1.  Pioneer Bridge on Dewey Point Trail

    You have friends with experience hiking in Yosemite who boast of their travels along trails such as the Mist Trail, the Half Dome Trail, the John Muir Trail and the Wawona Loop Trail. Listening to them becomes a monotonous bore after about a minute, doesn’t it? First of all, you’ve heard the exact same stories time and again from countless others who made the same hikes. Secondly, why are these people so full of themselves for simply having gone for a walk?

    For these reasons, I’m not going to discuss these paths. Do you think I would have named this “Little-Known Backpacking Trails in Yosemite” if everyone you know has traveled upon them?


     Both of the lesser-known trails of which I write originate in or near Bridal Veil Creek Campground, which explains my familiarity with them, as I usually camp there during my jaunts to Yosemite. If you go on the trails mentioned in other website articles about hiking in Yosemite, you will undoubtedly encounter fifty or more other people, even on the short hikes. When I traveled the paths listed below, I came across no more than half a dozen people in eight or more hours of hiking. If you want to get off the beaten path and see something in Yosemite that few others have seen, try these routes.

    Both routes can be used as day hikes, but as they are both reasonably long, I recommend backpacking and spending at least a night. Before setting out on any overnight trip, visit the nearest ranger station (there’s one at Glacier Point) to get a Wilderness Permit. This will let the rangers know where you’re going, how long you plan to stay and when they should expect your return, so that if something goes wrong they’ll know where to search. Keep in mind that these trails wind through bear country—and mountain lions live there, too. Do Not Hike Alone, and when you do hike, make some noise to let any predators (or skunks) on the trail ahead know you’re coming. They will avoid you if they hear you in advance. So feel free to chat with your companion, tell dirty jokes or sing. If you run out of songs or things to say, smack your walking stick against a tree trunk now and then; the sound carries surprisingly well.

    Be advised that neither of these destinations have anything resembling a bathroom, or even an outhouse. Bring an entrenching tool and a roll of toilet paper and be prepared to squat.


        Spock and Friend enjoying the view from Dewey Point                                  View from Dewey Point

    Dewey Point Trail begins at Glacier Point Road a mile or less west of Bridal Veil Creek Campground. Mostly flat, this beautiful path first takes you past an old abandoned pioneer cabin (actually, I believe it was meant for livestock rather than people) and then across an equally ancient log bridge in a meadow a stone’s throw from the cabin. You will weave through thick virgin forests of pine, fir, redwood and oak, traverse meadows of golden grass dotted with brilliant wildflowers and, in time, reach Dewey Point, an overlook where you can lay (or stand, if you’re adventurous) on a giant slab of granite and look straight down at Yosemite Valley 3,000 feet below. The trail is about four miles long each way (unless you go on to both Crocker and Stanford Points farther down the trail, which will extend it to over 11 miles round trip) and is reasonably level, making for a moderately easy hike (the elevation rises only 300 feet). If you backpack, choose your campsite with care, for finding a safe place to have a campfire won’t be easy (you’ll probably have to go without one) and if you’re prone to sleepwalking, you could take quite a tumble unawares.


     Ostrander Lake

    Ostrander Lake Trail is not shown on most maps, nor will you find mention of it on most websites, making it the perfect backpacking trail for those who want a reasonable facsimile of solitude. The trail begins inside Bridal Veil Creek Campground, beyond C-Loop, not far from the group campfire area and beside Bridal Veil Creek. The trail will take you north toward the drop-off of Bridal Veil Falls (which is another gorgeous hike, but one made by many), but don’t go that way. Take the path south, uphill toward one of the tributaries to Bridal Veil Creek. During the first few miles, you will pass two large meadows to your right, both bisected by crystalline brooks that empty into Bridal Veil Creek. Beware of mosquitoes when the trail leads to shady areas beside the creek; they may swarm you, but if you move on you’ll get away before long. The first half of the six-plus mile long trail has some slight rises and is an easy hike, but past the halfway point, you will come to the granite ridge. The trail is carved directly into the slope of the stony ridge; a misplaced step can lead to a nasty spill, but the path is wide enough to avoid such disasters as long as you don’t play, “Look-at-Me-Dad; I’m-Blind!” After this, the trail becomes steeper with some switchbacks. About this time, if you’re like me, you’ll start chanting obscenities beneath your breath, and just about when you think that you’ve reached the end, it gets steeper and keeps on going. The good part of this is that by the time you reach the crest overlooking the lake it’s like manna from Heaven.

    Ostrander is a small, circular, pristine lake with the cleanest water you’ll ever see—but don’t drink it! Even in the most remote waters of the Sierras, bears and deer have transported the Giardia lamblia parasite and infected the streams, creeks and lakes long ago—and trust me, you do not want giardiasis. The infection resembles that of dysentery, and is just as nasty, not to mention just as deadly if untreated (though it is easily treated by a doctor). Always either use iodine to disinfect water before drinking it, or boil the water (for three minutes at sea level; considering that Ostrander Lake’s elevation is above 8,200 feet, you’ll have to boil the water for twice as long, at least, as water boils at a lower temperature the higher you go; this applies to cooking foods, as well). The lake is surrounded two-thirds of the way to either side by forest; a tall ridge of white granite (Horse Ridge) thrusts upward from the far end of the lake, shading that side of the tarn for the better part of the day. Bring your fishing pole; while the trout are hard to catch, they grow large in Ostrander, and they’re delicious.

    There are, as I recall, three designated camping areas on the north side of the lake. These all have fire pits. I believe it is legal to camp wherever you like as long as you have a Wilderness Permit, though you may not be allowed to build a fire unless it is in a designated fire pit.

    Because this region is close to Badger Pass ski area, the trail—which eventually leads to Wawona if you stay on it—is used for cross-country skiing in the wintertime. Beside the lake stands a lodge of sorts used for the skiers, though it is closed in the summer. However, it’s nice to know that there’s some shelter, in case something unexpected happens… as it did to me.

     One August while camping at Ostrander with a couple family members, who foolishly decided not to bring heavy coats, the weather turned on us. It rained for two days solid, and once everything we had was soaked, the rain turned to sleet, and then to snow. We were on the verge of frostbite and needed shelter, but before we could smash a window in the ski lodge to get in, we found that someone had beat us to it, had spent the previous night drying out and were leaving just as we got there. They carried from us a message to the rangers to come and get us if we didn’t return in three days, as we had only one-day’s worth of food remaining. I am happy to report that we made it out of there before having to endure an embarrassing rescue operation or resort to canibalism.

    See… we all have stories to tell of our hikes.

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