The normal trailhead for accessing Parsons Peak is located in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. Tuolumne Meadows in on Hwy 120 and it bisects Yosemite from east to west.
From the east access is from Hwy 395 near the town of Lee Vining. Drive west on Hwy 120 over Tioga Pass at 9,953ft. Tioga Pass is also the entry point for Yosemite National Park. Continue west on Hwy 120 down to Tuolumne Meadows. Turn left to the lodge and the Ranger Information booth. Continue past the Ranger Information booth to the last parking area on the left before the lodge. There is space here for about 100 cars to park.
From the west you have a variety of roads you can use to access Yosemite. The important connection you want to make is to get on Hwy 120 heading east and follow it up to Tuolumne Meadows.
This route starts at Tuolumne Meadows and involves a 24.1 mile hike with 3,471 ft of elevation gain. On a beautiful clear day in August this hike took me 10.2 hours. Start at the last parking area on the left before the lodge. This is a large parking area and it is easy to find and well marked for hiker parking. There are large bear lockers on the north and south end of the parking area. Use them for storing any food items that you have in your car.
The trail starts between the bear lockers on the south end of the parking area. It crosses the paved access road to the lodge and then is signed with mileages to various places. The trail is wide and easy to follow. It meanders down to the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne river and there are 2 pretty bridges that cross the river. Continue on until you have covered about ¾ mile and you meet another trail. This is the Pacific Crest / John Muir Trail. Take a left and head south.
The trail is easy to follow through the Lyell Canyon. You pass through several wide grass filled valleys in 5.7 miles and only gain about 200ft. At this point you leave the John Muir Trail and take the trail up to Evelyn Lake and Ireland Lake. Now your work begins, the trail climbs and gains about 1,500 ft in 2.5 miles where there is anther fork. Take the left fork to Ireland Lake. The sign here indicates is it is still 3 miles to Ireland Lake, but my GPs said it is only about 1.7 miles. The trail flattens out some and only gains another 400 feet before getting to Ireland Lake. Before getting to the lake you finally get above tree line and you can also see Parsons Peak for the first time.
Continue on until you can see the water in Ireland Lake and then leave the trail. Take a left turn and head for the outlet of the lake. This is easy hiking across a grassy area that also has lots of wildflowers. Parsons Peak is immediately behind the lake to the south. Cross the outlet of the lake by rock hopping on the strategically placed stones and then turn to your right towards Parsons Peak. Walk a little ways down the shoreline and then head up the drainage that lies directly between Amelia Earhart Peak on your left and Parsons Peak on your right. There were still patches of hard snow in this area in the middle of August, but these are easily avoided. There is some rock hopping, but generally it is easy climbing up to the saddle at 11,500 ft.
At the saddle you get a great view of Yosemite to the west. The last bit of the climb involves climbing talus up the south slope of Parsons Peak all the way to the summit. No real problems here, just watch your step, you wouldn’t want to twist an ankle 12 miles from the car.
From the summit you can see Half Dome to the west and many other peaks all around, including Mt. Ritter to the south. Enjoy the view, eat your lunch, relax, relax some more, take more pictures. Head down the ridge to the 800 ft to the north to visit the Mariposa County highpoint (there is a little cairn here) and then head back home. I went down the north ridge of Parsons Peak and dropped back down to the basin that I used to climb up from Ireland Lake. It was steeper on this side and if there is a lot of snow, go back down the south ridge. Go back to Tuolumne Meadows on the same trails you used to get up here.
Sunscreen, Water, Hat, Good Shoes, and the Ten Essentials. There is nothing technical about this route. There are plenty of places to filer water along Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River and Ireland Lake.
A Bear Canister is mandatory if you are overnight camping along the route.
Early in the season, you may need crampons and an ice axe to get up the final 1,000 ft to the summit. It is steep and there were still hard patches of snow in the middle of August 2005.
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