Yosemite is famous for its stunning waterfalls, lush meadows, wildlife sighting opportunities, and towering granite cliffs that surround this beautiful National Park. From day trips to camping adventures and longer stays, Yosemite offers plenty of outdoor fun for everyone! In this post, I share tips for hiking one of my favorite trails in Yosemite – the Mirror Lake Trail.
Mirror Lake is the perfect place to begin your Yosemite National Park trip, especially for first-time visitors. This attraction offers several miles of hiking trails that lead to a seasonal lake and up-close views of the Half Dome granite formation.
If you’re thinking of hiking the Mirror Lake Trail, I cover how to get there, what to bring, and other tips for traveling to Yosemite National Park!
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Mirror Lake Trailhead & Location
Mirror Lake Trail is located in the far east part of Yosemite Valley, just past Curry Village. There is no parking by the trailhead so it’s best to leave your car in the Curry Village parking lot and walk for a mile on a paved road to the trail starting point.
Along the way, you will pass Curry Village Tent Cabins and Lower Pines Campground. This is a short, easy walk that takes about 20 minutes. You can also hop on a free shuttle bus from Curry Village to shuttle stop #17 which will drop you off near the trailhead.
On Google Maps, the hike’s starting point is marked as ‘Mirror Lake Trailhead’. If you’re using the AllTrails hiking app, the route is listed as ‘Mirror Lake via Valley Loop Trail’. Both will lead you to the same starting point.
Mirror Lake is part of the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail that travels through the entire Yosemite Valley floor. If you have extra time, I highly recommend completing the Mirror Lake Loop Trail and continuing the hike along the Valley Loop Trail.
About Mirror Lake Trail
Mirror Lake is one of the most popular attractions within Yosemite National Park and for a good reason! Mirror Lake is very easy to reach and offers stunning views of Half Dome, North Dome, Mount Watkins, and Basket Dome along the way.
I’ve done the Mirror Lake Loop a few times now and it always leaves me in awe! This is also one of the few places in Yosemite that allow dogs and bikes (up to Lower Mirror Lake).
If it’s your first time hiking Mirror Lake Trail, I recommend using a hiking app to keep track of the route. This is a pretty straightforward, easy hike, but it can get confusing if you’re not familiar with Yosemite’s layout.
The entire Mirror Lake Loop is around 4.4 miles long with 300 feet of elevation gain. Be sure to account for the additional mile walk to get to the trailhead and back. Most people shorten the route and only hike a portion of it to the north side of Mirror Lake and back.
Map of Mirror Lake Hike from AllTrails hiking app:
If you’re visiting Mirror Lake in the spring or early summer, there is a good chance you’ll get to enjoy the beautiful reflections that this lake is famous for! Interestingly enough, Mirror Lake is not an actual lake, but a deep pool that collects water in early spring from fresh snowmelt.
If you come in late summer or fall, the river bed completely dries out so there won’t be any water left.
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Our Experience Hiking The Mirror Lake Trail
To start the hike, we walked through the Curry Village Tent Cabins and made a left to cross the Happy Isle Loop Road. Then we passed the Lower Pines Campground and walked across a stone bridge that overlooks the Merced River.
We hiked the Mirror Lake Trail in late October so there was very little water left in the Merced River. If you come in early to late spring, you can expect to see fresh snowmelt rushing down the river.
We continued the walk along the wide road and made a left at the Mirror Lake sign. From there, you have the choice to either take a wooded, dirt trail to Mirror Lake or continue on a wide, paved road. We recommend going in a loop so you can experience both versions.
We hiked the dirt trail first so we made a right and headed into the loop going counterclockwise. This portion of the hike will climb up a narrow rocky path in a forest full of giant glacier boulders and beautiful trees.
Despite being 11 a.m. on a sunny day, it felt much cooler within this part of Tenaya Canyon. The towering granite walls that surround Yosemite Valley block the sun until noon so go prepared with plenty of warm layers.
In late October parts of the trail were covered in stunning fall colors from sugar maples and quaking aspens. Fall is one of the best times for visiting Yosemite when you can enjoy beautiful fall foliage – a rare sight in California!
Within a mile of hiking, we reached Lower Mirror Lake. In October Mirror Lake was completely dry with not a single drop of water.
We were able to walk around the sandy riverbed and enjoy different views of the surrounding granite walls. The bottom of this river is filled with white sand and silt that has been carried and deposited here by Tenaya Creek.
After exploring Mirror Lake, we got back on the trail and continued the hike. Many people turn around and head back after visiting Lower Mirror Lake so we encountered fewer people in the next section.
The path will continue in a forest with similar scenery as before. We did experience a lot more fall colors in this part of the trail which is always a treat for us California locals.
The loop will end at a wooden bridge that you can cross and start heading back. This whole area felt very serene and peaceful with aspens quaking in the warm fall wind and nobody else around for miles.
Once we looped back to Lower Mirror Lake, we enjoyed the views from the opposite side with a fresh perspective.
There will be a few information signs that cover a bit about this lake’s history. Mirror Lake has been drawing crowds to Yosemite since the 1800s for its picturesque reflections.
From here you can also enjoy up-close views of Half Dome. Half Dome is around 4800 feet tall and consists of a flat, sheer rock face.
There is a vault restroom by Lower Mirror Lake that you can use before heading back. There are also bike racks here if you wish to ride a bike to Mirror Lake and then continue on foot.
From there you can follow a wide, paved service road back to the starting point. Overall, this is a very pleasant hike that takes a couple of hours to complete!
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Yosemite National Park Visitor Tips
Here are a few visitor tips to keep in mind before heading out to Yosemite National Park:
- If you plan to visit Yosemite in the peak season from May to September, you will need to make entrance reservations ahead of time, especially for the weekends as they do get sold out.
- It costs $35 to visit Yosemite National Park which you can pay at the entrance station. I recommend purchasing an annual America the Beautiful pass for $80 that allows you unlimited entries into any US National Park for a year. This is an amazing deal that will pay itself off within a few trips!
- Mirror Lake Loop is part of a mountain lion habitat. If you run into a mountain lion on a trail, make yourself appear as large as possible by waving your arms and yelling. On wilderness trips, I suggest carrying bear spray which can deter bear and other animal attacks.
- There is limited reception in this part of Yosemite. I recommend downloading an offline version of the route from the AllTrails hiking app. It costs $35.99/year to use the AllTrails app, but it will help you stay on track and not get lost in the forest.
- When visiting National Parks and outdoor spaces, please stay on designated paths and follow the Leave No Trace principles to explore the outdoors responsibly.
Here are a few frequently asked questions about hiking Mirror Lake Trail in Yosemite.
Is Mirror Lake Worth Visiting?
Yes, Mirror Lake is so worth visiting! Mirror Lake is one of the most popular destinations in Yosemite due to the picture-perfect reflections that you can enjoy in the springtime when the water levels are especially high.
How Hard Is Mirror Lake Trail?
Mirror Lake Trail is one of the shortest and easiest day hikes in Yosemite. Mirror Lake Trail is only 4.4 miles long and gains 300 feet in elevation.
Other short hikes in Yosemite include Lower Yosemite Falls, Cook’s Meadow, and Giant Grizzly Loop Trail at Mariposa Grove.
Is Mirror Lake Trail Paved?
Mirror Lake offers an option to follow a paved or unpaved trail. The paved Mirror Lake path is accessible to dogs and bikes up to Lower Mirror Lake.
The unpaved portion follows a dirt trail in a forest next to Tenaya Creek. I recommend hiking Mirror Lake Trail in a loop so you can experience a variety of scenery along the way.
What To Bring For Hiking In Yosemite
Here are a few things that we recommend packing for outdoor trips to Yosemite National Park:
- Bring extra water, especially in the hotter summer months. I carry a couple of reusable REI Co-op Nalgene bottles which are leakproof and so easy to clean. There are water stations by the Curry Village grocery store where you can fill up on water before and after the hike.
- Insect repellant – one of the most challenging parts of this hike was the relentless bugs that kept following us. Bring bug spray for a more enjoyable time outdoors!
- Danner Trail 2650 Hiking Shoes. A good pair of hiking shoes can make all the difference in outdoor adventures! I recommend getting a pair that is tough and has lots of traction so you don’t slip and fall, especially when your feet start getting tired. The Danner 2650 shoes are lightweight, durable, and made with Vibram 460 outsoles for an extra strong grip.
- Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles. Trekking poles can assist with tackling steep trails, finding balance, and hiking across difficult surfaces. The Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles are light, easy to use, and are made with an ergonomic design that offers stability and comfort on longer day hikes.
- Anker Portable phone charger. I always bring a battery pack when going on hiking trips. A portable phone charger can come in handy if your phone runs out of battery and you need to use it to look up directions.
- Small day pack. I have a small lightweight day pack that fits all my essentials, water, and camera gear. The Gregory Nano pack comes with a padded mesh back, several adjustable straps, and plenty of pockets where you can put small things like sunscreen, a headlamp, and a small medical kit.
Where To Stay In Yosemite National Park
Looking for a place to stay when visiting Yosemite National Park? Here are some of our favorites in the area:
On our last few trips, we stayed at the Curry Village Tent Cabins which are situated at the center of Yosemite Valley. Staying in Yosemite Valley allows you to be close to hiking trails and get an early head start which is especially helpful in spring or fall when the days are much shorter.
The Curry Village Tent Cabins offer a great ‘glamping’ experience while also enjoying amazing amenities such as comfy beds, hot showers, coffee shops, restaurants, and a seasonal pool.
During the winter months, I recommend booking a heated tent cabin to stay warm and cozy during the night. The heated tents also come with an electrical plug-in so you can charge your phone and electronics overnight.
The Rush Creek Lodge is surrounded by a lush forest and has a cozy and relaxing atmosphere. This sophisticated hotel has close access to Yosemite’s west entrance, making it a convenient place to stay for park visitors.
The Rush Creek Lodge features 143 tastefully appointed rooms, suites, and villas that are perfect for families on vacation. This family-oriented hotel offers plenty to keep the kids occupied including a playground, table tennis, and lots of activities.
The beautiful Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite sits amongst majestic pine trees and features fantastic amenities. This four-star hotel has plenty to keep the guests entertained from a full-service spa to a fitness center and bike rentals. There is also an onsite Bar & Grill serving mouthwatering gourmet meals.
Booking options include rooms, cozy cottages, and spacious cabins that come with kitchenettes and porches. This hotel is also very pet friendly and even offers pet sitting while you head out to explore Yosemite National Park!
We hope this post has helped you to prepare for a wonderful visit to hike the Mirror Lake Trail in Yosemite Valley!
Looking for more Yosemite travel inspiration? Here are a few other popular posts that you may enjoy:
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- Best Day Hikes In Yosemite That Should Be On Your List
- Visiting Yosemite In October & November For Fall Colors
- Guide To Visiting Yosemite National Park In The Winter
- Hiking Yosemite Valley Loop Trail In California
Interested in going on an overnight backpacking trip in Yosemite? Be sure to check out these posts below that cover some of our favorite backcountry routes:
- Backpacking The Cathedral Lakes Trail In Yosemite
- Backpacking North Dome Trail In Yosemite
- How To Backpack The Eagle Peak Trail In Yosemite
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