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A road heads east from the Tenaya Lake trailhead parking area, and walking along it you soon cross the usually flowing outlet of Tenaya Lake. Immediately beyond this crossing a trail forks right, and you take it to a nearby trail junction. Hike 36 goes left, northeast, to start a loop around the lake. Consult that hike for a brief description of this locale's glacial history and of a myth about the origin of the lake's protruding tree stumps. You veer right, on a trail that heads south for 1/4 mile along Tenaya Creek. Then over the next 1/2 mile it ascends southeast in sparse forest over a little rise and drops to a ford of Mildred Lake's outlet, which, like the other streams between Tenaya Lake and the Sunrise trail junction, can dry up in late season.
Beyond the Mildred Lake stream the trail undulates and winds generally south, passing several pocket meadows browsed by mule deer. The trail then begins to climb in earnest, through a thinning cover of lodgepole pine and occasional red fir, western white pine, and mountain hemlock. As your trail rises above Tenaya Canyon, you pass several vantage points from which you can look back upon its polished granite walls, though you never see Tenaya Lake. To the east the canyon is bounded by Tenaya Peak; in the northwest are the cliffs of Mt. Hoffman and Tuolumne Peak.
Now on switchbacks, one sees the Tioga Road across the canyon and can even hear vehicles, but these annoyances are infinitesimal compared to the pleasures of polished granite expanses all around. These switchbacks are mercifully shaded, and where they become steepest, requiring a great output of energy, they give back the beauty of the finest flower displays on this trail, including lupine, penstemon, paintbrush, larkspur, buttercup, and sunflowers such as aster and senecio. Finally the switchbacks end and the trail levels as it arrives at a junction on a shallow, forested saddle.
Here we turn left (Hikes 48 and 49 go straight ahead), contour east, cross a low gap and descend north to lower Sunrise lake, above whose east shore you'll see excellent examples of exfoliating granite slabs. The large talus slope beneath them testifies to the slabs' instability. Climbing from this lake and its small campsites, we reach a crest in several minutes, and from it one could descend an equally short distance north to more isolated, island-dotted middle Sunrise Lake. The trail, however, veers east and gains a very noticeable 150 feet in elevation as it climbs to upper Sunrise Lake, the largest and most popular lake of the trio. Campsites are plentiful along its north shore, away from the trail.
Leaving this lake, the trail climbs south up a gully, crosses it, then soon climbs up a second gully to the east side of a broad gap, from which you see the Clark Range head-on, piercing the southern sky. From the gap, which is sparsely clothed with mountain hemlocks, whitebark pines, and western white pines, you descend south into denser cover, veer east, and then veer north to make a steep descent to Sunrise High Sierra Camp. This has an adjacent backpackers' camp complete with metal poles on which to bearbag your food. An overnight stay here gives you an inspiring sunrise over Matthes Crest and the Cathedral Range.Directions
On the Tioga Road at the Tenaya Lake trailhead parking area, at a highway bend near the lake's southwest shore, located 30 1/2 miles northeast of Crane Flat and 8 1/2 miles southwest of the Tuolumne Meadows Campground. E4.Highlights
Considerable climbing at fairly high elevations would normally make this hike a moderate one, but its distance is so short for a backpack trip that we've rated it easy. Some hikers go only as far as upper Sunrise Lake, only an 8-mile round trip.