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Red Peak Pass Loop: The Most Diverse 50 Miles in Yosemite

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Red Peak Pass Loop

Distance: 50.4 miles.

Cumulative Assent: 12557 ft

Cumulative Descent: 12568 ft

Lowest Point: Mist Trail Trail Head at 4,000 ft (1,200 M) 

Highest Point: Red Peak Pass at 11,155 feet

Trailhead: Mist Trail Trailhead, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California. 

Trailhead Parking: West of Curry Village near Happy Isles. Trailhead bear boxes available, but limited. If using the free Yosemite Valley shuttle they begin your hike at shuttle stop #16.

Permits: Wilderness permits are required and can be obtained 168 day in advance. More information here. 

Crowd Factor: Varied. Extremely crowded from trailhead through Panorama Trail split. Almost vacant from Panorama Trail split through Merced Lake High Sierra Camp. Moderately crowded from Merced Lake High Sierra Camp through Little Yosemite Valley Campground.  Extremely crowded from Little Yosemite Valley through Mist Trail trailhead.  

Scenery Factor:  AMAZING! The trail is incredibly diverse, sliding through almost every terrain available in Yosemite making it a true YOSEMITE TASTE TESTER! 

Fish Factor:  Sierra Slam available! Browns, Rainbows, Brooke and Golden are available along this trail! Remember these lakes and streams have not been stocked since the 60s, so please be gentle!

Difficulty:  Moderate. The first day leaving the Valley could be the most difficult day since you must make it approximately 7 miles and 3200 ft of elevation gain to the base of Mt King Starr before you can camp. 

Special Conditions:  This hike was documented on Labor Day weekend 2017. Previous winter had record breaking snow pack creating a high water year. The trail was affected by smoke from the Empire Fire, King Starr Fire, South Fork Fire and the Railroad Fire.  Glacier Point Road, HWY 41 and Merced Lake High Sierra Camp were closed which affected the crowd factor. 


SECTION I: Happy Isles to Lower Merced Pass Lake

Mile 1 - 4.5 Although these miles are crowded and you gain 3000 feet of elevation, it is phenomenally beautiful and completely worth it!  You'll pass many of Yosemite’s Valley’s most iconic landmarks while hiking the first 3.3 miles of the famous John Muir Trail. 

Mile 5 - 10 The trail levels off just after the Panorama Trail split as you leave all the crowds behind!  The trail then meanders for another 5 miles through a drier landscape dotted with a series of granite domes including Mt King Starr.  Note: This is one of the only sections of this trail without easy access to water, so remember to drink up before leaving the Merced River.  ​

Mile 10 - 15 The trail cools down dramatically and becomes more forested once it meets up with the Clark Fork and Red Creek. Keep you eyes open for the Clark Fork waterfall! Approximately 12 miles in the forest become dense and the trails meets up with Illilouette Creek which is filled with small Rainbow Trout and Golden/Rainbow hybrids. 

Mile 15 - 17 The trail crosses and separates from Illilouette Creek as it gently climbs 600 feet towards the Merced Pass Lakes. Lower Merced Pass Lake is not visible from the trail, but we recommend heading over for a break and swim.  No fishing through, both lakes appear barren. 

Awesomest Camping

  • Just before the Clark Fork up and to the right of trail where you'll get a view of the waterfall.

  • Just after the Clark Fork to the left in a large clearing surrounded by dense forest. There are small clearings scattered along the right side once the Illilouette Creek comes into view.

  • You’ll see great campsite as you walk cross country to Lower Merced Pass Lake.


SECTION II: Upper Merced Pass Lake to the Triple Creek Fork

Mile 17 - 19.5 The trail begins to take on the quintessential “high country” look as it climbs 400 feet to meet Ottawa Creek and another 300 feet to lower Ottoway Lake. The Creek is filled with active Brook Trout. Make sure and fish the small pool to left of the trail just before Lower Ottoway Lake as well. The lake is filled with small and excitable Rainbow Trout which hit no matter which bank you fish from.

Mile 19.5 - 22 The trail walks about half the perimeter of the lake before it begins the 1500 foot climb above treeline, passed the fishless Upper Ottoway Lakes to Red Peak Pass. The climb is well graded with lots of small switchbacks and provides epic scenery to keep you distracted.  A half mile and 450 feet down from Red Peak Pass you’ll come to another set of fishless lakes that make a great spot for a break!

Mile 22 - 24 The trail continues to descend through every imaginable alpine landscape from Moonscape to soft grassy meadow to barren lake and back to moonscape.  The alpine lakes do not contain fish, but they are surrounded by delicate grasses and flowers.  As the trail wiggles through a series of small lakes that feed the larger Red Devil Lake the landscape takes on a look reminiscent of Vogalsang with soft grassy meadows and polished glacial erratics.

Mile 24 - 28 The last four miles of this section roll up and down in elevation ending in 9000 feet around the Triple Peak Fork. On the way the Merced Peak Fork crosses the trail is several places and provides for many opportunities to catch the small golden trout that call it and Lake Edna home!

Awesomest Camping

  • On the western shore of Lower Ottoway on the left and right side of the trail.

  • Leave the trail and stay on the eastern shore of Lower Ottoway Lake. There are amazing sandy sites tucked in the granite and trees.

  • Amazing sites sprinkled throughout the lower Red Devil Lakes.


Section III: Triple Peak Canyon to Washburn Lake 

Mile 28 - 31 Again, this trail does not disappoint as it enters and descends 1000 feet into an incredible granite canyon with expansive vistas and waterfalls. 

Mile 31 - 34 The trail crosses a foot bridge and enters a relatively flat 1 miles section of forested river which often cascade into large blue and green holes filled with large rainbows.  Once you reach the far footbridge where the Lyell Fork enters the river, the forest is clogged with dead trees for about .5 miles that make it hard to fish or camp.  Near mile 33 the forest opens up and there are a series of three large granite holes and small canyons that make a perfect spot to ​camp, rest or fish for Rainbows and Brookies.

Mile 34 - 35 Washburn Lake is a beautiful granite cirque located around 7600 feet.  Lake fish for Rainbow trout in Washburn and/or try for the large and spirited rainbows on the outlet just north of the lake.

Awesomest Camping

  • Near the first footbridge before the Merced Peak Fork merges with the Triple Peak Fork

  • After the tree graveyard near a series of three large granite pools. 


Section IV: Merced Lake to Yosemite Valley 

Mile 35 - 38 The trail descends about 400 feet in the 3.5 miles between the two lakes and often changes between a rolling granite canyon similar to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and an ancient upper montane forest filled with red firs and lodge pole pines. You’ll run into the Merced Lake High Sierra Camp about a half mile before the lake. The area is generally bustling and has a store open from 1pm - 5pm with limited snacks and hiking essentials. The northern and eastern shores of Merced Lake are marshy and a severe granite slope on the southern shore; however, we recommend casting out for a chance at the small browns that inhabit the lake. 

Mile 38 - 40.5 The next 2 mile section separates from the River and becomes a flat slog through the sandy and eroded trails of Echo Valley making this the least interesting portion of the trail, so make sure and venture off toward the river to go after the Browns and Rainbows.

Mile 40 - 43 As is the nature of this trail, Echo Valley instantly transitions into another expansive granite canyon filled with polished granite, cascades, a 1900 foot cliff and large brown trout! 

Mile 43 - 46 This entire section of Lost Valley and Little Yosemite Valley is relatively flat and a little spooky due to a 2014 fire that burned every tree to a matchstick.  The Merced River widens and meanders through both valleys and has a nice selection of Rainbow and Brown trout.  

Mile 46 - 50.4 You’ll loose over 2000 feet of elevation in this last few miles as you leave the wilderness and enter the world of day hikers along the famous Mist Trail with amazing views of Vernal and Nevada Falls. Once on the Valley Floor look for the hotdog stand near Happy Isles for quick bite before ordering an entire pizza at the Curry Village (Half Dome Village) Pizza Deck!

Awesomest Camping

  • Dispersed camping allowed northwest of Merced Lake.

  • A few spots in Echo Valley if you leave the trail and head toward the River.

  • The only safe site between Bunnell Cascades and Little Yosemite Valley is located up and to the right of the trail in a granite canyon section near Moraine Dome.






1 Big Agnus Seedhouse Tent (2 person) 

1 Therm-a-Rest ProLite Sleeping Pad (Small)

1 Pacific Outdoor Equipment Uber-Lite Sleeping Pad

1 Mountain Hardwear Phantom Sleeping Bag

1 Nemo Nocturne Sleeping Bag

2 Compressible Camp Pillows

.5  Z Lite (Regular)

2   Petzel Tikka Head Lamp

1   Sea to Summit Pocket Trowel 1   Hand Sanitizer (1 oz)

1   Lighter

4   Strike Anywhere Matches


(8ft 4 wt) Hardy Shadow Fly Rod   1

(4wt) Redington Rise Reel   1

Rio Inception Line   1

 (Small) fly fox   1

(Loaded) Lanyard   1


1 Jetboil Flash Stove and Fuel Canister

1 Light My Fire Copolyester Spork

1 Light My Fire Titanium Spork 

2   Mountain House Meals

4 Backpacker Pantry Meals

2   Good to Go Meals

10 Tortillas (10 in)

PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter

 Bulk Powdered Hummus

 Bulk Granola

 Nestle Nido Powdered Whole Milk 

 Bulk Powdered Potatoes

 Powdered Gatorade 

 Snacks and Snacks and Snacks


(33) Men' s Osprey Talon Pack   1

(28) Women's Gregory Jade   1

(Mini) Sawyer Squeeze Filter & Bag   1

(2 Liter) Outdoor Product Water Reservoir 1  

(Tall) Smartwater Bottle   2

(Tiny) Sol Duct Tape Roll   1

(1oz) Travel Sunblock   1

Advil Gel Caps 10

(.9 grams) Safetec Antibiotic Ointment   5

GoPro   1

I Phone   2

National Geographic Yosemite Map   1


1   Simm's Ball Cap

1   Merrell Short Sleeve OptiWick Shirt

1   Under Armour Tank Match Up Tanktop

1   ExOfficio Cool Nomad Shorts 1   Paradox Merino Wool Quick Drink Pull Over 1   Patogonia Nano Puff Jacket

1   ExOfficio Give-N-Go Underwear

1   Under Armour Crossback Sport's Bra

1   Chaco Z/2 Hiking Sandals 

1   The North Face Tights  

2   Smartwool Socks


Echo Adventure Ball Cap   1

Reddington Wayward Guide Shirt   1

Kuhl Renegade Pant (Zip Off Legs)   1

Patagonia Ultralight Down Jacket   1

Keen Targhee II Boots  1

 Under Armour Undewear   3

 Smartwool Socks   3


Supplies listed above are appropriate for 2 lightweight backpackers for 5 days

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