Red Peak Pass via Ottoway Lakes










Mostly smooth and not too steep until you hit Lower Ottoway Lake

Distance Comments: 

12 miles to Lower Ottoway Lake, 15 miles to Red Peak Pass and another 30 minutes to the summit of Red Peak

Distance in Miles: 

34.00 miles

Trip Type: 

Out and back


Mono Meadow

Trailhead Elevation: 


Elevation Gain/Loss: 


Elevation Min/Max: 



Rolling trail (2 out of 5)


A beautiful and mostly easy hike into the Yosemite high country. You'll pass through Mono Meadow and several "ghost" forests that have been burned in recent years. Finally you get to beautiful Ottoway Lakes, a great place to camp, and shortly thereafter you arrive at Red Peak Pass. It's a short detour to reach Red Peak. Numerous aspen groves add color in the fall.



This is a wonderful hike through a dramatic and varied landscape that offers something worthwhile in every season, be it the snow-covered Clark Range in spring, the summer wildflowers or the aspen groves of autumn. There are several burn areas from different years, so it's also an excellent hike for studying forest fire ecology. Red Peak in the alpenglow of sunset is a beautiful sight in any season. In the half-dozen or so days I've spent on this trail, I have never seen more than four other hikers in a day, so it's also a good place just for peace and quiet.

Glacier Point Road to Lower Ottoway Lake

Take the Glacier Point Road to the Mono Meadows Trailhead. A steep but short descent brings you to Mono Meadows, a worthwhile ultra-short hike in and of itself (wet in the early summer). You soon enter the area burned in a fire in the summer of 2004 which you will cross for a couple of miles. Mostly the trail sticks to the woods, but an open area at the first trail junction has great views of Mount Starr King (directly ahead) and Illouette Ridge (looking back toward Glacier Point). After a gentle rise out of a minor fork of Illouette Creek, the trail descends fairly steeply for about a half-mile, losing perhaps 500 feet in elevation. Right where the trail begins to drop, a short side-trip (100-200' to the obvious bluff) gives nice views of Half Dome. Just before arriving at Illouette Creek, there is a nice overlook of the creek just before the final drop to the ford, about 2.5 miles from the Mono Meadow trailhead. The highwater ford is just 100 feet upriver. Inconsiderate campers using campsites right on the river have impacted this area and you can do your part to restore it by camping a short ways up and away from the sensitive riparian (riverbank) area.

From here you will gently gain elevation for the next 10 miles to Lower Ottoway Lake, passing through several burn areas in various stages of regrowth. The open forests rejuvenated by fire are home to some magnificent wildflower displays in the mid to late summer (I've seen them in profusion on August 15, 2004). You will also see some good specimens of Ponderosa Pine, Sugar Pine, White Fir, Red Fir and Jeffrey Pine, though for several miles there will not be much in terms of long-distance views since you will be on the valley floors. A few places may be muddy in the early season.

With little warning you will almost simultaneously arrive at treeline and emerge at Lower Ottoway Lake, a fine and quiet High Sierra lake at almost 10,000 feet (so campfires are prohibited in all seasons). As with the Illouette Creek ford, there is noticeable impact around the lake from fisherman's trails and careless campers. Reduce impact by walking on rocks (never grass!) near the lake, and by camping at least 100 feet from the water's edge. There are several flat, comfortable spots in the rocky-looking area downslope of the lake. There are also some rock bluffs on the southwest corner (basically the side the trail arrives at) that give expansive views west to the Buena Vista Crest and across the lake to Red Peak and Merced Peak.

Lower Ottoway Lake to Red Peak Pass (11,500') and Red Peak (11,699')

Beyond Lower Ottoway Lake the trail steepens for the stunning three-mile walk up to Red Peak Pass, with great vistas of Upper Ottoway Lake, Merced Peak and Ottoway Peak. There are a number of good spots to stop and have lunch or commune with nature and several possible side trips including Upper Ottoway Lake, Merced Peak and a few unnamed but scenic outcrops.

The final slopes to Red Peak Peak Pass are desperately steep, but the trail itself is always kept at a modest angle on well-crafted switchbacks. If you want to bag the summit of Red Peak, it's a relatively quick trip from the pass (less than an hour round trip if you). The easiest way to the top is to take the trail just past the pass, leaving at the first hairpin. From there make a bee-line to the either the noticeable gully leading up to the summit ridge (dirty and loose, but well-traveled) or somewhat left of that up steeper but cleaner slopes. Both are easier than they look from a distance. From there follow the path through the brush to the summit marker. You'll have nice views of Gray Peak to the North and Merced Peak and Triple Divide Peak to the south. Far away to the west lie the Minarets, which are also visible from near Red Peak Pass as well for those who don't want to go to the summit.

Runner's Notes: 

<p>It's a bit of a shame that this trail has a substantial descent two miles out (and thus climb at the end), since other than that the grade is quite moderate from Mono Meadow almost until Lower Ottoway Lake and the trail is usually on smooth soil that makes for good running. If you're up for finishing with a couple of climbs at the end, this would make a good out and back run. From Lower Ottoway Lake to Red Peak Pass the running would be much harder: steeper, rockier, higher. For the truly fit, though, the entire 30+ miles would make for a stunning run. For the less fit who are willing to walk a hill or two, you could do a nice 20-mile out and back run without suffering too much.</p>


Upper Ottoway

Question: Are there campsites at UPPER Ottoway Lake?

Not really. You're better

Not really. You're better off camping a lower Ottaway which is quite stunning or doing the pass and camping on the other side.

AMAZING views from the top.

AMAZING views from the top. Some of the most amazing sights I've ever seen. But I wouldn't take light of the altitude. When i hiked to the top to get to the other side with my crew, as part of a 60 mile trip, one of my mates even passed out from the extreme altitude.

Yeah, it's a bit sureal isn't

Yeah, it's a bit sureal isn't it, looking east from Red Peak. A landscape of reddish granite. Cool place. I'm glad you got to see it.


Red Peak Pass is the highest pass within the Park boundaries (or which a Park trail covers, not sure which).

the trail !

I plan to go back to yosemite next summer for trekking.
How long does it take to go from the yosemite valley to upper merced pass, and then to the red peak pass ?
What is the best trip to go from the yosemite valley to tuolomne meadows via merced lake (schedule, best places to camp, etc.)
Thank you !!!

Of course, how long it takes

Of course, how long it takes depend on how fast you hike. That varies easily be a factor of three from slow to fast hikers. Still, I would say that Mono Meadow trailhead to Lower Ottoway is a short to long day depending on your speed. I'll let you judge from there.

As for Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne via Merced Lake, it would of course be easier in the other direction ;-)

The normal way would be up the John Muir Trail to Little Yosemite Valley and on to Merced Lake. I've done this out and back in a day a few times, but it's fairly long. Then from there you would go on to Vogelsang and Tuolumne.

However, if I were planning on doing Red Peak Pass, I would simply go over the pass and continue on to Merced Lake, then go up to Tuolumne from there. You would then miss the Mist Trail and the prettiest part of the Merced River canyon, but you can't see it all and the Mist Trail might be more enjoyable as a day hike anyway.

It's so beautiful everywhere, you can't go wrong. The thing about going via Red Peak Pass is you are likely to be virtually alone for much of your trip and the scenery is great.

Thank you very much for your

Thank you very much for your answer !
I am a "good walker" and I already know the mist trail (when going to climb the regular route of the north face of the halfdome a few years ago)
My project is to hike to quiet, wonderful and scenic places. I was planning the following trip : mono meadow (shuttle from yosemite valley ?), ottoway's lake, red peak, merced lake, tuolomne meadows (via vogelsang or sunrise, i don't know !), shuttle to go back to the yosemite valley (?)
Maybe it is not the best way yo proceed ? Thank you for all the information you can send me to prepare this trip (June 2010)

Excellent plan


That's an excellent plan. If you take the shuttle to Mono Meadow, you'll have plenty of time to hike to Ottoway Lake. Red Peak is not a long detour from the trail, though I would probably leave my heavy pack at the pass.

Of course, it will be more crowded from Merced Lake to Vogelsang and Tuolumne, but it's nice anyway.

If you want to extend it for a nice day trip back to the Valley (nice with a daypack anyway, but perhaps a bit long with an overnight pack), you can take the shuttle to the west end of Tenaya Lake and go over Cloud's Rest and down the Mist Trail. Alternatively, you can take the shuttle down to the Valley, rest up, and then take the shuttle back up to Tenaya Lake and do it as a day hike (that's how we've done it).

How early in the season is

How early in the season is Red Peak Pass managable? I am planning a similar trip to Christian starting June 20th and I am wondering if that "historically" will be too early to make it through the pass? (snow conditions)

We are planning to head from Mono meadow...up to lower Ottoway.....through red peak pass.....back to merced.....and down back panorama to Mono....

Concerned about the Pass, any help greatly appreciated....


Also, how steep is red peak pass on the north side.....would we need crampons if there was still snow? or would we need to simply "mountaineer" our way down...

As I say, it will depend a

As I say, it will depend a lot on the winter. You're over 11,000 feet there, so I would expect some icy snowfields even in late June. As for needing crampons, I would think that it might depend on time of day as well.

I hesitate to say. I'd probably just go for it, but I've spent a lot of time careeing down icy snow fields... no injuries so far.

See now thats're

See now thats're making it sound like fun!!!

Thanks Tom...we'll just have to see what happens...

Please take a minute to

Please take a minute to report back after the fact to help people in the future.

I always have this thought - if I tell someone to go for it and they get hurt, will I get sued?

So I'm saying you should NOT go for it without crampons.

I'm also saying that if it were me, I'd probably would go for it and just get hurt and miss the rest of the summer season. But then, I've done a lot of stupid things in the mountains in my life. I don't think Red Peak Pass in late June without crampons would be in the top 900, but I think I'm middle aged now (46), so I have some years under my belt.

But drop a line as the date approaches and I'll see what I know and maybe have better advice on whether or not to buy emergency crampons.

By the way, if you were thinking of crampons and you don't own any, I would definitely go for the Katoolas. Those are the best lightweight crampons I know of.

I will definitely ask for an

I will definitely ask for an update once the time gets closer. Both of us already have crampons so it would simply be the fact of packing them with ice axes and maybe a 30' rope to be careful....just trying to get an idea of how prepared we may need to be and i'm hoping once the date gets closer that will become more clear...

Thank you for your help Tom....regardless....there will be a trip report in my future once were done!

Hello ! I have a reservation

Hello !

I have a reservation (permit) to begin the hike from mono meadow on June 20 th!
Maybe we 'll meet !


Cool. Drop me a line (use the

Cool. Drop me a line (use the contact form rather than the comments, because that goes straight to my email). Cheers.


I'm going to do a semi loop from Glacier Point thru Red Peak Pass on to little Yosemite Valley on in late August. I then plan on camping at the camp ground at Little Yosemite Valley then doing Half Dome the next morning. Then getting my gear and hiking out to Happy Isles.

I know I want to camp Red Devil Lake and Washburn Lake during the trip. I plan on making that loop in 6 or 7 days, since I plan on doing some fishing and do not want to be exhausted doing Half Dome the last day. I'm looking for suggestion of other places to camp along that loop and possible fish opportunities. It was thinking of doing Washburn Lake to Little Yosemite Valley in a day. That way maybe I could send some extra time and camp at one of the Ottoway Lakes or one of the Merced Pass Lakes.

Any input or advice would be greatly appreciated.


You should be okay in terms

You should be okay in terms of LYV because permits are based on trailhead. So if you enter via Mono Meadow (probably a better choice than Glacier Point), and loop around, you should be okay sleeping at LYV.

One problem with the Half Dome plan - beginning this year, permits will be required to hike Half Dome (even dayhike it). I don't know all the details yet, but I'm not sure you'll be able to do this.

I'm not a fisherman, so I don't know about good lakes for that... but I do have one request. Ottoway Lakes (and most high-country lakes) have a lot of damage from fisherman circling the lakes. These habitats are fragile. Please walk on rocks, not on vegetation (one of my pet peaves).

Leave No Trace


I did some research and you only need a permit to hike Half Dome if you are doing it on a weekend. You do not need a permit for Monday thru Friday.

Any specific reason why entering a Mono Meadows would be better then Glacier Point. I originally was thinking that route, but I'm leaning towards entering Glacier Point and then doing the Panorama Trail to make the loop. The views just look spectacular starting that way.

I have done trips thru Glacier, Yellowstone, and Zion national park, so I will leave no trace. It is one of my pet peeves as well.

Thanks again for the info.

You're right about the

You're right about the permits. I hadn't realized there was no permit needed Monday through Thursday, at least for 2010.

For future readers looking for current information, see this page:

I should have taken more time RE Mono Meadow trailhead. I only suggested Mono Meadow for entry because I've never had any issue getting a permit there, so it's just easy. The Panorama Trail is probably nicer though and will make the loop a little nicer.

Sounds like a great trip. Have fun!

Red Peak Pass

I look forward to any postings on the conditions this year. I have tried going from Tuolumne Meadows towards Red Peak pass on a couple of occasions and could never find the correct way due to snow coverage. However, a few years ago, I went over from Ottoway and that is definitely the better way to go. There was a little snow on the way up, but the North side was completely covered. Abd going in that direction, it much was much easier to see which way to go.

I did it in August and I would just assume that with the heavier snowfall this year and the dates in June that crampons and an ice axe or at least ski poles would definitely be a good idea.

Also, on the way back out through LYV, I would recommend stopping short of LYV and camp at Bunnell Cascade. Probably still a bit crowded, but a much better alternative to LYV (unless you want bears, a lot of people and a latrine).


Nice tips Dave - yeah, snow

Nice tips Dave - yeah, snow is June is pretty much a given this year. Our last snowstorm was May 28 if memory serves, so it must be crazy up in the high country (me, I'm marooned in Michigan from June 6-18, so I won't be a good resource).

As for Bunnell Cascade, I've never camped there, but it is one of my favorite spots. I've lounged there on several occasions during dayhikes out that way and always think it's about an ideal campsite.

leaving a car

SO, if you hike red peak pass mid July, do you drive to Glacier Point Rd and can you park there over a couple of days to do this hike? We're thinking mono meadows- camp at lower ottoway lake, leave packs go up red peak come back to lower ottoway lake and pack out--is that fesible for strong if slower (not slow) hikers? how would you incorporate the panorama trail? Thanks for all the great info on the site.

That's what we did

Mo - I've only been up Red Peak once, but that's exactly what we did, except that we simply parked at the Mono Meadow trailhead. You'll add a few miles if you do the Panorama trail (actually, less than two if memory serves - I'm away from home and don't have my maps with me).

I don't know about speed. My speed varies a lot - very slow if wildflowers are in bloom. My recollection is that we left at almost 5pm and didn't make it quite to Ottoway Lake before dark (this was October, so I don't think we hiked all that long). Then we hiked for an hour or two, made camp at Lower Ottoway and left most of our stuff there, and went on with day packs up Red Peak and then came down for dinner. Camped one night at Lower Ottoway and then hiked out the next day.

The one thing I would say is that being at Lower Ottoway for sunset is amazing. Since Red Peak is truly red, the alpenglow on the peak is outstanding. There's an outcrop/ridge above the lake and we hiked up there to make dinner and take in the best alpenglow.

Rivers and snow should be

Rivers and snow should be fine. Mosquitos? Who can say. They are rapacious right now and I'd expect them in August. Once they all freeze to death in October, you'll be home free.

a different start

Our trip to, up, and over RedPeak Pass started at Wawona. Up Chilnuala Falls, stop at Johnson Lake and on to Lower Ottoway.

Happy Isles to Red Peak

I'm planning on a short backpacking trip from Happy Isles to Red Peak. I would appreciate if someone would tell me how long it takes and whether is better to camp at Lower Ottoway or Merced Pass lake. Any information will be welcome.

How long it takes will depend

How long it takes will depend on your approach to Red Peak. Are you planning to go start at Happy Isles and hike through Illilouette Creek canyon? That would take you 2-3 days to get to the Ottoway Lakes (depending on your fitness / pace). I strongly suggest staying at Lower Ottoway Lake if you can. One of the most scenic lakes I have camped at in all of Yosemite. The hike from Merced Pass lakes to Lower Ottoway Lake is pretty easy and worth the little extra mileage.

I agree with Rob - sunset

I agree with Rob - sunset from the rocks above Lower Ottoway is amazing as the alpenglow intensifies the red or Red Peak. A great place to be in the evening

I posted on this page last

I posted on this page last year and ended up taking the bus from the valley to Glacier Point and then hiking the Panorma Trail. From there I went over Red Peak Pass and made a semi loop to the Happy Isles. I did not camp at either of the Merced Pass Lakes. I continued on to Lower Ottaway. Lower Ottaway turn out to be one of the most scenic lakes I have ever camp out. The sunsets are great there.

The Panorma Trail is no joke when you are carrying a pack with a weeks worth of supplies the first day into your trip. I will say that the views made the workout worth it. I actually thought it was easier going over Red Peak pass with a couple days of hiking under my belt. I will say that it is extremely steep in places.

All of that being said. I'm coming back to Yosemite on 08/08/11 and going to try to do close to the same hike. Going 8 days instead of 7 and trying to fish more.

Anyone know what the current trails conditions are from Lower Ottoway to Washburn Lake. The trail conditions on the website I do not think have been updated, since the beginning of the least I hope so. I'm concerned about snow and the stream flows on that loop.

Last year I did this hike in later August, but that did not work out this year.

Jealous! Mike, I don't have


Mike, I don't have any firsthand knowledge, but people are still encountering snow at higher elevations. I just talked to a group that went over Cathedral Pass to Cathedral Lakes and Sunrise and they said there was a fair bit of snow. A week ago Tuesday I skied near Ellery Bowls above Ellery Lake just outside the east entrance to the park.

Generally speaking, though, most of Tuolumne is snow-free except high peaks, gullies and some densely forested sections above about 10K. A friend just went out to ski Mount Lyell and he said the trail in Lyell Canyon was wet (often up to the ankles), but snow-free. He hiked nine miles before being able to put his skis on.

Hoffman still has a ton of snow, as does False White Mountain and Conness. So above 10,000 ft, I'd be ready for snow travel. And of course, the Merced river has about four times normal flow so expect high stream crossings. On the other hand, PCT through-hikers are showing up and have been for a couple of weeks, so people are obviously navigating lots of the Sierra already.

So most of your itinerary would be snow-free. Clearly, you'll want to do the Panorama again, as the Mono Meadow approach will not only be sopping wet, but the crossing of Illilouette is likely complicated. Again that's a guess, not based on an first or even secondhand knowledge.

The snow is consolidating fast. When I went skiing, I was fine without crampons, but had heavy boots on of course for kicking steps up the couloir I was skiing. Early morning some of the snow slopes might be really firm and warrant a lightweight pair of crampons if you have them.

I know that's all kind of vague, but I have not personally been out there and haven't spoken to anyone who has.

Red Peak Pass

Tom, Thanks for the information. I was hoping to start at Glacier Point and cross the Illiloutte Creek where the Mono Meadows trail joins up to save some distance this year, but with the high water I may go over the bridge on the Panorama Trail like I did last year.

I found a website where they charge people to take them on back packing trips. They had a trip scheduled to start on July 24th and start at GP and do a loop over Red Peak Pass and back to GP in 6 days. Wonder if they would be willing to provide trail conditions or information if you not paying the $1,200 a person to do it. I need to find a job like that.

Red Peak Pass Area

This hike is excellently beautiful! The Upper and Lower Ottoway lakes are good swimming and fishing. I love the trout!

I started at Mono Meadow to

I started at Mono Meadow to Lower Ottoway lake over Red Peak Pass to Triple Divide. On to Washburn and Merced Lakes then Little Yosemite Valley Campground. Finished the loop at Glacier Point which cut distance off the finish then hitch hiked back to Mono Meadow.

That's a nice itinerary! That

That's a nice itinerary! That schlep back up to Glacier Point can be disheartening at the end of a long day though (same issue with going back to Mono Meadows trailhead of course).

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