Trip Details

Duration: 6 days

Group size: 4-12 participants

Trip Rating: Moderate

Price: $2400

Date hiking: August 7-12, 2024

This trip is operated by Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit.

  5. MAPS
Trip Overview:

Arrive at Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit by 7:00 AM where your gear will be weighed and you will be served breakfast. Your personal vehicles will be left in the pack station parking area.

Begin at Virginia Lakes; Ending at Tuolumne Meadows.

You will be ferried the one mile from the pack station to the trailhead. A pack station driver will pick you up at the Tuolumne Meadows Stable parking area located west of Lembert Dome, returning you to the Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit station.

Experience a section of Yosemite National Park that few visitors see. You will enter Yosemite from the east side of the Sierra, at Virginia Lakes, to cross the Sierra Crest into Yosemite National Park. Your path will lead you past expansive views, powerful waterfalls, cascading creeks, dense pine forests, and lush meadows as you travel through the granite peaks and glacial valleys of northern Yosemite.

Layover days allow day trips to Miller Lake, McCabe Lakes, and Waterwheel Falls.

The trip moves through subalpine forest and the alpine zone. Expect to see western white pine, mountain hemlock, and lodgepole pine with many subalpine meadows that flower from July through August. The alpine zone of Yosemite begins near the 9,500-foot elevation. No trees grow in this zone due to the short, cool summers with long, cold, and snowy winters that are typical at these elevations. Many exposed granitic outcroppings, talus slopes, and boulder fields limit the amount of vegetation that grows here.

The above information is taken from the Yosemite National Park website. Select Learn About the Park>Nature> and then the topics you are interested in to learn more. https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm


If you are a hiker, you should be able to walk ten miles, 1,500’ elevation gain and 2,500’ loss. You should acclimate to 8,000’ to 10,000’ for 1-3 days prior to the trip.

Distance: 25.4 miles, 3,400 feet total gain and 4,550 feet loss on moving days.

Elevation Profile:

This trip passes many lakes and creeks, so available drinking water is not a problem in normal water conditions. Be prepared for creek crossings. Most of the crossings can be made on rocks or logs

Day 1: Virginia Lakes to Virginia Canyon
9.2 miles, 1,550’ gain, 2,650’ loss
The trail follows the north side of Blue Lake and then climbs fairly steeply in open forest to Cooney Lake in the first mile. The trail climbs 750’ past the Frog Lakes on shale slopes to a saddle at mile 2.6. The rocky path descends steeply to the Green Lake Trail junction at mile four. Turn left at the junction toward Summit Lake and climb 170’ in 0.4 miles to the lake. The trail drops steeply as it enters Yosemite National Park, turning into a gentle descent down through Virginia Canyon after the junction to Virginia Pass. The path down the canyon is through lodgepoles and meadows, with areas of trees downed by avalanches during high snow years. Camp is about 3.2 miles down canyon from the Virginia Pass junction. Virginia Canyon is a destination in itself, but two layover days allow day trips to the beautiful Miller Lake and McCabe Lakes.

Day 2: LAYOVER DAY. Day trips to the beautiful Miller Lake and McCabe Lakes

Day 3: LAYOVER DAY. Day trips to the beautiful Miller Lake and McCabe Lakes

Day 4: 9.7 miles, 800’ gain, 1,700’ loss
Follow the trail down to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at mile 0.8. Turn left, crossing Return Creek and McCabe Creek to climb 570’ in one mile to the McCabe Lakes junction. Continue right to follow the PCT through open forest to a long meadow at mile four and then reinter the forest to continue the descent to the Tuolumne River at Glen Aulin. Leave the PCT before crossing the bridge, at mile 8.8, following signs toward Waterwheel Falls. A very brief climb offers a beautiful view down the canyon. Be sure to look behind you for views of Tuolumne Falls and Wolf Cascade. The trail drops along a cascade to follow a serene section of the Tuolumne River for a mile to our camp. Plan to follow the Tuolumne River to Waterwheel Falls on the layover day.

Day 5: 6.5 miles, 1,050’ gain, 200’ loss Return to Glen Aulin, turning right at mile 0.9 to follow the PCT toward Tuolumne Meadows. Ignore the wooden bridge crossing Cold Creek immediately to your left that goes to the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp. Continue straight to cross the Tuolumne River on a metal bridge and then climb steeply for 0.2 miles to the May Lake junction. Continue left to follow the PCT another 0.2 miles to the base of Tuolumne Falls. Ignore your last-day urge to rush to the trailhead and leave the trail at the base of the falls to spend some time enjoying the power of the water. The trail swings away from the river twice, returning after a quarter mile to a series of cascades before crossing the river on a bridge at mile 2.2. A brief climb up a riprapped trail brings you to a magnificent view of northern Yosemite. Watch for the Little Devil’s Postpile on the opposite side of the river as you leave the viewpoint. The path enters the forest, emerging at times to cross the polished rock at the base of a dome or touch the river with views of the Cathedral Range across the meadow. The trail crosses Dingley Creek at mile 3.7 and Delaney Creek at mile 5.3. A junction just past the Delaney Creek crossing shows the stables to the left and the PCT to the right. Most hikers follow the PCT, passing the Soda Springs connector, mile 5.9, and the John Muir Trail (JMT) junction, mile 6.1, before following a trail to the left to the stables parking lot, mile 6.2. If you pass through a gate and arrive at a gravel road, you missed the side trail. Follow the road to the left to the stable parking lot. Plan to meet the pack station driver at 1:00 to return to the Virginia Lakes Pack Outfit station.

Miller Lake
8.6 miles round trip / 4.3 miles, 1,300’ gain, 500’ loss to Miller Lake
The day starts with a gentle descent down Virginia Canyon to the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail at mile 0.8. The trail to the right continues down the canyon before climbing 1,000’ fairly steeply up Spiller Creek to a saddle at mile 4.6. Wonderful views to the west open up as the trail undulates another 1.4 miles to Miller Lake. The lake is shallow which makes it a good swimming lake. There are wonderful views across the canyon of the Tuolumne River as far as the Cathedral Range to the south from near the outlet of the lake or the low dome to the west of the lake. Return to camp by the same route.

McCabe Lakes
6.8 miles round trip / 3.4 miles, 1,300’ gain, 150’ loss to Lower McCabe Lake
Follow the trail down to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at mile 0.8. Turn left, crossing Return Creek and McCabe Creek and then climb 570’ through forest in one mile to the McCabe Lakes junction. Follow the trail to the left, climbing an additional 730’ in 1.5 miles to the lake.

Waterwheel Falls
4.4 miles round trip / 2.2 miles, 100’ gain, 1,100’ loss to Waterwheel Falls
The day starts on a flat trail, cutting off bends in the river to arrive at the top of California Falls at mile 0.6. The trail drops beside the falls for 200’ in 0.2 miles and then follows a placid section of the river for 0.4 miles. The path moves in and out of forest as it drops 550’ over 0.6 miles to Le Conte Falls. The trail drops an additional 150’ over 0.4 miles as the river swings away and then returns to the trail at Waterwheel Falls. Watch for a side trail to the left that leads to a great view of the falls. Take care to avoid the very slippery wet slick rock.

Please note that this represents the planned itinerary. Weather or other factors may affect the choice of campsites and daily travel. All decisions are made by the Head Packer with attention to the safety and comfort of guests and stock.

Expected Campsite Locations >
To Elevation Latitude N Longitude W Miles Gain Loss
Virginia Canyon 8,950 38.026 119.348 9.2 1,550 2,650
Tuolumne River 77,800 37.913 119.4329.7 8001,700
Tuolumne Meadows 9,100 38.054 119.414 4.9 850 1,200
Total 25.40 3,400 4,550
*Mileage, gain, and loss based on Guthook’s PCT Guide. >
Location Moving Day Distance Cumulative Distance Elevation
Virginia Lakes 0.0 9,800
Cooney Lake 1.0 10,250
Frog Lakes Outlet 1.2 10,350
Ridge 2.6 11,100
Hoover Lakes Junction 4.0 10,100
East end Summit Lake 4.4 10,200
Boundary 5.0 10,200
Virginia Pass Junction 6.0 9,320
Virginia Canyon Camp 9.2 9.2 8,700
PCT Junction 10.0 8,550
McCabe Lakes Junction 11.0 9,120
Meadow 13.1 8,750
Ridge 15.1 8,800
Glen Aulin Junction 18.0 7,840
Tuolumne River Camp 9.7 18.9 7,800
Glen Aulin Junction 19.8 7,840
May Lake Junction 20.0 7,980
Tuolumne Falls 20.2 8,100
Bridge 21.1 8,350
Dingley Creek Crossing 22.68,400
Young Lakes Junction 23.88,640
Delaney Creek Crossing 24.1 8,600
Stable Jct 24.2 8,600
Soda Springs-Parsons Connector 24.8 8,600
JMT Jct 25.0 8,600
Stable Parking Junction 25.1 8,600
Tuolumne Meadows Stable 6.5 25.4 8,650

Upper Kerrick Canyon
Above Matterhorn Canyon
Miller Lake
Lower Kerrick Canyon
Pack Animals Near Smedberg
What you need to know…for riders


We supply horses, saddles, food, kitchen and eating utensils, and camping equipment. Dormitory tents will be provided for men and women. Private tents for couples or singles will be reserved by request. Food will be plentiful and deluxe in quality. We provide the preparation of meals; any help is appreciated but not mandatory. Those desiring to learn how to pack may participate in making up loads and packing the mules.


  1. Check-in time is 7 a.m. at Rock Creek Pack Station except when OTHER LOCATION is specified.
  2. Free parking for guests' cars at pack station.
  3. Breakfast is served the first day while the mules are being loaded. The last meal furnished is lunch the last day.
  4. We provide a small saddle bag for trail necessities. Please do not bring your own saddle bags or day packs unless they are pocket size. Participants may not carry large camera cases with extra lenses on the saddle. If you have extra camera equipment, it can be packed in your duffel or in a safe place on mules.
  5. You will be limited to 3 lbs. in the saddle bag, which includes your lunch. Your jacket and rain gear are not included in the 3 lbs. and may be tied on the back of the saddle. No day packs allowed on riders' backs.
  6. Each person is assigned a horse for the duration of the trip with regard to the guest's weight, height, and ability.
  7. Dunnage limit is 30 lbs. per person (this includes sleeping bags, fishing equipment, liquor, etc.). There will be a surcharge of $3 to $10 per pound on dunnage in excess of the 30 lbs. You may bring your own tent if under 10 lbs. which will not be included in 30 lb. weight limit.
  8. Trip fee does not include alcoholic beverages or lodging night before and after trip.
  9. Gratuities are optional and a personal choice.
  10. Trip will terminate in the late afternoon of last day.
  11. Free shuttle back to Rock Creek Pack Station for trips terminating at other road heads.
  12. Reservation form must be accurately completed. The information on age, height, weight and riding ability is used to assign riding animals. Failure to provide accurate information may result in the participant being denied going on the trip with loss of trip fee.
  13. We advise guests to purchase cancellation and trip travel insurance.
  14. Participants will be sent an assumption of risk and a liability release form. All guests must assume the risk and sign the forms before using Rock Creek's service. Our forms have excellent guidelines for riding safety that we ask you to study.
  15. The pack station does not boil or treat water. Campsites are remote enough that we feel safe in using the water. It you want to purify water bring your own filter pump or purification tablets.


Bring belongings in stout canvas or nylon duffels; side zipper recommended, ideal size approximately 14" x 32". It is a good idea to use a large plastic bag INSIDE of the duffle to protect contents from external moisture.

Sleeping bags can be in separate duffels --again, line the inside of the duffle against rain.

Place all cosmetics, soaps, medications, etc into small plastic containers with close-fitting caps, THEN into sturdy resealable plastic storage bags. If anything breaks or bursts from altitude changes, the plastic bag contains the spill.

When possible, it is a good idea to transfer alcoholic beverages to sturdy plastic bottles with well fitting caps - it will save weight and protect against breakage.

Check in fishing worms and bottle goods separately; don't put in duffel. Place fishing rods in metal or plastic cases.

You will be given a small saddle bag that goes on your saddle horn to carry your lunch and a few personal items. (Weight limit 3 lbs - including lunch).

Remember - try to minimize the weight of your dunnage by packaging only the amount of any item you will need (like soaps, lotions and medications).


  • Sleeping bag with a comfort range of 20 to 60 degrees and a moisture proof ground cloth.
  • Air mattress or small 1/4"-1/2" foam hip pad recommended - your night's rest will affect your next days enjoyment. Bring the best sleeping pad you can manage.
  • Broad-brimmed hat is essential for protection from sun at high altitude. It must have strings to keep from blowing off.
  • Sunglasses (RX glasses) - high altitude sun is BRIGHT!
  • Coffee mug (plastic for camp)
  • Pint water bottle for your horn bag
  • Pocket knife or small multi-tool
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Camera and film (sturdy strap)-- if using digital - don't forget an extra battery and card
  • Rain jackets and pants or slicker (rolled up you can tie them to the back of your saddle)
  • Hat protector (to keep your hat dry)
  • Light jacket (windbreaker)
  • Wool or fleece pullover/sweater (layers will keep you comfortable)
  • Heavy jacket
  • Bandana
  • Woolen cap (evenings can be cold)
  • Gloves (recommend gloves for riding, may want warm gloves for evenings)
  • Socks
  • Riding boots
  • Shoes for camp (moccasins, athletic shoes, etc)
  • Shirts and pants (long sleeved shirts offer sun, bug and branch protection)
  • Underwear
  • Bathing suit
  • Bath towel/wash cloth/soap (try a multi-use bar or liquid for use on hair, body and laundry. Biodegradable choices are available.)
  • Insect repellent such as Cutters
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • comb/brush clips/pins/ponytail holders
  • Shaving kit (a small mirror is helpful)
  • Sun Screen (lotion, cream or stick)- use liberally for sunburn and chapping prevention.
  • Chapstick with sun protection SPF 15 or better
  • Moisturizer (cream or lotion - altitude and sun can be dry and chap skin)
  • Prescription medicine (if required - if you have any allergies, remember to bring appropriate medication)
  • Band-aids, aspirin, ibuprofen, eye drops, moleskin for any blisters
  • Baby powder/Talcum powder (helps to relieve any raw or irritated areas from boots, clothes or saddles)
  • Kleenex
  • Jogging suit (sweats are comfortable for after-swim and campfire lounging)


We are dedicated to conducting our trips so that others following us will find the country unspoiled. Livestock is a natural part of the wilderness and when properly managed enhances man's enjoyment of our unmechanized wilderness area. Today, just as it was when the entire west was mostly wilderness, the horse and mule remain our companions and servants in wilderness travel. We practice and expect you to observe the following during your trip.

  1. Keep horses on trail; do not cut switchbacks (corners).
  2. Tie horses 200 feet away from streams, trails and campsites. At camps, horses and mules are tied to picket lines, stretched between trees on granitic soil.
  3. If you can't tie animal to picket line use a tree greater than 8" in diameter, not on grass. Tie high and short (2-3 ft.) so horse doesn't get foot caught in rope.
  4. Choose a tent site at least 100 ft. from water (THE LAW) where drainage will not be a problem, avoiding the need to trench. No tents or camp area allowed on grass or meadowlands.
  5. Utilize pre-existing fire rings where possible. Don't surround fires with rocks! Dig a hole in sand and cover when finished. When you leave camp, bury ashes from fire rings. Leave existing fire rings clean for the next user.
  6. When breaking camp, return the spot to its natural state and broadcast a covering of needles and cones. Scout the area to make sure nothing will be left behind. Remove the smallest pieces of aluminum foil and trash.
  7. Pack out all trash. Don't bury garbage, scatter organic wastes or leave foil in campfire pit. Burn cans and flatten. On our group trips we have a bag for cans and aluminum foil.
  8. Don't use soap (even biodegradable) in streams or lakes, Wash yourself, clothes and dishes away from water sources.
  9. Bury human waste 200 ft. from water, campsites and trails. Dig a hole 4-6" deep and after use tamp with sod.
  10. Don't pick flowers or cut branches from live trees. Use only downed wood for fires.
  11. You are required to keep bears from getting to your food at all times. Please ask for current regulations and suggestions on how to prepare for your trip.

You can purchase quality topo maps at TOM HARRISON MAPS.

Tom Harrison Hoover Wilderness Map, paper or download onto phone/tablet. A short section of the trail missing from the map includes Miller Lake, which is on the Yosemite High Country map.
National Geographic 308 Yosemite NE: Tuolumne Meadows and Hoover Wilderness Trail Map
Apps for Smartphone/Tablet, download applicable areas prior to departure:
  • Gaia GPS
  • Topo Maps