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Hiking Through Dogwood Blooms at Mirror Lake

Our plan was to take a blooming Dogwood adventure in Yosemite Valley. First stop were the Half Dome Village dogwoods, then the Mirror Lake Loop dogwoods and the finale was the pink dogwood near the employee housing but we also had a few surprises along the way with a trail issue and some romantic critters.

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: About 8.47 Miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation Range: 3,986′ – 4,204′
Date: April 30, 2018
Maps: El Capitan and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Topographic Quad
Dog Hike? No

We heard that the dogwood blooms were putting on a show in Yosemite Valley and we maximized our dogwood viewing by parking at Half Dome Village (Curry Village), then we walked through the Village, checking out the flowers.








I bet you already know this, but just in case you didn’t, the dogwood flower is actually the middle part and bracts are the showy white portion that we sometimes incorrectly call the dogwood flower.




We worked our way through the tents and headed toward to Mirror Lake Loop Trail but we stopped to watch 3 young deer hanging out in the area.

We walked over the Happy Isles Loop Road bridge that crosses the Merced River, catching a view of Yosemite Falls.

Starting up the trail, we followed the east side of the Tenaya Creek. We continued on the trail, following Mirror Lake’s eastern side. As soon as we approached Mirror Lake, the view opened up to reveal to us how it received its current name of Mirror Lake. Native Americans tribes such as the Paiutes lived and traveled though this area long before Yosemite National Park was created and it makes me sad that many of their names for geographical locations related to Yosemite have been lost to time. The Miwok Indians were asked what they called Mirror Lake the they said they called it A-wai’-a.

Today’s Mirror Lake 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.

How about a little history related to Mirror Lake? Captain William James Howard was a member of the Mariposa Battalion that some credit with “discovering” Yosemite Valley in 1851. In the 1860s, he built a toll road to Mirror Lake, then a summer house on the lake’s shore. In 1870, construction was completed of the Lake House, a frame building open for public lodging and providing “fine liquors and Havana cigars.” A one-mile toll wagon-road led up to the lake from the Valley. It is said that Leonidas G. Wharton and Peter Gordon were partners in the Lake House in 1870. In 1875, Howard completed construction of his “shake shanty” cabin on the shores of Mirror Lake and at the end of the carriage road. He took over the operations of the Lake House as a saloon and added a dance floor over the lake. This dance floor measured sixty feet by forty feet, extending out over the water. The Mirror Lake House, as it became known, was a favorite night spot. In 1881 Howard’s cabin was demolished by orders of the Yosemite Commissioners as being unsightly. In 1890, the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company built a frame icehouse at the lake.

You can read a little more history about Mirror Lake in my April 26, 2016 Mirror Lake Blog.

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

On the east edge of the rockfall, we accidentally interrupted a male and female California Ground Squirrel’s “date.”

Male California Ground Squirrel

Female California Ground Squirrel


Check out the video of the male ground squirrel continuing to try and call her back.

We continued up the trail but where did the trail go? Down logs and slash covered the trail and even if we could have walked our way over the debris, the entire trail was flooded.

A trail of sorts had been utilized by many hikers to go around this spot and we took it. Up, over and around down trees and slash we went.

Photo by Gail Gilbert

Photo by Gail Gilbert











After about 3/4 of a mile, we met back up with a dry trail.




The trail took us over the bridge over Tenaya Creek then back down the northwest side of the creek and into some really nice blooming dogwoods, the best ones of our hike.

We passed by some spring wildflowers blooming, including a small patch of fireweed along the trail. Gail told me that she had a treat for me and I was guessing that it could be a new chocolate bar but it wasn’t. She showed me the location of a Sequoia, one of the few in Yosemite Valley. I had heard of it but never knew where it was and I am sorry that I don’t have more information about it for you.

The trail led us by the entrance to the “Field of Cairns,” an area where people have been creating stacked rocks, cairns or ducks for years. This is a controversial issue. We all agree that it would not be acceptable to leave graffiti in the Park and we have been taught to leave no trace of our visit and the rock stacking is not natural. Is this just another type of graffiti or is it art?








We made it back to the parking lot, retrieved our goodies out of the bear box and I caught a glimpse of a couple of apple trees still in bloom.

Our last stop on our adventure was to take a closer look at the pink dogwoods near the employee housing and our favorite one was in perfect bloom, which Gail captured so beautifully in her picture.

Gail Gilbert

Photo by Gail Gilbert

We had to stop for a little bit of road work on our way into Yosemite National Park, but there is far less construction going on than there was earlier this year. They are still removing a lot of dead trees, so we needed to be cautious of the logging trucks and crews, sometimes having a short wait.

I would usually rate the difficulty of the Mirror Lake Loop as Easy but bumped it up to Easy to Moderate because of the trail diversion issue where you had to rock hop, log jump and do a bit of trail blazing to work around the flooded portion of the trail. You can always take this hike up to that flooded portion and turn around, making it an easy hike. Also, due to the amount of down material and flooding, I would consider that portion of the trail impassable to stock at the time of this writing.

You can also see the dogwood blooms by driving through Yosemite Valley and stopping along the way when you see a nice grouping of them and if you do this, be sure and make a stop by Half Dome Village to see the many dogwoods there. The waterfalls are still putting on a beautiful show and it is a wonderful time to visit Yosemite National Park.

Dog Hike?

Dogs are not allowed on the Mirror Lake Loop Trail. There are some areas along this leaf peeping 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


  • 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.

Yosemite Hospitality operates a dog kennel in Yosemite Valley from approximately late May through early September. Written proof of immunizations (rabies, distemper, parvo, and Bordetella) must be provided. Dogs must be at least 20 pounds (smaller dogs may be considered if you provide a small kennel). You can get more information about the kennel by calling 209/372-8326.

Maps and Profile:

Yosemite Valley Dogwoods and Mirror Lake Loop Doarama

Yosemite Valley & Mirror Lake Loop Topographic Map

Yosemite Valley & Mirror Lake Loop Profile

Prior Blogs in this Area:

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


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

Mirror Lake Loop Rockfall

Yosemite National Park Pet Regulations


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