Elizabeth Lake is a high altitude lake in the Yosemite high country, Tioga Pass region. This is a beautiful spot for a short hike and a great place to have a picnic and just take in the scenery. It sits at the base of Unicorn Peak as well, which is a challenging hike with not much of a trail. We set off to experience both of them with David from Yosemite Family Adventures last time we were in the park. It was a fantastic hike, but not one that should be taken lightly as it is tough and somewhat technical if you want to get to the actual peak. Here is all the information.
- 8 miles round trip to the summit, 5 miles to Elizabeth Lake
- 800 feet to Elizabeth Lake, 2,300 to Unicorn Peak
- I did this hike in 2017
- Read about all of my favorite Yosemite National Park attractions here
The trail leaves from the campground that is right next to the Tuolumne Meadows General Store. If the campground is open, then you can drive all the way to the trailhead; if not, then it is an extra 3/4ths of a mile each way. There is a small parking lot at the trailhead, but this trail is not half as popular as Cathedral Lakes, so it is usually a lot less busy.
Leaving from the trailhead, you will be going uphill for most of the first mile. It is pretty gradual, but you are in high elevation, so it can take a lot out of you.
Luckily the trail is shaded as you go up, so the sun isn’t beating down on you.
When you are about a half mile from the lake, you will start to hear the creek and can even see it off to your right.
It’s a beautiful spot to pull out for some photos if you are interested.
Continuing on, the trail reaches a split with one way heading east to the surrounding peaks and the other way going directly to the lake. I recommend heading straight to the lake so you can take in the views of Elizabeth Lake and Unicorn Peak in the background.
From here you can walk along the lake itself if you want to see all the views it has to offer.
My favorite view is at the base of Unicorn Peak on the west side of the lake, where you are looking back towards the trail you came in on. It is a beautiful spot to sit and take a break.
We decided to head on to Unicorn Peak though, and if you do this, I would caution you to be very careful. It is not an easy hike, and there is no real trail, so you need to know where you are going.
The good thing is that you can see the destination in front of you pretty much the entire time, so as long as you are heading up and towards the peak, you are generally good.
This is a very exposed trail though with little to no shade and with lots of slippery rocks depending on the time of year.
It took us a while to weave our way up to the saddle, but each new foot of elevation you gained gave you better views back at Elizabeth Lake behind you.
Eventually, when you reach the saddle, you will be blown away with the views looking out over the backcountry.
Cockcomb Peak is the most daunting, sticking up like a finger on the ridgeline behind you.
It’s one of the most beautiful places I have been to in the backcountry of Yosemite.
If you want to summit Unicorn, I would recommend the South Summit only. It is the only one that doesn’t require some technical climbing to get to the top.
It is by no means easy though. You will be doing class 3 – 4 scrambling as you make your way up to the small peak.
It was beautiful when we got to the summit, with views over Tuolumne Meadows, Cathedral Peak, and the peaks mentioned above.
You could also see down on the north peak of Unicorn as well and see how exposed it is from the back section. We stayed up here for a good 30 minutes before starting the trail back down.
Here is a video I made on our time in Yosemite.
All in all, it was a fantastic hike and one that I am so glad to have accomplished. That being said, it was a total leg burner and not a hike to take lightly. Let me know if you have been in the comments and what you thought.