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Hiking Mirror Lake Loop With Fall Colors

I was sneaking in a fall color hike in Yosemite Valley before a storm could blow the leaves off the trees, but where to go? I picked Mirror Lake to see delightful dogwoods, beautiful big leaf maples, wonderful willows and outstanding oaks. Oh, and those reflections of them all in magnificent Mirror Lake!

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 8.24 Miles (Depending on where you park)
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Range: 3,986′ – 4,282′
Elevation Gain: 288′
Date: November 8, 2021
CALTOPO: Curry Village to Mirror Lake Loop Trail Fall Colors
Dog Hike? Maybe

As I drove into Yosemite Valley, it was mighty smoky from the pile burning that the Park had been doing. Smoke hung in fairly heavy and low on the west end but cleared by the time I was passing by Yosemite Chapel. And, it was sure nice to see Yosemite Falls flowing again but I didn’t stop for a picture. I maximized my dogwood viewing by parking at Curry Village, hiking through the tents, up toward Happy Isles and then the Mirror Lake Loop.

Those beautiful big leaf maples leaves covered the trail in places.

The trail crossed over the Merced River and right after the the bicycle racks and John Muir Trail, I started up the Valley Loop Trail to Mirror Lake. On some maps you may see the name of this trail called Happy Isles Loop or Mirror Lake Trail/Loop.

 

 

 

 

 

Leaves blanketed the trail in many places and was periodically framed by dogwoods and a few oaks.

The trail reached a junction where it headed up along the south side of Tenaya Creek with splashes of fall color, and that is where I headed.

This trail is not one that you are likely to have by yourself but I started early and probably saw about a dozen people during the morning.

After about 2.3 miles, I reached the south side of Mirror Lake.

The Miwok Indians were asked what they called Mirror Lake and they said they called it A-wai’-a but it is named Mirror Lake on maps today. Today’s Mirror Lake is far different and smaller than it used to be. It is all that remains of a large glacial lake that once filled most of Yosemite Valley at the end of the last Ice Age, and is close to disappearing due to the accumulated sediment. Today’s lake can dry up in the summer, leaving no lake at all but not today. Beautiful reflections filled the lake from every angle. You can read a little more history about Mirror Lake in my April 26, 2016 Mirror Lake Blog.

I headed up the trail through the Ahwiyah Point Rockfall that occurred in 2009, closing this portion of the trail until 2012.

I took a look up toward where those rocks had fallen off of, falling approximately 1,800 feet to the floor of Yosemite Valley from Ahwiyah Point, knocking down hundreds of trees and burying hundreds of feet of the trail on the southern portion of the loop. The impact of the rocks hitting the ground generated a magnitude of a 2.4 earthquake. The rockfall was estimated to be approximately 43,000 cubic meters, or 115,000 tons. No injuries or structures were affected by the rockfall.

Just before I reached the bridge that crossed Tenaya Creek, I encountered a couple of down trees but I could easily walk through them.

What a view looking down Tenaya Creek!

I followed signs to Mirror Lake and the dogwoods started putting on a show.

The dogwood colors ranged from lighter red, some of them sporting green and red leaves on the same branch, and every once in a while one was a magnificent dark, deep red color. I also spotted some that still had their seed pods or heads attached.

I kept following the signs to Mirror Lake, anticipating what colorful reflections I may find.

The trail morphed into pavement and I kept walking down the road. following color where it drew me, then back to Curry Village.

And just one more dogwood picture.

I arrived early in the morning, parking my car and not moving the car. This is the best strategy if you can swing it. We are reaching the end of the fall color season around us but you can still spot some beautiful color without entering Yosemite National Park. A drive around Bass Lake or up toward Fish Camp will have some color still hanging on but don’t wait too long because these fall colors don’t last long.

Dog Hike?

Dogs are not allowed on the Mirror Lake Loop Trail. There are some areas along route where dogs are allowed:

  • In developed areas
  • On fully paved roads, sidewalks, and bicycle paths (except when signed as not allowing pets)
  • In all campgrounds except walk-in campgrounds (e.g., Camp 4) and in group campsites

Additionally,

  • pets must be restrained on a leash not more than six feet long or otherwise physically restrained
  • leashed pets may not be left unattended
  • for the courtesy of other visitors, human companions are responsible for cleaning up and depositing pet feces in trash receptacles
  • remember that pet food is also bear food: store pet food as if it were human food.

Where Pets Are Not Allowed

  • On trails, including the trail to Vernal Fall (however, pets are allowed on the Wawona Meadow Loop)
  • On unplowed roads covered in snow
  • In undeveloped and wilderness areas
  • In public buildings
  • On shuttle buses
  • In lodging areas
  • In all walk-in and group campgrounds/campsites, including Camp 4
  • In any other areas, as signed

These regulations protect both pets and wildlife from disease and each other. The National Park Service has prohibited pets on trails for many years. In particular, some pets chase wildlife, pollute water sources, and can become defensive and dangerous in unfamiliar surroundings. Pet owners have the burden to assure their pet does not damage the park values for others in those areas where pets are allowed.

Doarama:

What is a Doarama?  It is a video playback of the GPS track overlaid on a 3 dimensional interactive map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt it or spin it and look at it from different viewing angles. With the rabbit and turtle buttons, you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.

Curry Village to Mirror Lake Loop Trail With Fall Colors Doarama

Maps and Profile:

CALTOPO has some free options for mapping and here is a link to my hike this week: CALTOPO: Curry Village to Mirror Lake Loop Trail Fall Colors

Mirror Lake Loop Trail With Fall Colors Topographic Map

Mirror Lake Loop Trail With Fall Colors Profile

Prior Blogs in this Area:

Hiking Mirror Lake Loop Trail With Dogwood Blooms & A Bear April 30, 2021

Snow and Clouds in Yosemite Valley: Hiking to Mirror Lake February 3, 2021

Hiking Through Dogwood Blooms at Mirror Lake April 30, 2018

Leaf Peeping in Yosemite Valley and Hiking Mirror Lake Loop October 19, 2017

Mirror Lake Loop Hike April 26, 2016

Leaf Peeping in Yosemite Valley October 23, 2014

Mirror Lake Loop Hike November 7, 2012

Sources:

Yosemite Nature Notes 46(2) (1977) Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake Loop Rockfall

Yosemite National Park Pet Regulations

 

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