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Backpacking to Ostrander Lake, Yosemite National Park

Ostrander Lake, Yosemite National Park

From time-to-time I enjoy looking at some of my older photos to remember bygone adventures.  It’s from one of these periods of reflection that today’s blog germinated.

When I lived in Southern California, I enjoyed spending time each summer exploring the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains — John Muir’s Range of Light.  While much of California is hot as an oven in the summer, these mountains offer a pleasant climate and excellent backpacking opportunities.  In the summer there’s enough water in the lakes that you don’t need to carry more than a day’s worth — very different and much easier than what’s required when backpacking in the Mojave desert.  The weather is warm in the day, cool at night, and almost without any rain.  As it’s so dry, there are few mosquitoes when water from the spring thaw has evaporated so these pests likely won’t irritate you.  And it’s an awesomely beautiful place to explore.

Most of my California backpacking adventures were on the drier eastern flanks of the Sierra Nevada range, in the Cottonwood Lakes area.  But I made three backcountry trips to Ostrander Lake in Yosemite National Park, including one with a Yosemite Association group, one alone, and one with my wife and kids (our first family backpacking trip — everyone was excited as you can see in the photo below)…

Family getting ready to backpack to Ostrander Lake

Family getting ready to backpack to Ostrander Lake, Yosemite National Park

This post is a compilation of these experiences.  It’s physically hard backpacking by yourself, but that much harder when you have extra gear to carry for your kids and the chore of keeping them entertained.

Ostrander Lake is located about 10 miles (16 km) south of Yosemite Valley and 10 miles (16 km) east of the Badger Pass Ski Area off the Glacier Point road.  The lake sits at an elevation of 8,500 feet (2,600 m) and is popular with cross-country skiers during the winter, especially as there’s an old stone hut where you can spend the night (hut is closed in the summer).  Ostrander Lake is the source of Bridalveil Creek, which feeds beautiful Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite Valley.

The round-trip journey to Ostrander Lake is fairly strenuous, about 12.7 miles (20.4 km), a journey halved for the day if you carry your camp to the lake.  The first half of the trek begins with a fairly level path through a meadow in an old burned area with extensive regrowth.  This is the hot and sweaty part of your journey, but definitely the easier part of the hike, and often rewards you with an extensive display of wildflowers.  The second half climbs steadily, steeply at times, over 1,500 feet (460 m) in elevation over about 3 miles.  You have nice views of the Clark Range just before you drop to Ostrander Lake.

You can return the same day if you do this as a day-hike, or set up your tent as I did.  It makes for a fine two or three night backpacking destination and is a nice quiet peaceful place to linger.   The magic of the mountains is in the evening, when most people have left and you are left to enjoy the changing light on the mountains and the beauty and tranquility of the place, as you can see from the photo set at the end of this post.

Dusk at Ostrander Lake, Yosemite National Park

Dusk at Ostrander Lake, Yosemite National Park

The lake is typical of may in the Sierra Nevada — clear waters surrounded by a rim of pine studded granite hills.  Very pleasant to study while you rest from the hard walk up.  If you like fishing, bring a rod along because the lake has a good number of rainbow trout — small but very tasty after the long walk.

The terrain lends itself to off-trail exploration, including several rarely visited lakes, such as Hart Lake, so I’d definitely recommend a day doing this (but be sure you have good navigation skills so you don’t get lost).  I usually spent a day resting by the lake and reading a book and building up my reserves for the return journey.  Evenings are especially fun if you can gather (only fallen dead) wood and make a campfire in one of the fire-rings around the lake.

Some hiking specifics:

Hike Distance:  12.4 miles (20 km) round trip
Trailhead Elevation:  7,000 feet (2,130 meters)
Ostrander Lake Elevation:  8,500 feet (2,600 meters)
Total Elevation Gain:  1,600 feet (490 meters)
Difficulty:  Medium.
Parking:  Large dirt lot at the trailhead.

(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, then right arrow to advance the slideshow)


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