From Tuolumne Meadows to Saddlebag Lake, Yosemite Park

Notes by piero scaruffi | Back to Yosemite | Hiking in California
This is a one-way hike that requires two cars, leaving the second car at Saddlebag Lake.

The trailhead is at the dam of Saddlebag Lake, a few kms off highway 120 east of Tioga Pass up a dirt road. There is a parking lot across from the dam. The trail crosses the creek below the dam and coasts the western side of the lake. It then continues north to Steelhead Lake. However, the best strategy is to leave the trail at the beginning of Steelhead Lake and head west. Soon Cascade Lake appears. Leaving this lake to the left, keep climbing in the general northwest direction. That's the pass that i call McCabe Pass (Secor's book gives a different description for McCabe Pass). This pass (N37.99996 W119.31282) leads into Yosemite. To your right is Shepherd Peak (3682m), the highest point in the Shepherd Crest, that makes for an interesting detour.
Descend the pass staying on the right handside (the left ends in an abrupt vertical drop). To the very right you will find a narrow chute that descends steeply to the Upper McCabe Lake (N37.9986 W119.31751). Coast the lake to the right (impressive views of the peaks to the left), resist the temptation to follow the creek (that drops vertically to the valley) and instead circle around the ridge to the west. The Middle McCabe Lake (N37.99963 W119.33659) appears shortly thereafter. It is the least impressive of the three. Follow the creek that drains into the Lower McCabe Lake, another gem (N37.99425 W119.35036). Coast this one to its outlet. Cross the creek and pick up the trail (a real trail) to the other side. This trail leads to the Pacific Crest Trail in about 30 minutes. The trail is downhill. Then turn left into the PCT that heads south along Cold Canyon, a rather boring but fast 11kms. This ends at Glen Aulin, where the magnificent Tuolumne Falls are located. Turn left towards Tuolumne Meadows. Unfortunately this trail is mostly uphill for a while. Eventually it coasts the Tuolumne River with views of Cathedral Peak and other landmarks of the Tuolumne Meadows region. At the various forks decide where exactly in Tuolumne Meadows you want to arrive. Most people head for the visitor center, but it may also make sense to head for the store. They are all on Tioga Road (highway 120), about 14 km west of the Tioga Pass entrance or 61 km east of the Road 120 entrance at Crane Flat (past Tenaya Lake).

  • Saddlebag Lake
  • Steelhead Lake
  • Shepherd Peak 3.5h
  • McCabe Pass and Yosemite border 4h15'
  • Upper McCabe Lake
  • End of Upper McCabe Lake 5h15'
  • Middle McCabe Lake
  • Lower McCabe Lake 6.5h
  • Junction Pacific Crest Trail and trail to McCabe Lakes 7.5h
  • Glen Aulin (11 kms) and Falls 10h
  • Creek crossing 12h15'
  • Tuolumne Meadows (39 kms) 12h30'

McCabe Pass between Cascade Lake and Upper McCabeLake

The whole route: