- Distance: 2-8mi (depending on route)
- Time: 1-3hrs
- Elevation Gain/Loss: Roughly 100ft
- Difficulty: Easy
- Crowd Factor: Moderate-High
- Best Time: May-Sept, Oct-Nov
- Permits: No, Yosemite Park Entry Fee: $35
- Beautiful views
- Easy, but not too easy. A little something for people of all levels.
- Crowds, especially during the summer and on the weekends
- Might be too easy for some people
Mirror Lake Loop Trail is a lovely stroll through the woods in Yosemite National Park. It’s a pretty and easy hike with basically no elevation gain and is open year round (which makes it a great option if visiting in winter!). There’s a paved 1 mi access road to the lake from the shuttle stop if you’re looking for something super easy (plus options for a path on either side so you don’t have to take the paved toad), or you can opt to make this a longer trip by hiking the loop trail around the lake.
Directions to the Trail Head
The Mirror Lake trailhead starts at shuttle stop #17 from the Valley floor.
If you want to add a little extra to this hike you can also start from shuttle stop #16 (Happy Isles) and follow the Valley Floor Loop trail along the road between the two shuttle stops. It’s 1.5 mi between stops.
Regardless of which shuttle stop you want to start from, you have two options for getting there:
- Park at Half Dome Village (previously Curry Village)
- Park at Yosemite Valley trailhead parking lot
Half Dome Village in Yosemite Valley is the main start/end point for the Valley shuttle. There’s ample parking here as well as a market where you can get supplies. From there, just jump on one of the many shuttles that run every 15-20mins and take it to the shuttle stop where you want to start.
Or park at the Yosemite Valley trailhead parking lot, which is a little beyond Half Dome Village (closer to the trailheads). This is the end of the road and as far as passenger cars can go. The parking lot only holds around 300 cars, so it can fill up quickly especially if you’re not there early in the morning. This lot is just a half mile down the road from Happy Isles shuttle stop/trailhead. From here, walk to Happy Isles and either grab the shuttle and go one stop to Mirror Lake, or continue to take the Valley Loop Trail along the road and go another 1.5mi to the Mirror Lake Trail.
Can You swim in Mirror Lake?
Not really – it’s too shallow to swim in Mirror Lake, but you can walk through the water. Mirror “lake” is more of a meadow that gets flooded in the Spring/Summer by Tenaya Creek which flows through it and creates the “lake”. So it’s not really a lake in a traditional sense. If you wade out into the lake (although this is not recommended as it would disturb the serenity of the area) and it wouldn’t be any higher than your knees on a good day.
What to expect along the trail
We did this hiking starting at the Valley trailhead parking lot, then walking .5mi along the road to Happy Isles where we then picked up the Valley Loop trail to Mirror Lake. There is a clearly marked sign just past Happy Isles that says Mirror Lake and points you down a path that follows along the road to the next shuttle stop (1.5) mi. The Valley Loop Trail is much prettier and more interesting to walk over the road – it has good tree coverage and also a fun rock tunnel!
In following the Valley Loop Trail from Happy Isles, it eventually splits – to the left being the start of the paved access road that leads to Mirror Lake, and to the right, the wooden path continues also leading to Mirror Lake, but again is much more picturesque than the paved road.
If you are going this trail from the Mirror Lake shuttle stop, rather than following the paved road to the lake, you can instead join up with this path on either side of the road which will still take you to the lake, it’s just a much nicer walk than a paved road.
The walk to the lake is easy, quick, and pretty uneventful – about one mile regardless of if you’re using the paved road or one of the paths on the side of the road. The lake isn’t much of a “lake” – it’s very shallow and not that big… it’s created by Tenaya Creek which flows through the meadow and floods the area a bit when water levels are high, which creates the “lake”. It’s very pretty and peaceful being surrounded my the mountains that it reflects.
NOTE: The amount of water in the lake varies depending on the time of year. When we did this hike in late Nov., the lake was completely dry.
From here we continued along the loop trail that goes another 1.5-2 mi further into Tenaya Canyon before crossing a footbridge that then loops back around along the other side of the creek. The portion of the trail after the lake was pretty interesting as it had some varied terrain.
The right side of the loop passes directly under Half Dome – all you have to do is look up along the mountain walls to see it and the diving board. Along this side of the trail when you’re closest to Half Dome, there’s a section of the path with a lot of fallen rocks that have come off the mountain. Some of these rocks are really large and must have topped some of the trees on their way down, which creates an interesting barren section of the path.
There’s also a “marshland” right after this section as well. If water levels are high, be prepared for your feet to get a little muddy and wet in this area as you’re winding in between the reeds.
The majority of the rest of the trail is similar to the trail that you started on – very wooded with all trees, and a packed dirt path through the woods.
The far end of the trail intersects with The Snow Creek Trail, which is a difficult 2.3 mi, 2700 ft elevation gain (one way) trail up to the Snow Creek Footbridge on the Rim. If you’re looking for something more challenging, this is a great add-on!
Overall I really enjoyed this hike even with the lake being dry. It’s a nice relaxing way to get some fresh air and see the beauty of nature.