Terra Firma Adventures

Hiking Chain Lakes, Yosemite NP

Kristopher Artz August,2012 4 Comments

Do you want to experience Yosemite in the summer without the crowds? Here is a beautiful, moderately strenuous 14 mile overnighter that will allow you to experience several glacial lakes at various stages of their life cycle.

Chain Lakes is a series of three lakes located in the South Eastern region of Yosemite National Park near the boarder of the Sierra National Forest. If your planning on staying a light or two, be sure to get your Wilderness permit in Oakhurst, not Yosemite. With nearly 20 miles of forest roads to the trail head, it’s definitely off the beaten path for most. You can expect to spend nearly an hour and a half on a combination of winding paved and dirt forest roads before you get to the trail head parking area… longer if your like me and stop often to take photos. The drive on the forest service roads is very scenic. It’s not too complicated to get to the trail head, but there are some areas that are not clearly marked, so I recommend you get a Forest Service map to make sure you find it.

A flowery meadow off of a paved portion of the Forest Service road.

View looking from a portion of the dirt Forest Service road.

Parking Lot of Quartz Mountain Trail head.

The hiking trail begins in the Sierra National Forest, with a nice gentle climb  through some large pines and opens up in areas with lots of lush vegetation.

There are quite a few stream crossings and marshy areas which makes for an abundance of mosquitos. Don’t forget your repellent.

after about 2 miles you will come to picturesque Chiquito Lake. It’s well on it’s way to becoming a meadow and as you follow the trail along side of the lake, it’s not hard to imagine a time not long ago when you might have been knee deep in  water.

The trail then heads away from the lake and continues onto Chiquito Pass and that’s where you cross into the Yosemite National Park Boundary.

There is a barbed wire fence at the boundary that I imagine is supposed to keep cattle out of the park. You enter the park through a a very rudimentary gate. The gate is basically a  fence post attached to the barbed wire that you pull to the side to pass through and then replace once on the other side.  Continue onward and enjoy the variety of terrain. Parts are quite rocky and it can become difficult at time locating the trail, but be persistent… it’s worth it.  Not too long after you will cross a  river. The water level of the river was very low when I was there and it was easy to pass.

Now, the trail begins a long moderate climb. The trail becomes a little easier to follow because the rocks become larger and the trail becomes more of a dirt and sand mixture with large rocks throughout. You eventually come to a beautiful creek crossing. At this point your nearly to the lakes.

On the other side of the Creek, follow the fork to the left and in less 3/4 of a mile you will reach the lower lake. I bypassed this small lake pretty quickly and headed to the middle lake. This is where I decided to camp for the night. If your planning on camping at this lake, my recommendation would be to stick to the western end of the middle lake. When I was there, the only other people I saw on m y hike was a man and his 10 year old son. I decided to go to the other end of the lake for some more privacy (farther along the trail towards the upper lake) and it was very rocky and difficult to find a spot for my small 1 man tent.

The Middle of the Chain Lakes


The middle lake is very picturesque with the green marsh plants, and crystal clear water, but be aware that the mosquitoes can be extremely thick. The following morning, they were so bad that I prepared and ate my breakfast in my tent to avoid being eaten alive.

You definitely need to continue on down the trail to go to the highest lake. It’s magnificent. 

The upper lake is the largest and is at the base of t10,680 foot Gale Peak. It is quite easy to hike and explore around this lake. Their are a few spots to pitch a tent, but once you get further away from the Northern side, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a good spot but there are a few if you look for them in between some of the large rock formations. There is a well worn path that circles the lake.

The upper lake is filled with Brook Trout. The clear cold water makes them easy to see (and Photograph) and I only wish I had brought my fly rod.

On the Northeast side the trail will take you to a small waterfall which lies within the snowmelt stream that feeds the lakes.

The trail to the southwest side of the lake takes you to the opposite side of the lake and the light colored granite rock formations. They are fun to scramble around on and you can hike up them for a spectacular view looking back down at the lakes. Just don’t try it if it’s damp, wet or raining because the smooth ice polished Granite is very slippery in spots.

The Chain Lakes Hike in Yosemite National Park is a beautiful trip. It’s mostly shaded so it should be enjoyable even the hottest weather. With streams, meadows, lakes and granite peaks you get a great variety of scenery. It’s a hike that is able to be done in a day if your a strong hiker and a perfect overnighter or multiple day trip for everyone else. I had such a great time and this one is on my list of favorites. Give it a shot and I think it will end up on yours too! Just  DON”T FORGET MOSQUITO REPELLENT!

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  1. brian artz August,2012 at

    Have you taken the girls? Looks quit beautiful. Id love to go out there someday. Great post. Very envious of your adventures big bro

    • Kristopher Artz August,2012 at

      This particular trip was solo…Emma is getting old enough to do some of this stuff so I will have a partner soon. I can’t wait. Wish you could go on some of these with me too!

  2. Jan Fredrick September,2012 at

    Great place to hike, so much to see and do. With water that clear, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to see a trout take my line, or not.

  3. Terrie July,2015 at

    Thank you got this! My husband and son are on their way up there with their scout group, they plan to stay for 5 days. Looks beautiful but I think 5 days is a bit much! And I’m wondering if they’ll have to deal with snow right now. I won’t know how the trip went until they get back… no cell phone service, darn it. It’ll be a long 5 days waiting!

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