with no water in the late summer. Although California had several years of drought, we were lucky and were still able to see a fair amount of water at Mirror Lake when we went. Here is a photograph of Mount Watkin taken in March 2014:
And then again in April 2016:
As you can see, the hike was beautiful both times, though April provided more foliage on the trees and bushes.
Leave Early in the Morning for the Best Lighting at Mirror Lake
Early morning light is probably my favorite time to visit Mirror Lake at Yosemite National Park. The morning sun illuminates Mount Watkin and parts of Tenaya Canyon, providing a nice, soft light for water reflections.
Late afternoon/evening light is also beautiful. It will illuminate Half Dome, though the reflection of Half Dome at Mirror Lake is not as strong as the Mount Watkin reflection.
In fact, at the time we went, the only place I could capture the top of Half Dome’s reflection was actually in a tiny puddle on the walkway.
Still, it was pretty. On a side note, if you have time and want an amazing sunset photograph of Half Dome, take it at Glacier Point. It is magnificent! If you are brave and like to star gaze, stay until after the sun sets at Glacier Point. When conditions are right, you can actually see the Milky Way from Glacier Point!
That said, whatever time of day you decide to hike the Mirror Lake Trail, it will still be beautiful and worth it!
Dress in Warm Layers for Your Hike
The one disadvantage to hiking Mirror Lake in the early spring is the weather. While it was supposed to be a nice temperature in March, we were freezing while camping at the Upper Pines Campground! It got down in the mid 20’s and I didn’t sleep more than a few hours. Thankfully Dave had a thermal sub-zero sleeping bag that he shared with me some time around 2 am or so.
Since I wanted early morning light, we bundled up and left for our hike early. Dressing in layers is always a good idea while hiking, especially in the early spring. This allowed me to take my sweater off and tie it around my waist when things warmed up a bit.
One thing to note about hiking this early in the spring is that there can still be snow and ice on the trails. This is especially true around the south side of the Mirror Lake Trail loop (if you decide to hike the whole 5 miles). The National Park Service has provided some great tips to help keep you safe as you plan for this hike if you want more information.
The Mirror Lake Trail is beautiful and provides close access to Tenaya Creek
Part of the Beauty in hiking the Mirror Lake Trail are the parts where you get to hike close to Tenaya Creek. When you go early in the morning, the lighting is soft and magical.
This creek is filled with rocks, tiny cascading falls, and beautiful mosses.
Dave literally had to pull me away from the creek so that we could finish our hike!
I could have spent all day taking soft water photographs.
Overall, it was a trip worth taking!
I hope you get the opportunity to hike the Mirror Lake Trail at Yosemite National Park for yourself. If not, at least you can see it through my photos! Thanks for reading and sharing my adventures with me!
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