So you want to go camping near Yosemite but it’s summertime and you don’t have any campground reservations. Darn it! What to do?
Boy, oh, boy….do I have an amazing option for you!
Saddlebag Lake is a 20 site first come first serve campground in the Inyo National Forest located at 10,080 feet. This is the highest campground you can actually drive to in the state of California! Campsites are $22/night and views abound at this lovely little spot only a ten minute drive to Tuolomne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.
To get to Saddlebag Lake from Lee Vining, California travel west on CA 120 (Tioga Pass Rd) to Saddlebag Lake Rd. Turn right on Saddlebag Lake Rd and follow the road up, up, and up, until the road ends at the campground. FYI – the road is gravel and not recommended for trailers.
The landscape might appear a bit barren to you at first, but don’t forget, you are at an elevation higher than 10,000 feet. We arrived on a weekend in late July and had our choice of campgrounds – believe it or not! We were thrilled with our campsite and started setting up. We couldn’t believe we had found such an amazing and quiet camp spot so close to Yosemite’s High Country! Keep in mind that the evenings at this elevation are chilly, so bring your layers.
Saddlebag Lake is the entry point for what I hear is a stellar, super awesome, amazing hike around the 20 Lakes Basin. We haven’t had a chance to do this one yet but it’s on our list! Our big plan for the next day was to travel the ten minute drive up the road to Tuolomne Meadows to hike up Lyell Canyon on the John Muir Trail so we decided to save 20 Lakes for another visit.
This 340 acre lake, home to brook and rainbow trout, is also popular with fisherman. Motorized boats are allowed on Saddlebag Lake and trolling is the most popular fishing option, though fly fisherman are big fans of the waters that lead into and exit the lake.
We had a cool, windy night and woke early for a peaceful hike partially around the lake. The reflections provided ample photography opportunities and lots of moments to absorb the quiet beauty and appreciate the surroundings. Birds and butterflies were active and the scenery is epic.
Next, we drove the ten miles to Yosemite’s Tuolomne Meadows. It felt like we had left our quiet retreat behind and entered Touristville! Tuolomne Meadows is a beautiful and easy to access which makes it popular place in the middle of summer so go early for the best parking options. Entry into the park is $35 unless you are a National Park Annual Pass holder or have an All Access Pass. If you have served in the military or have a disability, you may be eligible for an All Access Pass. Be sure to check it out! Daniel has an All Access Pass and it has saved us a lot of money.
We found a parking spot and hopped on the John Muir Trail heading up Lyell Canyon. I thru hiked the JMT back in 2015 with my then 16-year-old daughter and we loved this stretch. (Actually, there wasn’t a stretch we didn’t love!) More on that trip in another blog!
Lyell Canyon is a beautiful area with grassy meadows, the Tuolomne River snakes peacefully through wooded and clear areas. As we were hiking, I caught myself singing all the songs from Snow White, and I swear, I saw Thumper and Flower frolicking in an open grassy area near the water!
We stopped at a shady little spot near the river for a picnic lunch before heading back toward Tuolomne Meadows.
If you are looking for a sweet little spot in the High Sierra with epic views and quick access to Yosemite last minute – this is an amazing option! Don’t tell your friends, though, we want to get a site here, too.
Have you camped at Saddlebag Lake? What hikes have you done in the area? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!