Point 12,202, unofficially known as Kuna Crest South, is the southernmost of two unnamed peaks along Kuna Crest in Yosemite National Park. Kuna Crest South sits immediately above Helen Lake, a large and scenic locale in the Parker Pass Creek drainage south of Tioga Pass. The Kuna Crest separates this drainage from Lyell Canyon, beginning in the north with Mammoth Peak
and extending southeast to Kuna Peak
(Yosemite’s third highest) at the park’s eastern border.
Kuna Crest South provides fantastic views across the Yosemite high country, including Yosemite’s highest and fourth highest trail passes (Parker Pass and Mono Pass, respectively). The vista also includes Mount Conness, Mount Dana, Mount Gibbs, Tuolumne Meadows, and the Cathedral Range from Mount Lyell in the south to Amelia Earhart Peak in the north. The trip is a nice day outing, passing many beautiful lakes and meadows, and can easily be made into a loop covering Mammoth Peak
, Kuna Crest North
, and Kuna Crest South.
Kuna Crest from across Lyell Canyon
Mono Pass Trail
The most common approaches to Kuna Crest South begin from either the Mono/Parker Pass Trailhead on Tioga Pass Road or from roadside pullouts west of the trailhead for a cross-country approach.
Mono/Parker Pass Trail
(37.89079° N, 119.26236° W)
From either the east or the west, follow Highway 120 to Yosemite National Park directly to the trailhead (1.4 miles west of Tioga Pass and 5.6 miles east of Tuolumne Meadows Campground).
Tioga Pass from the Summit Route Map
Trip statistics from Mono/Parker Pass Trailhead:
6.3 miles one-way, 2500 feet total elevation gain with negligible gain on the return
Hike south along the Mono/Parker Pass Trail from the trailhead for 2.3 miles and turn right to follow the trail to Spillway Lake. The trail later ends at Spillway Lake four miles from the trailhead. Continue cross-country south to the stream draining Helen Lake. While there are many options available to gain the ridge, following the lake’s east shore and continuing to the saddle south of Helen Lake will keep the terrain to class 2. From the saddle it is a simple talus hop to the summit.
Trip statistics for loop including Kuna Crest South, Kuna Crest North, and Mammoth Peak:
13.0 miles total, 3900 feet total elevation
You can extend your outing by hiking most of the Kuna Crest to link Kuna Crest South with Kuna Crest North and Mammoth Peak. This is an enjoyable loop, with near constant views and easily doable in a full day. From Mammoth Peak to Kuna Crest South the ridge never exceeds class 2, and travel is generally quick and easy. For the route description up the north end of the crest (or down depending on your direction of travel) see the Kuna Crest North
page. If Kuna Peak is also an objective, this can be incorporated as well, and involves a bit of route finding and loose class 3 (possibly some class 4) terrain.
Storm Clouds over Donohue Pass
The trailhead lies in Yosemite National Park and an entrance fee is required. Please see the Yosemite Fee page
for full details.
Permits are required for overnight trips, though most parties will chose to dayhike this peak unless part of a longer trip. Permits can be picked up at the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center near the trailhead during open hours. Check the Yosemite Permit page
for full details on hours, the reservation process, and reservation availability.
Bear canisters are required throughout Yosemite National Park.
Fires are prohibited above 9,600 feet. The NPS does not permit camping in the Parker Pass Creek drainage (see Camping section below).
Yosemite National Park Wilderness Permit Office
PO Box 545
Yosemite, CA 95389
Phone: (209) 372-0740
Fax: (209) 372-0739
When to Climb
Tioga pass is not plowed in the winter, and overnight parking is not permitted after October 15. As a result, spring through fall is the most realistic time for a visit. In early season expect snow at the higher elevations.
Camp below Koip Crest
The mileage and elevation gain for this summit are moderate, and few will be backcountry camping unless beginning a longer outing. Note that the NPS does not permit camping in the Parker Pass Creek drainage as this is the water supply for facilities in the Tuolumne Meadows area (i.e. it is safe to drink unfiltered). If staying overnight for a view of the sunset/sunrise, or beginning a longer trip, there are plenty of locations along the ridge crest (bring water or melt snow) and Kuna Creek Basin to the south is extremely scenic.
Roadside camping is not permitted in Yosemite. Established Tuolumne Meadows Campground
in Yosemite has just over 300 sites. Reservations are recommended, though half of the sites are first-come, first-serve. There is also a walk-in backpackers’ camping area within the campground.
Inyo National Forest hosts a few first-come, first-serve campgrounds just east of the park near Tioga pass, and more numerous sites in Lee Vining Canyon. Those near Tioga pass tend to fill up quickly. The Inyo National Forest Camping page
has further details. Dispersed camping is permitted throughout most of Inyo National Forest.
Kuna Crest South is not an officially USGS named peak, and might be more identifiable to some as Point 12,202 on the 1994 USGS Koip Peak Quad. The peak takes its name from the Kuna Crest, which stretches from Kuna Peak to its terminus at Mammoth Peak. Aside from Kuna Peak itself, there are only two points along Kuna Crest with an excess of 300 feet of prominence (Mammoth Peak falls just short of this threshold). As a result, the peaks are known locally as Kuna Crest North and Kuna Crest South.
"Kuna Peak was named by Willard D. Johnson, USGS, about 1883. (Farquhar: J. N. LeConte.) 'Kuna Peak ... is probably named from the Shoshonean work Kuna
, usually meaning ‘fire’ but appearing in the Mono dialect of the vicinity with the signification of ‘fire-wood.’’ (Kroeber, 45.))" – Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada (2004)
Mono Pass from above Helen Lake