Hike Distance: 4.6 miles (7.4 km) to lake's edge and back (round trip)
Hiking time: 2 - 3 hours
Elizabeth Lake elevation: 9,500 feet (2,850 meters)
Total elevation gain: 900 feet (270 meters)
Why hike to Elizabeth Lake? Elizabeth Lake is a repeat winner of the award for the lake shaped most like a jigsaw puzzle piece. It's also the prettiest lake named after a geologist's niece (Elizabeth Crow Simmons) whose most famous accomplishment was having a lake named after her. Don't you wish you had a few lake and mountain names to give out when you had fences to mend in your family? Life was good for enterprising USGS surveyors at the dawn of the 20th century.
Scenery Summary: Elizabeth Lake is similar to many another postcard-ready lake scattered about the high Sierra: a pretty body of water that's big enough to take the better part of an hour to walk around, yet still small enough to feel personal, set in a bowl ringed by evergreens and bordered on one or two sides by great granite promontories (in this case, Unicorn Peak) that rise in steep and spectacular fashion from lake's edge. In short, it's well worth the hike. Google Street View has several panoramas of the lake; highlights include this view from the northeast shore on an overcast day and this idyllic view from the approach to the lake.
Difficulty: Medium. It's not a long hike, but it's at a high elevation and the trail climbs steadily for the first mile.
Crowd Factor: Medium. It's a shortish hike leaving from a campground next to the Tioga Road's most popular attraction (Tuolumne Meadows), but it's not as crowded as you'd expect from this potent combination. The first mile of the hike, which is relentlessly uphill, probably discourages a lot of hikers.
Nearest bathrooms: At the trailhead, complete with plumbed toilets, running water, and sometimes even soap. What did we do to deserve such decadence?
Nearest Snacks: The Tuolumne Meadows general store is just west of the campground along the Tioga Pass Road, half a mile (0.8 km) back through the campground from the trailhead. It closes early, though - typically at 6 pm.
Driving Directions: The trailhead leaves from the Tuolumne Meadows campground, which is near the eastern edge of Tuolumne Meadows. From the Tioga Pass entrance, take the Tioga Road 8 miles (12.5 km) to the campground entrance. From Yosemite Valley, take highway 120 10 miles (16 km) north to the Tioga Road turnoff at Crane Flat, then take the Tioga Road 39 miles (62 km) to the campground.
The campground is near the eastern end of Tuolumne Meadows, just east of the general store. Pull in at a small stone building with a "campground reservations" sign on it; the campground is just behind. The trailhead is roughly half a mile from the campground entrance, and you can drive directly to it. The Google Street View vehicle hasn't made it all the way to the trailhead yet, but here's a panorama view of the campground turnoff, with Lembert Dome lurking in the background.
Parking: at the trailhead, which is at the far end of the Tuolumne Meadows campground. Drive into the campground, and as soon as you pass the entrance booth you'll spot signs pointing you to the Elizabeth Lake trailhead. The lot features not only bathrooms, but half a dozen bear-proof food containers as well.
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