Back to index Washburn Lake Hike
Trip Date:  08/22/2015

: 6.0 Miles

Vertical Gain: 35

Group Size: 4
Hike Rating:  Easy   Moderate    Hard   Strenuous
Washburn Lake Hike
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Washburn Lake Elevation Profile
Start Coordinates:   N 37 44.342, W 119 24.389     End Coordinates:   Same as Start Coordinates

Car Shuttle Req'd:   No Parking Directions:   The closest parking to the trailhead at Merced Lake High Sierra Camp is at Tuolumne Meadows, approximately 15 miles NNW of the camp.  To get there, take Highway 395 south from Monitor Pass toward Mono Lake.  At Lee Vining, turn on Highway 120 (Tioga Pass) and enter Yosemite Park on the east side.  About 10 miles into the park turn at the Wilderness Permit area (Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Road) and continue to the parking coordinates for backpacker vehicles.
Hazards of Note:   None. Crowd Factor:   Moderate.  The trail from Merced Lake camp to the Ranger Station 9/10 of a mile away is the main route up toward Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, but the junction afterward which leads toward Washburn Lake is lightly used.
General Notes:
From the Merced Lake High Sierra Camp main camp building, head south toward the Merced River falls which are located about 2/10 of a mile behind the camp in this direction.  The trail then bends to the east, heading up exposed granite rock with the trail outlined by smaller pieces of rock along the way.  The way then follows along a dirt path for a bit, bending right sharply when you get to the corral where the mules and horses which pack people and supplies into the camp are housed.  Three small bridges cross waterways near the ranger station, and then just before you complete the first mile you will come to a junction where the Ranger Station sits on your right and the path either goes up toward Vogelsang to the left or toward Washburn Lake to the right.  Follow this junction to the right, and it will climb slowly for about a mile.  There is a natural soda spring about 3/4 of a mile up this way, which can easily be missed if you aren't looking for it.  The trail will be wet all year round in this spot, with a milky type of mud across your path.  Find the small spring just on the north side of the trail at this point.
When the trail then begins to pass through some lush fern vegetation, keep an eye out for an SUV-sized rock on the right side of the path.  From here you will divert off-trail for a few hundred feet to an amazing waterfall and swimming hole.  You may hear it from the trail, but it is not visible until you get close to it.  Head down to the right of the rock following a visible use trail, and then it will bend back to the left and drop you off at the edge of the pool not far away.  We spent time both on the way to and the way back from Washburn Lake as the spot was so idyllic.
Back on the trail you will continue to the lake, walking along a section broken out from the solid granite that otherwise would make the path to the lake itself treacherous if it had not been created.  At the very northern end of the lake is an impressive overhanging rock, which a number of people have built fires under over the years as evidenced by the black smoke marks on the underside of the rock.

After a good night's sleep at the campsite near Merced Lake, 4 of our 6 groupmembers decided to spend our 'off-day' heading to Washburn Lake. Ready to head out
Some of the locals wishing us well on our way out to the lake.
Climbing up from the Merced River falls area behind the High Sierra Camp, the trail crosses open granite lined by some smaller rocks along the way. Open Granite
At the nearly one mile trail junction, the ranger station is a visible landmark for where to head to the right for Washburn Lake. Group shot
Crossing some water very near the cutoff to the swimming hole.
Near the cutoff 
The SUV-sized rock on the right side of the trail to look out for.  Head to the right of this to find the use path down to the swimming hole and waterfall a few hundred feet below. SUV rock 
Don exploring the water just a little downstream from the main falls.
Almost to the falls
The waterfall and pool, with a great spot that some of our group jumped off of just to the right of the falls.  There is a rock under the water to stay away from but it is a refreshing place to cool off. The waterfall 
Don doing a little exploring up at the top of the falls. Don at the top
Don and Julia getting ready to make a splash off the diving rock. Don and Julia
Even this late into the summer some wildflowers were still in the area. wildflowers
There were some very pleasant sections of the trail which passed through some surprisingly large areas filled with ferns on both sides of us. forest section
Without the section of trail carved right out of the granite on the side of the hill close to Washburn Lake, this would have been a very difficult route.  The only other reasonable way would have been on the other side of, or even in the river below. Back on the trail
Washburn lake from the north shore looking south up toward Isberg Pass in the distance.  As the day wore on more and more smoke from a fire in Kings Canyon filled the air around us, obscuring much of the views in the afternoon and especially the next day. Washburn Lake 
Don, Phil, and myself really working hard to keep the overhang rock along the shore near where we had lunch from tumbling down on us. Holdup
Heading back toward camp from Washburn Lake the extensive work just to allow passage along the sheer slope of granite became very visible.  A pretty amazing effort. Carved trail on the way back
GPS Track of the full hike. GPS Track of Hike