Trip Details

Duration: 5 days

Group size: 4-12 participants

Trip Rating: Moderate

Price: $1500

Date: July 29-August 2, 2019

  5. MAPS
Trip Overview:

This is a RIDING pack trip. The details provided will give you an idea of the trail and views, from a hiker's perspective!

Arrive at Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit by 7:00 AM where your gear will be weighed and you will be served breakfast. Your personal vehicles will be left in the pack station parking area.

Begin at Virginia Lakes; Ending at Tuolumne Meadows.

You will be ferried the one mile from the pack station to the trailhead. A pack station driver will pick you up at the Tuolumne Meadows Stable parking area located west of Lembert Dome, returning you to the Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit station.

Experience a section of Yosemite National Park that few visitors see. You will enter Yosemite from the east side of the Sierra, at Virginia Lakes, to cross the Sierra Crest into Yosemite National Park. Your path will lead you past expansive views, powerful waterfalls, cascading creeks, dense pine forests, and lush meadows as you travel through the granite peaks and glacial valleys of northern Yosemite.

Layover days allow day trips to Miller Lake, McCabe Lakes, and Waterwheel Falls.

The trip moves through subalpine forest and the alpine zone. Expect to see western white pine, mountain hemlock, and lodgepole pine with many subalpine meadows that flower from July through August. The alpine zone of Yosemite begins near the 9,500-foot elevation. No trees grow in this zone due to the short, cool summers with long, cold, and snowy winters that are typical at these elevations. Many exposed granitic outcroppings, talus slopes, and boulder fields limit the amount of vegetation that grows here.

The above information is taken from the Yosemite National Park website. Select Learn About the Park>Nature> and then the topics you are interested in to learn more. https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm


If you are a hiker, you should be able to walk ten miles, 1,500’ elevation gain and 2,500’ loss. You should acclimate to 8,000’ to 10,000’ for 1-3 days prior to the trip.

Distance: 25.4 miles, 3,400 feet total gain and 4,550 feet loss on moving days.

Elevation Profile:

This trip passes many lakes and creeks, so available drinking water is not a problem in normal water conditions. Be prepared for creek crossings. Most of the crossings can be made on rocks or logs

Day 1: Virginia Lakes to Virginia Canyon
9.2 miles, 1,550’ gain, 2,650’ loss
The trail follows the north side of Blue Lake and then climbs fairly steeply in open forest to Cooney Lake in the first mile. The trail climbs 750’ past the Frog Lakes on shale slopes to a saddle at mile 2.6. The rocky path descends steeply to the Green Lake Trail junction at mile four. Turn left at the junction toward Summit Lake and climb 170’ in 0.4 miles to the lake. The trail drops steeply as it enters Yosemite National Park, turning into a gentle descent down through Virginia Canyon after the junction to Virginia Pass. The path down the canyon is through lodgepoles and meadows, with areas of trees downed by avalanches during high snow years. Camp is about 3.2 miles down canyon from the Virginia Pass junction. Virginia Canyon is a destination in itself, but two layover days allow day trips to the beautiful Miller Lake and McCabe Lakes.

Day 2: 9.7 miles, 800’ gain, 1,700’ loss
Follow the trail down to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at mile 0.8. Turn left, crossing Return Creek and McCabe Creek to climb 570’ in one mile to the McCabe Lakes junction. Continue right to follow the PCT through open forest to a long meadow at mile four and then reinter the forest to continue the descent to the Tuolumne River at Glen Aulin. Leave the PCT before crossing the bridge, at mile 8.8, following signs toward Waterwheel Falls. A very brief climb offers a beautiful view down the canyon. Be sure to look behind you for views of Tuolumne Falls and Wolf Cascade. The trail drops along a cascade to follow a serene section of the Tuolumne River for a mile to our camp. Plan to follow the Tuolumne River to Waterwheel Falls on the layover day.

Day 3: 6.5 miles, 1,050’ gain, 200’ loss Return to Glen Aulin, turning right at mile 0.9 to follow the PCT toward Tuolumne Meadows. Ignore the wooden bridge crossing Cold Creek immediately to your left that goes to the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp. Continue straight to cross the Tuolumne River on a metal bridge and then climb steeply for 0.2 miles to the May Lake junction. Continue left to follow the PCT another 0.2 miles to the base of Tuolumne Falls. Ignore your last-day urge to rush to the trailhead and leave the trail at the base of the falls to spend some time enjoying the power of the water. The trail swings away from the river twice, returning after a quarter mile to a series of cascades before crossing the river on a bridge at mile 2.2. A brief climb up a riprapped trail brings you to a magnificent view of northern Yosemite. Watch for the Little Devil’s Postpile on the opposite side of the river as you leave the viewpoint. The path enters the forest, emerging at times to cross the polished rock at the base of a dome or touch the river with views of the Cathedral Range across the meadow. The trail crosses Dingley Creek at mile 3.7 and Delaney Creek at mile 5.3. A junction just past the Delaney Creek crossing shows the stables to the left and the PCT to the right. Most hikers follow the PCT, passing the Soda Springs connector, mile 5.9, and the John Muir Trail (JMT) junction, mile 6.1, before following a trail to the left to the stables parking lot, mile 6.2. If you pass through a gate and arrive at a gravel road, you missed the side trail. Follow the road to the left to the stable parking lot. Plan to meet the pack station driver at 1:00 to return to the Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit station.

Miller Lake
8.6 miles round trip / 4.3 miles, 1,300’ gain, 500’ loss to Miller Lake
The day starts with a gentle descent down Virginia Canyon to the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail at mile 0.8. The trail to the right continues down the canyon before climbing 1,000’ fairly steeply up Spiller Creek to a saddle at mile 4.6. Wonderful views to the west open up as the trail undulates another 1.4 miles to Miller Lake. The lake is shallow which makes it a good swimming lake. There are wonderful views across the canyon of the Tuolumne River as far as the Cathedral Range to the south from near the outlet of the lake or the low dome to the west of the lake. Return to camp by the same route.

McCabe Lakes
6.8 miles round trip / 3.4 miles, 1,300’ gain, 150’ loss to Lower McCabe Lake
Follow the trail down to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at mile 0.8. Turn left, crossing Return Creek and McCabe Creek and then climb 570’ through forest in one mile to the McCabe Lakes junction. Follow the trail to the left, climbing an additional 730’ in 1.5 miles to the lake.

Waterwheel Falls
4.4 miles round trip / 2.2 miles, 100’ gain, 1,100’ loss to Waterwheel Falls
The day starts on a flat trail, cutting off bends in the river to arrive at the top of California Falls at mile 0.6. The trail drops beside the falls for 200’ in 0.2 miles and then follows a placid section of the river for 0.4 miles. The path moves in and out of forest as it drops 550’ over 0.6 miles to Le Conte Falls. The trail drops an additional 150’ over 0.4 miles as the river swings away and then returns to the trail at Waterwheel Falls. Watch for a side trail to the left that leads to a great view of the falls. Take care to avoid the very slippery wet slick rock.

Please note that this represents the planned itinerary. Weather or other factors may affect the choice of campsites and daily travel. All decisions are made by the Head Packer with attention to the safety and comfort of guests and stock.

Expected Campsite Locations
Day To Elevation Latitude N Longitude W Miles Gain Loss
1 Virginia Canyon 8,950 38.026 119.348 9.2 1,550 2,650
2 Tuolumne River 77,800 37.913 119.4329.7 8001,700
3 Tuolumne Meadows 9,100 38.054 119.414 4.9 850 1,200
Total 25.40 3,400 4,550
*Mileage, gain, and loss based on Guthook’s PCT Guide.

What you need to know…for hikers on pack stock supported trips

Dunnage limit is 30 lbs. per person (this includes sleeping bags, fishing equipment, liquor, etc.)

You may bring your own tent up to 10 pounds that is in addition. The PCT 28 day trip allows 35 pounds of duffel.


Bring belongings in stout canvas or nylon duffels; side zipper recommended, ideal size approximately 14" x 32". It is a good idea to use a large plastic bag INSIDE of the duffle to protect contents from external moisture.

Sleeping bags can be in separate duffels --again, line the inside of the duffle against rain. Place all cosmetics, soaps, medications, etc into small plastic containers with close-fitting caps, THEN into sturdy resealable plastic storage bags. If anything breaks or bursts from altitude changes, the plastic bag contains the spill. When possible, it is a good idea to transfer alcoholic beverages to sturdy plastic bottles with well fitting caps - it will save weight and protect against breakage.


  • Footwear. For this trips a medium-weight pair of hiking boots. We do not recommend lightweight hikers or tennies since they give little ankle support and the soles are often thin.
  • Camp Shoes. A lightweight pair of tennies or Tevas to wear in camp. This will reduce vegetation damage at our campsites.
  • A day pack. It should be large enough to take water, extra clothing, rainwear, camera, etc during the days.
  • Sleeping Bag. Most summer trips are warm and a bag rated to about 25°F will be plenty warm enough. We much prefer down bags, and good quality ones at that. Your bag should weigh in around 3 pounds.
  • Sleeping pad. A 3/4 or full length closed cell foam or Thermarest. If you bring a Thermarest also bring a repair kit to fix pesky holes!
  • Coffee mug (plastic for camp)


  • 2 pair synthetic liner socks.
  • 2 pair heavier synthetic or wool blend socks.
  • Long underwear top. Capilene, some other synthetic or the new pure Merino wool types.
  • Long underwear bottom.
  • Warm pants. Tights or Expedition Weight Capilene.
  • Warm shirt. Synchilla or R2 weight works well.
  • Another fuzzy sweater top or pile jacket of some sort
  • GoreTex Jacket and Pants. A lightweight set is sufficient and heavy bulky clothing is unnecessary. Side zips on the pants should be long enough to slide over boots. Jacket must have a hood. Do not skimp on your rain gear. Nylon ponchos are not acceptable.
  • Shorts for on the trail
  • Tee shirt for on the trail
  • Lightweight capilene or similar gloves.
  • Warm hat. Synthetic or wool.
  • Sunhat


  • Sun glasses.
  • Water Bottles. Two quart (1 liter) wide mouth bottles and/or a hydration system holding up to 50oz. (2 liters). Don’t bring bike bottles or any bottle that doesn’t have a wide opening.
  • Headlamp. --and a spare set of batteries!
  • Pocket knife. Swiss army style.
  • Personal toiletries. It is not necessary to smell like a rose each day so do not over do it.
  • Ear plugs are great to have in a noisy tent.
  • Personal Medical Kit. The guide will carry a large kit so yours will predominately consist of foot repair items, mild pain killer such as Advil and bandaids.
  • Sunscreen and lip screen. SPF 30+. A 1oz. bottle will be enough. Make sure the lip stuff actually contains a sunscreen.
  • Bug repellent.
  • Camera. A spare battery and card are good backups
  • Ski/trekking poles. These are not essential, but can be handy on the trail. It is your choice, but they do save wear on the knees.
  • Plastic trash bag. Handy for keeping gear in outside the tent should it rain.
  • Optional reading material, etc.


We provide the all meals on scheduled trips. You can bring your favorite "on-the-trail" snacks.


  • Small notepad and pencil
  • Collapsible plastic wash basin (optional)
  • Solar shower (optional)
  • Water filtering pump (optional)
  • Liquor (be sure to check in with the packers to see that your liquor is packed safely)
  • Fishing equipment (optional)
  • Rod/reel/line (a rod that breaks down into 3 or more pieces is recommended)
  • Compact metal rod case to carry on saddle
  • Canvas creel (no tackle boxes)
  • Leader material (1-3 lb.)
  • Flies: black gnat, mosquito, grey hackle, brown hackle, & royal coachman (No. 12-14 hooks)
  • Bait: worms & Pautzke red eggs
  • Egg hooks, worm hooks (No. 10-14)
  • Split shot
  • Lures (personal choice)
  • Pliers

You can purchase quality topo maps at TOM HARRISON MAPS.