A Weekend Guide to Backcountry Hiking in Yosemite • The Blonde Abroad

weekend guide to backcountry yosemite

Call me biased but I think California is one of the most incredible destinations on the planet. My home state is brimming with incredible vistas—where the cliffs meet the Pacific Ocean, of towering forests, of vast stretches of desert. From swanky cities to chill surf towns and everything in between, California is a dream.

For me, a 10-day California Coast road trip is one of the best ways to explore the state (and if you’ve got more than 10 days—even better)! To make the most of it, you can drive from San Diego to San Francisco then get over to the iconic Yosemite National Park.

You will want at least a weekend to explore the expansive park grounds when you arrive. As one of the first national parks in the United States, this is one of California’s essential sites to visit.

Famous for its towering granite peaks, ancient giant sequoias, and views of the forested valley that will take your breath away, this is a dream hiking destination. We can thank John Muir, Father of the National Parks, for establishing the impressive American network of National Parks.

Fun fact: It wasn’t just John of the Mountains who loved Yosemite! This park was the ultimate hotspot for Victorian American travelers.

With so many stunning trails to traverse, it is time to dig out your hiking boots. Ready to hike the backcountry of Yosemite but don’t know where to start? Here’s my weekend guide!

Seasonal Tips

Generally speaking, the best time to visit Yosemite is during either May or September. The weather is perfect, every area of the park is completely accessible, but it’s still not too crowded.

That said, Yosemite National Park is stunning at any time of year. Just make sure to plan in advance. Many areas of the park are only open during certain seasons, so you will want to double-check to figure out what is actually accessible when you’re going.

The areas of Tuolomne Meadows near Tioga Pass are open approximately May to November, while Meadows Lodge/Grill is usually open from July to September. You will also want to be careful entering from the Eastern Sierras, which is closed for half of the year.
Note: Opening months and days are always approximate in Yosemite and depend upon snowfall and rain. As a general rule, if it is not summer, plan where you want to go in advance so you can ensure everything is open.

Whenever you opt to go, bring layers and sunscreen! The weather can go from quite warm in the afternoon to freezing at night.

Yosemite Backcountry Hiking-15

What You Need

Permits are essential. In order to prevent overcrowding and offer everyone the best experience, they only allow a set number of people in each trailhead. Get your wilderness permit in advance on the Yosemite National Park website. And the sooner the better! If you are camping, you might need to book your permit months (sometimes nearly a year) in advance.

While you will want to pack light, be sure to bring all of the essentials with you. In addition to the basics like a sleeping bag and tent, it’s helpful to have a solar charger, headlamp, water filter, and cooking basics. Bring basics like wet wipes and coconut oil to stay comfortable as well.

We free camped so we didn’t need to book in advance. We got our permit and rented bear-proof cans at the gate.

After my first weekend camping there, I put together a list of essentials for a weekend in Yosemite so you know just what to pack.

You can reserve permits online as well as walk-up which is first-come, first-serve. They are free but absolutely required for any overnight backpacking.

Heads up, there are only a set number of permits available per day, per trailhead. Day hikers don’t need a permit except for Half Dome—which requires ample time to plan. Either way, some planning is necessary.

Glen Aulin Trail

Yosemite Weekend Sample Itinerary

We spent two nights staying beside May Lake & Mt. Hoffmann. It was absolutely gorgeous! There are eight cabins dotting the shores that can accommodate a total of thirty-six guests.

The Glen Aulin hiking area was breathtaking (literally!) from start to finish. You can map out the hike from May Lake to Glen Aulin Trail to plan your weekend. The trail is open from March until November and is just under 22 miles.

Tip: When you are looking at mileage numbers, keep in mind the terrain. You could easily walk ten miles of city streets in a weekend without being tired but it’s a totally different experience on rough terrain.

The travel guides will note if it’s downhill or uphill (May Lake to Glen Aulin Trail is mostly downhill FYI) as well as giving an easy to moderate to difficult rating. I’d recommend challenging yourself but don’t completely wreck yourself!

I’d then recommend venturing out from Glen Aulin to Tuolumne Meadows. I made a map of my exact hike and you’ve got to check out if you’re ready for a challenge! I was so proud to log in 31.8 miles and I would do it all over again! For a full perspective of the park and where you will be traveling check out this full park map.

To break up the long journey, we stayed in May Lake. The next day our goal was to get to Glen Aulin to camp. On the final day, we hiked out to Tuolumne Meadows.

At the end of the hike, there’s the Tuolumne Meadows Grill where I cried out of total exhaustion and got myself an ice cream!

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