Upper Sardine Lake and Mono Lake from the Mono Pass trail

Mono Pass

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Distance:  7.4 miles (12 km) round trip;
7.8 miles (12.5 km) round trip for Mono Pass plus the Sardine/Mono Lakes overlook

Trailhead Elevation:  9,700 feet (2,950 meters)
Mono Pass Elevation:  10,599 feet (3,230 meters)
Elevation Gain:  900 feet (275 meters)

Hiking Time:  3 - 5 hours

Why hike to Mono Pass?  This hike straddles two worlds: climbing towards Mono Pass, you'll be on the western slope of the Sierras, passing beside streams and meadows. Continue past Mono Pass and within a few steps you'll be in rocky, barren Bloody Canyon and the eastern Sierras, with views beyond to Mono Lake and the bone-dry Mono Valley. You may find yourself wondering where the wormhole was.

Google Street View has several evocative panoramas of the Mono Pass area, including a view approaching the pass, a small lake near the pass, a view of Mono Lake from above Upper Sardine Lake, and lower Sardine Lake.

Crowd Factor:  Medium by Tioga Road standards, low by Yosemite Valley standards. There will be people along the trail, but they won't be accumulating and blocking your views at any particular spot.

Difficulty:  A 5 out of 10. There are only a few stretches where the incline is steep enough to make you notice you're climbing, but you still might feel like nominating a search party to go find out where all the air went once you crest the 10,000-foot mark. If you're coming to Yosemite from sea level, be sure to pack your headache remedies if you're tackling Mono Pass on your first day in the park.

Best time to visit:  This hike should be pretty whenever Tioga Road is open (June to November, most years - see the historical opening & closing dates), but the high-elevation trail could be obscured by snow early and late in the season, and early in the summer a few creeks along the trail might be tricky to cross without getting your feet wet. Because of the elevation, wildflowers should be blooming here well into July.

Nearest Bathrooms:  At the trailhead (pit variety)

Nearest Snacks:  At the shop at the eastern edge of Tuolumne Meadows, 6.5 miles (10.5 km) west

Food-Storage Lockers:  at the trailhead

Getting There:  The Mono Pass trailhead is on Highway 120 near Yosemite's eastern entrance at Tioga Pass.

From the Tioga Pass entrance, drive west just over a mile (1.6 km) to the trailhead, which is on the south side of the road and well marked.

From Yosemite Valley, head north on Highway 120 for 10 miles (16 km) to the Tioga Road junction at Crane Flat. Turn onto Tioga Road and drive 46 miles (74 km) to the trailhead. If you reach the park gates at Tioga Pass, you've overshot the trailhead by about a mile.

Parking:  There's a lot holding a dozen or so cars at the trailhead. If it's full, you can find space here and there along the shoulders of the road. Here's a Google Street View panorama of the trailhead area.

Bearproof Storage Lockers:  At the trailhead

Hazards & Trail Notes:  You'll pass two forks in the trail along this hike. They're both well marked; in each case, take the left fork. The first right fork, two miles (3.2 km) in, takes you to Spillway Lake. The second right fork, just a quarter mile (0.4 km) shy of Mono Pass, goes to Parker Pass.

Once you reach Mono Pass, I highly recommend you continue another quarter mile or so to the shelf above Upper Sardine Lake. This will take you out of Yosemite and into the dramatically starker ecosystem of the eastern slope of the Sierra. From the shelf you'll have a striking view (pictured above) of both Upper Sardine and Mono Lakes.

There are three streams to cross on the Mono Pass trail. The first two are right next to each other, about 15 minutes into the hike. They're each about 10 feet (3 meters) across. You can do log or rock crossings by midsummer, but early in the year it may be difficult to keep your feet dry. The third stream is a couple miles in. It's quite narrow and many people will be able to leap across it.

This is one of the highest-elevation day hikes in Yosemite. If you live near sea level, you may want to spend a day or two acclimating to Yosemite before hiking to Mono Pass.

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Mono Pass Trail Highlights