Johnson Peak is an eroded granite peak south of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. At 85 million years old, the Johnson Granite Porphyry has the distinction of being the youngest granite rock in the park, though it formed entirely beneath the Earth's crust. It didn't breach the surface until much later through the forces of subduction.
Despite it being a moderately easy hike, Johnson Peak is not climbed as frequently as its many other more famous and dramatic neighbors. Yet its summit offers splendid views of those very same dramatic peaks, particularly Unicorn Peak, Cockscomb Peak, Echo Peaks and Matthes Crest. You can also see Mount Conness, Mount Dana and Mammoth Peak to the north and east, and Mounts Maclure and Lyell to the southeast.
The easiest approach is via the Elizabeth Lake Trail in Tuolumne Meadows. Take Highway 120 into YNP and drive to Tuolumne Meadows. The Elizabeth Lake Trailhead is located at the back of the Tuolumne Meadows campground. Follow the signs once inside the campground.
Hike south on the Elizabeth Lake Trail for 2.5 miles until you reach the lake. Johnson Peak is now visible to the east. Leave the trail and hike cross-country towards the peak for about a mile. The terrain is gentle and rises only moderately as you approach your destination. Once you reach the base of the mountain, turn north and ascend to the saddle on the north side of the peak.
Follow the tree line up the sandy slope to the saddle north of the summit. This is nothing more than a class 2 scramble. From the saddle, it's a 20 minute hike to the summit. The only obstacles are a few thick stands of White Bark Pine shrubs that must be navigated. Generally, it is easier to hike around them on the left side. This requires some easy class 3 scrambling over the boulders on the east side of the ridge. There are a couple of WBP stands that guard the summit which we were able to hike through without much trouble.
There is a $20 fee per car to enter Yosemite National Park if you don't already have a national park pass.
Permits are not required for day hikes but a (free) wilderness permit is required for overnight stays in Yosemite. Permits can be obtained from any ranger station in the park. The nearest location is the permit building just east of the Tuolumne Meadows campground near the Tuolumne Lodge.
Camping is prohibited at Elizabeth Lake and the area surrounding Tuolumne Meadows.
Johnson Peak can be climbed anytime of the year but it is most commonly climbed from May through October. Hwy 120 at Tioga Pass is normally closed from October-May, depending on the seasonal snowfall, making accessibility in winter more difficult.
Backcountry camping is prohibited at Elizabeth Lake and the area surrounding Tuolumne Meadows. The closest place to camp is the Tuolumne Meadows campground. There are also tent cabins with beds for rent at nearby Tuolumne Meadows Lodge. Reservations are required at both the campground and lodge.