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Hiking Trails

Hike to May Lake and Mt. Hoffmann’s Summit in Yosemite National Park

See unique perspectives of some of the park’s most iconic sights when you hike to the shores of a snow-fed lake and a mountain summit.

There aren’t many places in Yosemite National Park where you can get a more unique perspective on Yosemite’s iconic natural features than from the summit of Mt. Hoffmann. From the top of this 10,845-foot peak, you’ll be looking down on Half Dome and Clouds Rest. One of the only other ways to get this view is by plane.

For such an incredible vantage point, the trail up to the top of Mt. Hoffmann isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. Located off Tioga Pass Road, this trail first goes to the shores of beautiful May Lake. One of Yosemite’s incredible backcountry High Sierra Camps is located here and it is well-worth the effort to get a reservation if you want to turn your day trip into a weekend excursion. The hike to May Lake is a little under 2.5 miles roundtrip and only gains 500 feet of elevation. The trail continues on a steep, but manageable grade to the summit of Mt. Hoffmann where stunning views await. If you go all the way to the summit, the trail is 5.4 miles roundtrip and gains 2,000 feet.

The route to Mt. Hoffmann isn’t an official park trail, is very rocky and requires some scrambling in sections. It’s not suitable for young children or those who are unsteady on their feet. Those who are coming from sea level might also find the high elevation makes the hike more strenuous than anticipated.

View of Half Dome (right) from the summit of Mt. Hoffmann in Yosemite
View of Half Dome (right) from the summit of Mt. Hoffmann in Yosemite (Photo: Getty Images)

How Do You Get to May Lake and Mt. Hoffmann?

The parking area for May Lake and Mt. Hoffmann is located off Tioga Road, 28 miles east of Crane Flat. The turnoff for May Lake Road is on the left. If you reach Tenaya Lake, you’ve gone too far. Follow May Lake Road 1.8 miles to the trailhead.

Follow the trail past a small pond and through a beautiful forest. There are some rocky sections and a set of rock steps along the way. You’ll catch views of the Mt. Hoffmann through the trees just before the half-mile mark. At 0.75 miles, the trail starts climbing a series of switchbacks, including more rock steps. At the top, you’ll get views of Half Dome and Clouds Rest before quickly finding yourself at a junction with the May Lake High Sierra Camp’s toilets and hitching posts. If you’re not continuing on to Mt. Hoffmann, you can go either direction to explore the trails around the lake. Find a quiet spot to enjoy a picnic.

If you are planning to summit Mt. Hoffmann, stay left at the fork and follow the trail, continuing to take two more left turns at each successive junction, to meet up with the Mt. Hoffmann trail that follows the south side of the lake, past the camping area.

This isn’t an official park trail, but it’s well-used and is fairly easy to follow. You’ll cross a small boulder field as the trail begins to climb away from the lake and you may lose sight of the trail through the rocks. Keep an eye out for cairns and if you can’t spot any, make your way through the boulder field and you’ll be able to spot the trail easily when you’re back on the open slope. It can be helpful to have a mapping app, like GAIA GPS, with the trail map downloaded to reassure yourself you’re going the right direction.

Looking up at Mt Hoffman from the trail
Looking up at Mt Hoffman from the trail (Photo: iStock)

The trail follows a steep and open slope with loose slabs of granite where it’s important to tread carefully. Test footsteps on loose rocks before committing your full weight to standing on them. Head towards a set of imposing rock spires and you’ll see the summit to the northeast.

The trail continues through a bowl to the base of the rocky summit block. Keep your eye out for marmots and other alpine critters that frequent this peak. Carefully pick your way through the rocks to the top and soak in the incredible views before returning the way you came.

Can You Swim in May Lake?

Swimming is permitted in May Lake, but the snow-fed waters are usually very cold, even in the height of summer. You likely won’t be too keen on doing more than wading, but if you’re determined bring a swimsuit and water shoes or sandals with a good tread to navigate the uneven lakebed. Be sure to bring a towel and warm clothes so that you can dry off quickly without catching a chill.

Mt. Hoffmann from May Lake in Yosemite
Mt. Hoffmann from May Lake in Yosemite (Photo: Getty Images)

When Is the Best Time to Hike to May Lake and Mt. Hoffmann?

The trail to May Lake and Mt. Hoffmann is only accessible when Tioga Road is open, usually June through October. Both the lake and the summit sit at high elevations, so snow sticks around much longer than Yosemite Valley. During some years, the trail might not be snow-free until mid-July. July through early September are usually the best times to hike this trail if you’re attempting the Mt. Hoffmann summit.

Start your hike early in the day if you plan to summit the peak. Afternoon summer storms often bring lightning to the park and the exposed trail up to the summit of Mt. Hoffmann is at extreme lightning risk during storms. Always check the weather forecast before setting out and if you see storm clouds start to build, turn back.

What Should I Bring on a Hike to May Lake and Mt. Hoffmann?

May Lake and Mt. Hoffmann are both at more than 9,000 feet in elevation. You’ll want to bring plenty of water for every person in your group as the high altitude can quickly dehydrate you. Drinking plenty of water will help you ward off altitude sickness.

The sun is also intense at this altitude, so be sure to pack sun protection like sunscreen and a hat.

The trail, especially from May Lake to Mt. Hoffmann’s summit, is rocky. You’ll want sturdy, closed-toed hiking boots with ankle support to navigate the terrain. A pair of trekking poles might be helpful to keep your balance but be sure they collapse, and you can attach them to your pack, so you have your hands free for scrambling closer to the summit.

While the hike to Mt. Hoffmann might only be 6 miles roundtrip, navigating the rocky trail at altitude can be slow going. It’s important to prepare to be out longer than you think you might be. Pack warm and breathable layers in case the wind whips up or the temperature drops as you climb. Bring a lunch, or plenty of snacks with sustenance like trail mix or jerky, to keep you going. A first aid kit is also a great idea.