Wedged between the granite walls of Half Dome and North Dome on the east end of Yosemite Valley, there is an enticing body of water that reflects the beauty around it. Due to it’s popularity and easy-to-reach-ness, there are few trails leading to Mirror Lake. The most traveled option is a one-mile paved walkway and bike path along Tenaya Creek to the north side of the lake. There is also an unpaved trail to the south side of the lake (that no longer loops all the way around due to a rockslide that covered an area of the trail). The third route leaves from what was formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel and crosses below the Royal Arches and North Dome to arrive at the north side of Mirror Lake. Since you can utilize the park shuttle system, this trail can be combined with the popular paved trail to form a 2.8-mile one-direction stroll.
Mirror Lake, which is not actually a lake but rather a shallow seasonal pool, is famous for its reflective beauty. The serene surface mirrors the surrounding rocks and trees, along with the blue skies above, to deliver a delightful venue for a short nature walk. On hot spring days, swimmers can enjoy Mirror Lake as well, but by fall the seasonal pool disappears.
Three routes to Mirror Lake:
Mirror Lake Trail: The main hiking and biking route is a one mile paved road up to the west shore of Mirror Lake on the north side of Tenaya Creek. From the shuttle stop, hike over the stone Tenaya Creek Bridge and make a right at the next paved junction to reach Mirror Lake. This second paved route can also be used to cycle to Mirror Lake from Yosemite Village. At the end of Mirror Lake Trail, there are bathrooms and plenty of areas to sit and gaze out at the nature’s mirror.
Mirror Lake Loop Trail: The loop trail is no longer a loop because of the Ahwiyah Point Rock Fall. A sign at the trailhead explains:
On March 28, 2009, a very large rockfall occurred from Ahwiyah Point near Half Dome. Rocks fell roughly 1,800 feet, knocking down hundreds of trees and burying hundreds of feet of trail on the southern portion of Mirror Lake loop trail. The impact generated ground shaking equivalent to a magnitude 2.4 earthquake. Numerous smaller rockfalls have occurred from Ahwiyah Point since the initial failure, and the southern portion of Mirror Lake loop trail remains closed until further notice.
The broken loop now offers out and back trails on either side of the lake. The north end extends beyond the bike path, and can be used to connect to Snow Creek Trail, which heads into the Yosemite backcountry and connects to North Dome Trail. The southern section of the broken loop crosses a charming forest on the banks of Tenaya Creek to reach Mirror Lake. Beyond that, there are single tracks that break off to the left across the grassy area above the lake. This is a good place for a picnic or to explore the banks of Tenaya Creek, but there is no official trail through this area.
To hike the southern half of Mirror Lake Loop Trail to Mirror Lake, walk a quarter mile on the main paved trail from the Mirror Lake Shuttle Stop. Just before the stone bridge, turn right and pick up the dirt and rock trail to remain on the south side of the creek. With just a bit more elevation gain to contend to, about 100 feet, this is a nicer hiking option than the main paved trail. The south end of the loop trail reaches Mirror Lake after just over a mile.
North Valley Hiking Trail: This track actually begins at Lower Yosemite Fall, and passes behind Yosemite Village to reach the former Ahwahnee Hotel, but the hotel makes a nice starting point. From there it is 1.8 miles to Mirror Lake on a very nice section of the trail. A few paces past the trailhead at the Ahwahnee, the trail crosses just below Royal Arch Cascade, a waterfall that only truly flows in the spring. You can venture off trail right up to the base of the falls. When Royal Arch Cascade is turned on, it is an impressive side attraction.
Between the hotel and Mirror Lake, North Valley Hiking Trail crosses through old forest with tall pines and boulders covered in piles of golden pine needles. Look up and you’ll see the Royal Arches, striking bow-shaped bands of dark granite that differential erosion has caved into the rock. Next to the Royal Arches is the stark face of North Dome. With a keen eye or binoculars, you can spot climbers tackling the ascent. There is plenty to look at along this peaceful sylvan trail.
When you reach the lake, turn right to connect to the top of Mirror Lake Trail. The hike from what was formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel to Mirror Lake and down to the Mirror Lake shuttle stop is 2.8 miles one-way. This is an easy hike along the valley floor that is perfect for families and less agile hikers. Despite the ease, the scenery is quite rewarding.
To get to the trailhead: Drive into Yosemite Valley and park at either Curry Village or the park visitor center. Take the free park shuttle to stop number 3 for what was formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel or stop number 17, the trailhead for Mirror Lake (where parking is not available).
Trailhead address: 9041 Happy Isle Loop Road, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389
Trailhead coordinates: 37.739278, -119.560016 (37° 44′ 21.40″N 119° 33′ 36.05″W)
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