Yosemite NP – Hetch Hetchy, Laurel Lake Day Hike


What? : 

This is 15 miles out and back hike, the trail introduces major climbing on the way up with elevation gain of 3,484 feet, plan for at least 8-9 hours hike.

This day hike is not for everyone, but you will be reworded by the amazing view of Hetch Hetchy lake from above, wilderness forest hike, and remote lake at the end of the trail. The bonus is that on your way back it is all one long downhill 😊



Where? : Located in Hetch Hetchy section of Yosemite National Park.

Google Map Link



Additional Yosemite and nearby locations blogs:



When? : 

The best time to visit here is at spring when the waterfall are flowing with water.

Summer can be relatively hot (due to the relatively low elevation), at late fall when upper sections of the park are close to access this area of the park is still open because the snow comes late here.

One year with almost no snowfall I hiked here early January, some snow sections at the high sections of the trail but other than that it was clear.

At winter month after major snow storm the road down to Hetch Hetchy is closed.

Check at the park website for exact road conditions and road closer:



Note: last time I was here was in 2019


Due note 1: This road has seasonal hours corresponding roughly with daylight hours; during summer 2022 the road will be open from 8 am to 5 pm.

See website for up-to-date information:




Due note 2: Dogs and other pets are prohibited on all trails and on the dam. Dogs are only allowed in the parking area, and they must be always leashed.


Due note 3: There is no service or visitor center in this section of the park.


Due note 4: Swimming and boating are prohibited in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir


Due note 5: There are restrooms at the upper parking lot.


Due note 6: this trail is less crowded compared to the trail to the falls along the lake.


Due note 7: You can also hike to this small lake from Lake Eleanor (remote lake located outside of Yosemite National Park), it’s an 8.2-mile hike, one way, with a climb of 1,800 feet. 

I never visit Lake Eleanor so I can’t provide more information about this hiking option.



My thoughts:

I visit here two time, one as a day hike up and down early winter and the other time as part of multi day hike deep into the north wilderness.

This is strenuous hike, and the climb can be brutal. You think that you reach the top after the switchback but than you are getting into another steep climb. The upper sections with all the meadows and wetlands are rewording.

On your way back you can enjoy the amazing view of the lake below.



Few general hiking guidelines:

Stay on established trails, pack out what you pack in, Overnight backpackers need a wilderness permit, carry (and drink) plenty of water. Be sure to treat river, stream, lake, or spring water.



Gas Stations:

The nearest gas station is located on highway 120, 4.4 miles east of the junction of highway 120 with Evergreen rd.

There is another gas station inside the Yosemite Park highway 120, 7.8 miles east of the park entrance.



Nearby Hotels:

At the small place called Mather you can find few hotels (Evergreen Lodge cabins or Rush Creek Lodge) and lodges and here you can also find small General Store to buy food.

There is the new lodge on highway 120 and Evergreen: Rush Creek Lodge and Spa at Yosemite

You can also find many hotels and restaurants at the small town of Groveland.



Driving directions:


Hetch Hetchy is part of Yosemite National Park, but the entrance is separate from the rest of the park roads.


Coming on highway 120 from the West:

A half an hour’s drive east from Groveland via Highway 120 you will reach a clearly mark exit to your left into Evergreen Road (just after the new “Rush Creek Lodge and Spa at Yosemite” and just before getting into Yosemite NP north entrance).

You will drive down on all the way until you will reach a T junction at. Here turn right onto Hetch Hetchy Rd. and after 2.6 miles you will entering Yosemite National Park pay station. Drive slowly the next 8 miles where the road plunging into the deep canyon of the Tuolumne River, from some viewing point along the road you can see far below you the impressive O’Shaughnessy Dam concrete structure.


Coming on highway 120 from Yosemite National Park:

Pass and exit the Yosemite Park north entrance and after a short 1.2 mile drive you will see a clear turn to your right.

Follow the above instructions to Yosemite Hetch Hetchy section.




Near the end of the road, you will drive into one lane section, pass the building on your right, and drive down to the dam, here you will find plenty of parking spots along the right side of the road. If there aren’t any available parking spots here, you need follow the loop back up and find parking at the junction or at the backpacking parking lot.



The Hike:


To get a bird’s-eye view and a heart-rate spike, climb the steep switchbacks up Beehive Meadow Trail, with its edges lined with vivid floral displays.


Laurel Lake and Another popular trail crosses the O’Shaughnessy Dam.

Walk in the direction of Wapama Falls and after 1 mile from the dam you will see clear sign mark the trail up (left).

Take a left turn to climb steeply out of the Hetch Hetchy valley.

In this section the trail follows an old construction road that connects the Dam construction site to upper Lake Eleanor, Miguel Meadows Fire Road. The trail is wide and in relatively good shape.

Each switchback reveals scenic overlooks of the reservoir and Kolana Rock, stop for relaxing your breath and enjoy the changing view below you.

The trail continues to climb for 1.8 miles above the trail intersection, but you can turn around any time.

After completing 9 large switchbacks and hiking 2.9 miles from the starting point you will get into the forest, and you will reach trail junction.

The trail to the left will take you to Lake Eleanor, here you will separate from the wide trail (Miguel Meadows Fire Road), take right here, and continue climbing up the narrow trail.

This section of the trail turning to the right in the forest, and then left up.

Keep climbing until you will reach, after 4.7 miles, a flat section. Here you start the open meadowy section of the hike where the trail cross forest patches damage from the 2013 Rim Fire.

The trail crosses the flat section that have few pools, at early season lots of the paths getting to the lake can be partly flooded or muddy.

After 5.3 miles from the TH you will see a trail connecting from your left, keep walking until you will see the sign left to Laurel Lake (6.1 miles from TH).

Turn left and after crossing a local stream and total of 1.2 mile you will reach the lake.


Here you can rest and enjoy the quiete lake.


Once you are done you need to hike back the 7.3 miles you climb, this time almost the entire hike is waking down.



If you’re planning a longer hike and overnight backpacking trip, you can continue to Lake Vernon. You can make it a loop hike going back down from Rancheria Falls.









Additional Pictures: