Lakes, Vistas, and Canyons of Southern Yosemite, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14144A, Backpacking


  • Enjoy the waterfalls, lakes, and creeks of Yosemite’s southern backcountry
  • Hike through the spectacular scenery of Yosemite NP
  • End the trek at inspirational Glacier Point


  • Lightweight cooking equipment and bear-proof canisters
  • Simple yet hearty meals
  • Instructions on gear selection for novice backpackers


DatesAug 27–31, 2014
Difficulty3 (out of 5)
StaffLesley Kao

This trip has already run. Here are a few others you may enjoy:

To search our full lineup by destination, date, activity, or price, please visit our Advanced Search page. Or give us a call at 415-977-5522 to find the trip that's right for you.

Trip Overview

The Trip

What better way to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act than by exploring Yosemite National Park! Enjoy a dose of what John Muir called the "tonic of the wilderness" on this relatively short trip. This is an area of magnificent granite peaks, sky-blue alpine lakes, open meadows, quiet canyons, and stunning, star-filled night skies. The soft late-summer sun should turn to evening alpenglow and perhaps we'll be treated to a few shooting stars. This trip offers an awe-inspiring journey through the rugged beauty of Yosemite National Park. Savor alpine vistas, cascading waterfalls, great camaraderie, and view of the polished granite of Half Dome on this unforgettable backpack of a lifetime.
Our 28-mile one-way trek starts from Wawona, at an elevation of 4,200 feet, and heads up to Chilnualna Falls. We will continue to climb, passing Chilnualna Lakes, before we reach the spectacular site of Buena Vista Lake, which is nestled below the cliffs of the Buena Vista Crest. We descend into the canyon of Illilouette Creek with the view of Mt Starr King in front of us. On our last day, we will be greeted with a view of majestic Half Dome before we reach our final destination of Glacier Point.


Day 1: We will meet at one of the campgrounds in the southern part of Yosemite National Park on August 27.  Please try to arrive by 4 p.m. at the latest. We will spend the rest of the day getting to know each other before we have dinner at the campground.

Day 2: After a short, light trailhead breakfast, we will shuttle half of the cars to Glacier Point. We will then drive to Wawona (4,200 feet) to start the hike. We will have a well deserved lunch break at Chilnualna Falls before we continue on to our campsite (7,100 feet) at the shore of lovely Chilnualna Creek. The distance is about 7.1 miles.

Day 3: We will continue to climb to about 8,800 feet before making camp at the granite benches of Bunea Vista Lake. The distance is about 8.9 miles.

Day 4: We descend into the deep gorge of Illilouette Creek. Our last campsite (6,380 feet) will offer a great opportunity to take a swim in one of its refreshing pools. The distance is about 8.2 miles. 

Day 5: We will have a short climb to Glacier Point (7,214 feet), where we pick up our cars. We will be greeted with spectacular view of Half Dome and Nevada Falls. The distance is about four miles.

We plan to be on the trail by about 8:00 a.m. each morning, and get into camp by mid afternoon.

The route and itinerary should be regarded as preliminary, and might be subject to change. Snow conditions, runoff, progress of the group, camp site availability, and other factors may require the leader to make adjustments. Participants must be flexible. The daily itinerary may be changed due to unforeseen conditions or circumstances. 

We expect to return to our cars by early afternoon on Sunday, August 31; however, we cannot guarantee a specific time. To be safe and allow enough time for the long drive out, we advise that participants not plan their return flights before the next day (September 1).



Getting There

Wawona is situated at 4,200 feet in the southern part of Yosemite National Park.  It is about 66 miles north of Fresno via Highway 41. Airlines, buses, and Amtrak serve Fresno. 

Wawona is about 223 miles from the San Francisco Bay Area (4.5 hours driving time) and 284 miles from Los Angeles (five hours).

To assist participants who want to share rides with other trip members, the trip leaders will provide a group roster well before the trip begins. Those arriving a few days early may enjoy camping at one of the several campgrounds in other sections of Yosemite National Park.

It is possible to use public transportation to get there, though options are limited. Participants who intend to do that should plan to arrive in Yosemite at least one day before the trip starts.    

Accommodations and Food

The trip price includes first night’s (August 27) car camping. Our first meal will be dinner at the campground that night. Our last meal will be lunch on the last day (August 31).

Our meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) will be a hearty combination of meat, fish, and vegetables. We will try to accommodate vegetarians. However other special diets may be difficult to accommodate.  If you prefer vegetarian meals or have other special dietary requirements, you are encouraged to contact the leader to see if your needs can be met. Snack bags are provided for each trip member to carry, so you will always have something to munch. Every effort is made to include a wide variety of nutritious and tasty foods to fuel our adventure. Trip members take turns serving on cook crews and performing various camp chores. The leaders will take care of the stoves and supervise the meal preparation.

Trip Difficulty

The trip is rated 3 on a scale between 1 and 5. Unfortunately, it turns out that all too often some participants misunderstand the meaning of that rating. It reflects an average and it also needs to be put in relation with the whole spectrum of backpack trips that the Sierra Club National Outings program is offering. The total distance of our trek is about 28 miles. There will be pretty strenuous and rather easy sections. Our hiking distances will be between four and nine miles per day. The maximum elevation gain per day is about 2,800 feet. Most of our hiking will be on established trails, though some parts are steep and rugged. Wet creek crossings are possible. 

In order to enjoy this trip, participants need to be in very good physical condition. Regular aerobic exercise (such as treadmill, running, swimming, biking, or serious day hiking) during the 3-4 months before the trip is essential. Most importantly, you should plan for at least one weekend backpack trip wearing a loaded pack and the boots you want to use on this trip.

Our trip is suited for strong novices who want to get into backpacking. The leaders are happy to give advice on trip preparation, gear selection and general skills of wilderness travel. The seasoned and more experienced backpackers are of course welcome as well.

Equipment and Clothing

In addition to all of the food, the Sierra Club will also provide all lightweight cooking gear (stove, fuel, pots, and pans), chlorine tablets for water treatment, group first-aid kit, tarp and the bear-proof canisters that we will use to store our food.

The following is a list of the gear and clothing you will need to provide and carry for the trip. More details will be provided in pre-trip bulletins. The leaders will be more than happy to give advice on selecting the proper equipment so please feel free to contact us before you go out and spend a lot of money. Novices who need to purchase all or most of their equipment should be aware that this might be a considerable expense.


  • Backpack (internal or external frame)
  • Comfortable hiking boots. They should provide good ankle support and need to be well broken-in.
  • Sleeping bag (temperature rating 25oF or below)
  • Sleeping pad (foam or ThermaRest)
  • Tent with rain fly and ground cover
  • Rain gear (pants + parka)
  • Fleece or wool jacket
  • Warm hat
  • Gloves or mittens
  • Hiking shorts or pants (1-2 pairs), no cotton (e.g. jeans)
  • Light - midweight long-sleeved  shirt (no cotton)
  • T-shirt (cotton ok)
  • Comfortable clothes for camp
  • Change of underwear (cotton or synthetic)
  • Long underwear
  • Change of socks (hiking socks and thin liner socks underneath to prevent blisters)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses + sunscreen with SPF-20 or above and sun hat)
  • Personal first-aid kit (moleskin or adhesive tape for blister treatment, Tylenol)
  • Personal toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, biodegradable soap, your own toilet paper). Women should bring extra tampons, even if it is not the time of your regular period.
  • Small shovel
  • Eating utensils (plate, cup, spoon, fork)
  • Insect repellent
  • Water bottle(s) or canteen (two quarts total recommended)
  • Lightweight headlamp or flashlight


  • Sandals or Tevas (nice in camp or for stream crossings)
  • Bandana (handkerchief)
  • Bathing suit
  • Hiking poles
  • Lightweight camera
  • Water filter or purifier if you do not want to use the chlorine tablets that we provide
  • Fishing gear

All clothing needs to be stored in waterproof stuff sacks or plastic bags. Sleeping bags need to be wrapped in a plastic bag to stay dry. If your tent is not freestanding, we recommend bringing some cord to tie it down, because staking might be difficult in some places. If you have a large tent (for more than one person), you might want consider sharing it with another trip member in order to keep your pack weight down.

All participants should try to keep their personal pack weight below 25 pounds (not including hiking boots and water). The weight of the commissary gear is about 15 pounds per person. We will weigh all packs before we start, and people whose personal gear is too heavy might need to leave some non-essential items behind. Please think ahead about what you want to bring.

Please also keep in mind that you must have the additional capacity in your pack for about 1.5 large grocery bags. This will be the volume of the commissary gear for each person. Most of it is sturdy (non-compressible).

Your gear will be much easier and safer to carry if it is tucked away inside your pack and not dangling on the outside.



  • Tom Harrison's trail map: "Yosemite High Country”
  • National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map Yosemite SW


Many consider Yosemite National Park to be the crown jewel of the national park system. John Muir's struggle against the devastation of the sub-alpine meadows surrounding Yosemite Valley by flocks of domestic sheep ("hoofed locusts") led to the establishment of the park on October 1, 1890. But, Muir realized that an organization would be necessary to ensure Yosemite's protection. Two years later, he joined with others in the San Francisco Bay Area to form the Sierra Club. The Club was instrumental in expanding protection for Yosemite in the 1890s, in the establishment of Kings Canyon National Park in 1940, and more recently in passing the Wilderness Act of 1964, whose 50th anniversary we are celebrating this year. It established the National Wilderness Preservation System and afforded much of the High Sierra the highest level of protection possible. As Club members, we have reason to be proud of this accomplishment when we hike through the region.

The Sierra Club Outings program provides an excellent opportunity for members to discuss current problems while also celebrating past conservation victories. Trip participants are encouraged to come prepared to discuss issues affecting their home communities. 

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Yosemite National Park.



Lesley Kao has been an active member of the Sierra Club since 1998. She has started backpacking after moving to California. Most of her trips are in the Sierra Nevada, including a through-hike of the John Muir Trail and many sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. Occasionally, Lesley ventures into treks in Nepal, Tibet, and South America.

Assistant Leader:

Thomas Meissner has been hiking and backpacking all over the US, Canada, Europe, Africa, South America and New Zealand since he was a child. This includes a through-hike of the John Muir Trail, and large sections of the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. He has led Sierra Club trekking trips into Europe and more than 150 backpack trips into California's High Sierra and coastal mountains. In 2011 he received recognition as outstanding leader for the Sierra Club National Outings program. Thomas has also been organizing and teaching the annual backpack beginners course of the local San Francisco Sierra Club Bay Chapter since 2001.

Contact the Staff

Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture. Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.

Try Another Trip

By Date