I love visiting the Gaylor Lakes Basin when Tioga Road reopens for the season. Will the lakes still be covered in ice? Will these lakes have beautiful reflections? Will I see pika? Yes, yes and yes !
Where: Yosemite National Park and more in Inyo National Forest
Distance: 6.17 miles
Altitude range: 9,943′ – 10,817′
Elevation Gain: 1,356′
Date: June 1, 2022
Map: CALTOPO: Hike to Bassin Gaylor
Canine hike? Nope
My friend Gail and I took separate cars to different park entrances and left early, trying to minimize our wait during road construction. Arch Rock Gate was busy at 6:02am when I arrived ready with my rush hour reservation pass. After scanning it and checking my park pass and ID, they then printed out the all important yellow slip to stick on my windshield and off I went.
The Trailhead is located directly in the parking lot near the restrooms at the Tioga Pass entrance station. I arrived a little early and walked over to talk to the resort staff to get some info on the amount of snow on the north side of Gaylor Saddle and the approach to Middle Lake Gaylor. I had brought my snowshoes and traction devices, but I didn’t want to take them if I didn’t need them. They shared that one made it to Upper Gaylor Lake with no problem. Soon Gail arrived and decided to put her snowshoes in her backpack and I decided to just carry traction devices because the weather said it would be freezing on that snow. I forgot to take a picture of the trailhead, but here’s one from last year’s hike.
We hiked up the trail looking back at the view of Dana Meadows and the high peaks beyond.
And a look at where Tioga Road/Hwy 120 descends Lee Vining Canyon.
We were almost to the point where we would get our first glimpse of Middle Gaylor Lake. Would there still be ice on the lake or would it have melted?
On the way down we were glad the lake was still covered in ice.
It was clear the trail was mostly dirt and now snow, so Gail hid her snowshoes near a tree and I took a picture so we could remember where we put them.
Middle Gaylor Lake (10,335 feet elevation) was beautiful. Gaylor Lakes were named for Park Ranger Andrew Jack Gaylor who served in Yosemite from 1907 to 1921, dying of a heart attack while patrolling Lake Merced. You can read more about him in my blog.
We stopped a bit to look for pika.
The American pika (Ochontona princeps) is considered an indicator species for detecting the ecological effects of climate change in mountainous regions. Results from recent studies suggest that in some areas pikas are being lost at lower elevations in response to increased warming and less suitable habitat.
They are distantly related to rabbits and prefer rocky slopes. They browse on a range of plants, mainly grasses, flowers and young stems. In the fall, they pull hay, soft twigs, and other food supplies into their burrows to eat through the long cold winter, but they do not hibernate.
American pikas are small mammals, with short limbs and rounded ears. They are about 6-8 inches long and weigh about 6 ounces. They have small litters of 2 to 5 with the young born after a gestation period of around 30 days. Sometimes females will have a second litter.
And they were talking to each other, alerting their buddies that we were there to help locate them. Taking a good photo of them was a whole different story. Can you spot the pika?
We descend along the lake.
And we observed marmots. We spotted a yellow-bellied marmot sitting on a rock watching us. They are Yosemite’s largest rodents, living above 6,500 feet and taking refuge from predators such as eagles and mountain lions in the safety of granite embankments by burrowing under piles of rock. Groundhogs often live in small colonies, so if you see one, stop hiking, stay calm, and wait to see more!
We continued along Middle Gaylor Lake and I took a look at where we had dropped off.
We spotted some nice highlights and had to do our best to capture them.
Then we made our way through the snow and over the small creek to Upper Gaylor Lake (10,517′ elevation).
I cannot visit this area without stopping at the old mining town called Dana City (10,769 feet above sea level), following the same trail taken by the miners of the past.
And I looked back where I had traveled.
Dana City was a bustling place in 1880 when it received a post office and would have had as many as 1,000 people living there at its peak. The post office was abolished in 1882 and the mining focus shifted to Bennettville and its growing town. For about 4 short years, the village of Dana rose and then abruptly came to a standstill. Our first stop was at the Old Miner’s Hut, the most complete of all the old structures.
We can never resist the allure of the old window frame. Everyone I know who looks at it or sees a photo reflects on how the miners saw it.
We stopped for a snack and I did some exploring, looking for remnants of these ancient miners. I found some treasures from the past, leaving them for others to discover and ponder.
We continued through the old village, checking out the remnants of old buildings and the vertical shaft of the Great Sierra Mine.
If you come to visit these mines, be very careful. They go straight down and there would be no way to get you out. The ground near the edge is crumbly and could easily give way on you. Some even have old wood lining the upper parts of them
We headed across country to Upper Granite Lake, dodging snow and thickets of brushy trees.
When we finished and started descending to the lake, those views were pretty amazing.
We headed out to large rock slabs at Upper Granite Lake (10,427′ elevation), a perfect spot for lunch and photo ops.
We walked along the Middle Granite Lake area, checking out the melting ice and the reflections.
We hiked on the way back to Middle Gaylor Lake and then over the saddle of Gaylor Peak to our cars.
I want to add a bit more about road building. When I drove through the Lake Tenaya area, there were two sections of a controlled traffic lane, but there were waits of a minute or less on those comings and goings. The construction of Tuolumne Meadows is a bigger problem, however. I left early to beat the 30 minute wait which according to their schedule starts at 8am and lasts until 3pm. I did and waited 4 minutes to get in but getting out was another story but not too bad. I returned to this construction area around 1:00 p.m. and waited 20 minutes. But with the car stopped in the beautiful area above Tuolumne Meadows with the windows down, it was a nice way to browse the photos I took on the hike.
here is a great site to check out the latest road works in Yosemite, with details on Tioga Road.
No, dogs are not allowed on this trail in Yosemite National Park.
What is a Doarama? This is a video playback of the GPS track superimposed on an interactive 3-dimensional map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt or rotate it and look at it from different angles. With the bunny and turtle buttons you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.
Map and profile:
CALTOPO has a few free options for mapping and here is a link to my hike this week: CALTOPO: Hike to Bassin Gaylor
Previous blogs in the region:
Hike to the Snowy Gaylor Basin October 20, 2021
Tioga Road Has Reopened: Hike to Gaylor, Granite Lakes and the Old Mining Town of Dana City May 27, 2021
Tioga Road Hike to Lower, Middle Gaylor and Granite Lakes September 25, 2020
Day One of Tioga Road Reopening: Crossing with Fannie and Sally, Saddlebag Hike to Greenstone Lake June 15, 2020
Overview of Tioga Pass Frozen Lakes June 9, 2019
Tioga Pass is open and the High Country is breathtaking!! May 24, 2018
Camping and Fishing with Sally at Saddlebag Lake and Beyond June 26, 2018
Camping and Fishing with Sally at Saddlebag Lake August 17, 2017
Hike with Sally from Saddlebag Lake to Twenty Lakes Basin August 15, 2017
Hiking with Sally in the basin of 20 lakes July 12, 2016
Hike with Sally to the Hess Mine in the Tioga Pass area October 26, 2016
Hike with Sally on the 20 lakes basin loop August 22, 2013