Backpack Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park

12.6 miles 2500 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Jake Young

Avoid the crowds of Yosemite Valley and enjoy the views of an area with the longest hiking season in the park.

Situated in the northwest portion of Yosemite National Park, Hetch Hetchy is is a not often visited treasure of the Central Sierra Nevada. In 1913, in an extremely controversial move, work on the O’Shaughnessy Dam was started to provide water to the growing population of San Francisco. Today, Hetch Hetchy is an enormous reservoir that offers almost year round hiking without the crowds of the valley floor. One caveat is that it can get uncomfortably hot in the summer due to its relatively low elevation. 

There are multiple options for back packing this area each with varying duration and mileage. The options are listed below. To backpack in this area, a wilderness permit is needed. You can reserve permits online and there are a limited number of first-come first-served permits available at the entrance to the park as well. It is possible to arrive right when the gate opens at 7AM and attempt to get these permits. If you arrive the night before your trip, there is a backpackers campground located close to the dam. A wilderness permit is required to stay at this campground and the gates are generally only open during daylight hours. 

All of the following hikes go past the booming Wapama Falls which are a highlight of the area. 

1 Night - Rancheria Falls - 12.6 miles roundtrip. 

This is a perfect weekend backpack especially if you are unable to start backpacking on Friday. One can start this hike from the O’Shaughnessy Dam on Saturday morning and still get a wonderful wilderness experience. The hike takes you along the northern side of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and ends at the roaring Rancheria Falls.

2 Nights - Vernon Lake and Rancheria Falls - 25.9 miles roundtrip

This hike is slightly harder than simply going to Rancheria falls, but you are rewarded with an amazing high alpine lake. This hike also allows you to make your trip into a loop that includes Rancheria Falls.

3 Nights - Laurel Lake, Vernon Lake and Rancheria Falls - 31.1 miles roundtrip

If you have three nights and want to spend it in the northern Yosemite Wilderness, this option is for you. It is very similar to the two night hike, but simply adds laurel lake into the loop. 

Bears are extremely active in this area so make sure you are following proper food storage techniques. 

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Easy Parking


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Overall rating: 

Excellent Route. Questionable Description.

Really enjoyed this weekend backpack. My question is, who is this "Jake Young" character that authored the route? Why did he put a typo in "Hetch Hetchy is is a not often visited treasure?" Was that an intentional poetic device meant for us to latch onto his words and do an even-closer reading than we might otherwise? Is it a statement on the human condition? Is is it about his relationship with his mother? These are the questions the people want to know. Also the back of that dude's head in the photo is ridikulous. Lookin' fine tho.

First backpacking trip

Yosemite always reminds me of LOTR, and the hetch hetchy area is no exception. The hike into the backcountry is not hard, until you have a backpack on. Then tying your shoes is difficult. The best part is going through, yes through, the waterfall. Just make sure your backpack is waterproof or put the rain cover over it. You don't want all your clothes staying wet for the next couple days.

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