The Yosemite High Route explores remote canyons, expansive alpine areas, and pristine lakes in the upper headwaters of the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers. It’s encompassed entirely within America’s third-oldest national park, and can be undertaken as a thru-hike or in shorter sections.
The core of the Yosemite High Route spans 94 miles, between Grace Meadow near the park’s northern boundary and the base of Quartzite Peak at the Merced River. Seventy percent of this section is off-trail; it climbs or descends 630 vertical feet per mile, and crosses just one road.
A complete thru-hike of the Yosemite High Route is a one- to two-week project, depending on your fitness and on the approach distances to the Core Route. It will be 120 to 160 miles in length, and have 34,000 to 46,000 feet of vertical gain. Section-hikes are suitable for weekend- to week-long itineraries.
During the off-trail segments and in the route’s more remote pockets, hikers will probably go several days without encountering other parties.
The Yosemite High Route hovers between 8,000 and 11,000 feet above sea level, usually hopping between deep glacier-carved valleys via unfrequented passes just below the park’s highest points like Mt. Lyell, Mt. Conness, and Matterhorn Peak. While the route includes some tedious talus-hopping and Class 3 scrambles, the travel is generally blissful even when not on well maintained trails: through open lodgepole forests and wildflower-specked alpine tundra, along the shorelines of fish-filled lakes and the edges of lush meadows, and across grippy granite slabs.
Only intermediate and advanced backpackers should undertake the Yosemite High Route. It demands similar fitness and backcountry aptitude as the Kings Canyon High Basin Route and Sierra High Route (with which it shares five miles). But it’s more committing and skill-intensive than other long-distance endeavors like the Pacific Crest Trail, High Sierra Trail, and John Muir Trail (which it overlaps for less than a mile).
In addition to Yosemite’s normal adverse conditions — including altitude, lingering snow, high run-off, mosquitoes, and occasional monsoon weather — the Yosemite High Route presents hikers with extra challenges. Extensive off-trail navigation, attention-demanding terrain, exceptional vertical change, and its general remoteness and obscurity top the list. Most will find that the extra effort and risk is entirely justified by this lifetime wilderness experience.