You will enter this beautiful northern section of Yosemite National Park from the east side of the Sierra, starting at Virginia Lakes, crossing the Sierra Crest into Yosemite. Your path will lead you past towering granite peaks, cascading creeks, sparkling lakes, and lush meadows as you walk down Virginia Canyon, to join the Pacific Crest Trail. You and your group will travel for hours along this section of the storied trail without seeing another person. Few through-hikers take the time to drop a line into the many lakes and creeks along the trail, so fishing is excellent. You eventually leave the PCT to travel up long Lower and Upper Kerrick Meadows before crossing back over the Pacific Crest and leaving the backcountry at Twin Lakes.
Hike only with a day pack…we provide the camp, food, equipment and all you need to bring is your sleeping bag, pad and personal items.
When possible, we enjoy the camaraderie of sitting by the fire and sharing the stories of a great day in the wilderness.The packer will furnish delicious meals with a cook to handle all the kitchen chores, including cleanup. Chairs are furnished to relax in camp. In case of rain, the wranglers will put up a large tarp to sit under. A sit-down toilet will be provided at each camp with a privacy tent. Mules will carry all equipment and food except what we require during the day and carry in our day packs.
This trip is for those that don’t need a hiking guide on the trail. The packers and cook help orient you to where you will need to hike. And, if you do need assistance…they will certainly help. Guests hike on their own during the day and meet up with the packers at the designated camp in the afternoon.
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.
Hikers should be able to walk nine miles, 2,500 elevation gain and/or loss. You should acclimate to 8,000 to 10,000 for 1-3 days prior to the trip.
The trip can be considered moderate, with several moderately strenuous days. Refer to the Itinerary for a more detailed day-to-day description of the trip.
Hikers will be ferried the one mile from the pack station to the trailhead. The pack station will pick you up at the entrance to Mono Village Campground at Twin Lakes, returning you to the Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit station.
The following itinerary is the suggested plan for the trip. However, there may be changes based on grazing, campsite condition and the prerogative of the Rock Creek crew. There are many wonderful options and we reserve the right to make changes.
Day 1: Virginia Lakes to Virginia Canyon
7.8 miles, 1,550 gain, 2,400 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 route then 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. Our usual camp is about 1.7 miles down canyon from the Virginia Pass junction.
Day 2: Virginia Canyon to Miller Lake
6.4 miles, 1,250 gain, 750 loss
Enjoy the gentle descent down Virginia Canyon to the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail at mile 2.3. The trail to the right continues down the canyon before climbing 1,000 fairly steeply up Spiller Creek and finally up 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. Camp is another 0.2 miles along the west shore of the lake. The lake is fairly 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.
Day 3: Miller Lake to Smedberg Lake
8.6 miles, 2,050 gain, 2,250 loss
The trail leaves Miller Lake to cross a wide meadow to a wonderful view of the mountains surrounding upper Matterhorn Canyon. The path then switchbacks down through the forest before bottoming out in Matterhorn Canyon at the junction to Burro Pass at mile 2.3. Continue left on the Pacific Crest Trail, dropping gently through forest along the meandering Matterhorn Creek for 1.2 miles. The path turns away from Matterhorn Canyon to follow Wilson Creek, climbing steadily through open forest to gain 1,000 over 2.3 miles, crossing the creek several times. The trail finally leaves the creek for a final 600 sunny ascent over one mile to Benson Pass. The route descends 900 in 1.7 miles to the large meadow at the inlet to Smedberg Lake. Watch for the comfortable camp in the trees near the stream on the east side of the meadow
Day 4: Layover Day at Smedberg Lake
Smedberg Lake is a beautiful lake nestled in a slick rock basin beneath towering Volunteer Peak and easily warrants a leisurely day enjoying the lake. There are some excellent side trip options, however. Rogers Lake (4.5 miles RT, 900 gain and loss) is one mile by trail off the PCT and has traditionally offered excellent fishing. Hikers might want to add a two mile RT, 300 gain and loss off-trail walk over slick rock to Surprise Lake.
Day 5: Smedberg Lake to Lower Kerrick Meadow
8.5 miles, 2,250 gain, 2,550 loss
The trail follows the southern shore of Smedberg Lake before crossing a low ridge and dropping briefly before climbing 250 to the Rodgers Lake junction at mile 1.2 and then the Murdock Lake/Rodgers Canyon junction at mile 1.5. The route then descends steadily, dropping 1,900 in 2.9 miles to the Benson Lake junction. Hikers might need to wade Piute Creek just before the junction early in the season. Benson Lake is known for its sandy beach and excellent swimming and is worth the flat 0.8 miles RT side trip.
The route leaves the trees as it climbs 1,400 out of the Benson Lake drainage in two miles to a series of small lakes below Seavey Pass. This section warrants an early start in hot weather. The lakes provide excellent lunch spots before the easy ascent to Seavey Pass. The trail then drops to the PCT/Kerrick Meadows junction. Leave the PCT, turning right to follow the trail toward Kerrick Meadows and Buckeye Pass. Camp is up the trail 0.7 miles, just past the stock gate and across Rancheria Creek.
This camp is at the edge of the large Lower Kerrick Meadow and is a favorite camp with remarkable views of steep walled peaks surrounding the meadows. There are great bathing pools just downstream of camp.
Day 6: Lower Kerrick Meadows to Upper Kerrick Meadows
5.5 miles, 550 gain, 100 loss
It is tempting to cross the creek to rejoin the trail, but travel north through the meadow along the west side of the creek to join the trail after it crosses the creek. The route moves through a series of meadows separated by small sections of forest. Go straight at the Rock Island Pass junction at mile four. The Peeler Lake junction is another 1.4 miles. Camp is in the trees at the edge of the meadow, about 0.1 miles northwest of the Peeler Lake junction.
This is a short, relatively flat day. Consider a side trip to lovely Arndt Lake. Leave the trail about two miles from camp, shortly after the trail passes through a small canyon. You can walk up the grassy apron of the outlet creek to the lake, about ½ mile one way and 100 of elevation gain.
Day 7: Layover Day
There are several lovely areas to explore. NOTE: this layover day may be moved, based on the weather and crew decisions.
Day 8: Upper Kerrick Meadows to Twin Lakes
8.7 miles, 450 gain, 2,750 loss
Return to the Peeler Lake junction and follow the trail 0.7 miles to Peeler Lake. You will be tempted to rush past the lake on this last day of the trip, but take the time to walk down to the lakeshore to enjoy this beautiful lake. A great access point is from the Yosemite National Park/Hoover Wilderness boundary sign.
The trail follows the northern shore of Peeler Lake, climbing a low ridge at the east side of the lake. The route then starts the long descent toward Twin Lakes, dropping 400 in 0.7 miles to the Robinson Lakes junction. Following the route toward Twin Lakes, the trail drops 1,000 through forest toward Barney Lake. The path leaves the forest to contour along the dry talus slope above the swampy area upstream of the lake, eventually dropping down to a perfect lunch break at the beautiful lake at mile 3.9. The trail drops steadily in and out of an aspen forest and then along a treeless stretch, which is compensated by a panorama of the Sawtooth Range and other named peaks. The trail reenters the forest to end at the Mono Village campground. Walk through the campground to the entrance where you will find your packers unloading your gear. Plan to meet the pack station driver at 2:00 to return to the Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit station.
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.
PERSONAL CHECK LIST
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.
- Sun glasses.
- Water Bottles. Two quart (1 liter) wide mouth bottles and/or a hydration
system holding up to 50oz. (2 liters). Dont bring bike bottles or
any bottle that doesnt 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)
You can purchase quality topo maps at TOM HARRISON MAPS.
Tom Harrison Hoover Wilderness Map, paper or download onto phone/tablet. A short section of the trail missing from the map includes Miller Lake, which is on the Yosemite High Country map.
National Geographic 308 Yosemite NE: Tuolumne Meadows and Hoover Wilderness Trail Map
Apps for Smartphone/Tablet, download applicable areas prior to departure: