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May Lake and Mount Hoffmann
At the park’s geographical centre, the 10,850ft-high Mount Hoffmann commands outstanding views of Yosemite’s entire high country, a vista that drew the first California Geological Survey party in 1863. They named the peak after Charles F Hoffmann, the party’s topographer and artist. The first peak climbed in Yosemite, Mount Hoffmann remains one of the park’s most frequently visited summits. Alternatively, some hikers go no further than May Lake (9,350ft) on the 51-mile High Sierra Camps loop, a pristine mountain lake that cries out for a shoreline picnic. May Lake alone is a satisfying destination, with great views of Half Dome, Cathedral Peak, and Mount Clark (11,527ft) along the way, and if you have a wilderness permit you can overnight at the backpackers’ campground next to the May Lake High Sierra Camp.
If you can only manage one hike in Tuolumne, this should probably be it. Cathedral Lake, the lower of the two lakes at 9,588ft, sits within a mind-blowing glacial cirque, a perfect amphitheatre of granite capped by the iconic spire of nearby Cathedral Peak (10,911ft). From the lake’s southwest side, the granite drops steeply away, affording views as far as Tenaya Lake, whose blue waters shimmer in the distance. Although it is only about two hours to this lower lake, you could easily spend an entire day exploring the granite slopes, meadows and peaks surrounding it. Continuing to the upper lake adds less than an hour to the hike and puts the round-trip walk at eight miles, including the stop at Cathedral Lake.
For those unable to manage Half Dome’s summit, Sentinel’s summit (8,122ft) offers an equally outstanding 360-degree perspective of Yosemite’s wonders, including Cathedral Rocks and El Capitan in the west, Yosemite Falls in the north, and Mount Starr King and Clark Range in the east. A visit at sunrise, sunset or during a full moon is spectacular. You can also combine the 2.2 mile round trip with a walk to Taft Point and the Fissures, an equidistant hike from the same trailhead, or combine the two to form a loop via the solitary Pohono Trail.