Situated in the remote, southeast region of Yosemite National Park, and resting beneath 10,440-foot Quartzite Peak, Merced Lake High Sierra Camp is the largest, oldest, and most isolated, of Yosemite’s High Sierra Camps (HSC). Established in 1916, the camp is located on eastern side of the lake, near where the Merced River tumbles down a rocky chute. At the base of the chute is a wide pool popularly used as a summer swimming hole. Due to its lower elevation than many of the other HSCs, Merced Lake is usually accessible a little earlier and later each hiking season. There are three primary hiking routes used to reach Merced Lake. All are long and strenuous, and are commonly used as part of the HSC Loop, or other longer-distance treks. Here are the options:
Yosemite Valley: 12.3 miles • 4,080 feet elevation gain
Start at Happy Isles and climb the Mist Trail past Vernal and Nevada Falls. Follow the Merced River to Echo Valley and ascend to Merced Lake.
Cathedral Lakes: 15.3 miles • 2,140 feet elevation gain
Start in west Tuolumne Meadows and head south on the JMT over Cathedral Pass toward Sunrise. Follow Echo Creek to Echo Valley, then up to Merced Lake.
Vogelsang: 14.3 miles • 1,720 feet elevation gain
Start in east Tuolumne Meadows and up Rafferty Creek south over Tuolumne Pass. Follow Fletcher Creek down past Emeric and Babcock Lakes to Merced Lake.
The Merced Lake HSC offers 18 tent cabins that can accommodate up to 60 guests. Cabins are equipped with bunks, but campers must provide their own linens or sleeping bags. Family-style breakfasts and dinners are provided for all cabin guests. There is also flush toilet facilities—a real novelty in the backcountry—in addition to showers and laundry basins. Scoring an overnight stay in one of Merced Lake’s cabins requires entering the annual HSC lottery, which takes place the winter before the next summer hiking season. Due to high demand, and limited space, camps sell out quickly. If you don’t get a cabin space, you can tent camp nearby with a valid backcountry permit. This is primitive wilderness camping, so you should follow Leave No Trace guidelines. You can still opt to purchase meals at the camp if you want to lighten your backpack load. HSC cabin rates are $159/person/night; meals only are $80/person/night; kids rates are available.
Because of its more remote and tranquil setting, and warmer climes due to its lower elevation, visitors to Merced Lake HSC are apt to stay and relax a little longer. The lake is just a short walk from the camp for plenty of sunning, swimming and fishing opportunities, and Washburn and Babcock lakes are each just a few miles away for day-hikeable outings. Those in search of real wilderness solitude can continue into even more remote parts of Yosemite by venturing on to destinations such as Red Peak or the Isberg Lakes.