Simmons Peak is a seldom visited yet rugged and remote mountain a few miles north of popular Mount Lyell in southeastern Yosemite National Park. Though Simmons Peak ranks as the twelfth highest in Yosemite, it is often overlooked in part due to its absence from the Sierra Club’s Sierra Peaks Section SPS List. Despite its relative obscurity, visitors to the peak will be amply rewarded with outstanding views from both the summit and throughout the approaches. Lewis Creek Basin and Ireland Lake are especially recommended as possible stopover locations en route to the summit.
Approaches to the summit include at least 24 miles round-trip with 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Route options can be selected to match most visitors’ preferences, ranging from the class 2 southwest and southeast slopes to the class 5.8 east arête. Many itineraries, especially those covering multiple days, also include peaks like Amelia Earhart Peak, Parsons Peak, Mount Florence, Vogelsang Peak, or Fletcher Peak.
Ireland Lake Trail
The shortest and usual route options for Simmons Peak begin at the southbound John Muir Trail Trailhead near Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. Depending on your selection, your path will either continue through Lyell Canyon or follow Rafferty Creek towards Vogelsang.
Lyell Canyon/Rafferty Creek (37.87790° N, 119.33873° W)
From either the east or the west, follow Highway 120 into Yosemite National Park until reaching Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Road near Lembert Dome (6 miles west of Tioga Pass and 0.5 miles east of Tuolumne Meadows Campground). Signs here mark the location of the wilderness permit ranger station. You can either park at the ranger station, or continue down the road another 0.4 miles to the large trailhead parking area on the left.
Bears frequently visit the parking areas, so use the bear boxes to store any food. Park rangers are also known to prowl at night looking for improperly stored food or irritating campers asleep in their vehicles.
Simmons Peak from Vogelsang Pass
There are several options available for approach and route combinations to the summit of Simmons Peak, just a few possibilities are outlined below. Routes via Lewis Creek Basin are highly recommended for both their outstanding scenery and almost guaranteed seclusion.
Southwest Slope via Vogelsang Pass and Lewis Creek 12.1 miles one-way, 4400 feet elevation gain out plus 600 feet on the return
Follow the John Muir Trail south from the parking area 1.5 miles to the Rafferty Creek Trail junction and turn south (right) towards Vogelsang. The trail gains elevation gradually to Tuolumne Pass, past Vogelsang High Sierra Camp (the cause of the copious quantities of horse manure covering the path), and over Vogelsang Pass. the trail approximately one mile earlier, about 400 feet below south side of the pass (as soon as a traverse towards Gallison Lake and Lewis Creek becomes feasible). Gallison Lake has excellent camping options and views of Simmons Peak. Continue cross-country to the head of the basin and climb the west ridge or southwest slope. The west ridge has a few moves as high as class 4 (which can be bypassed to the south). Some parties have complained about the loose talus on the class 2 southwest slope, but if you keep to the right (closer to the south ridge) the rock is more solid and even makes for a nice scramble.
Southwest Slope via Ireland Lake 13.2 miles one-way, 4500 feet elevation gain out plus 700 feet on the return
An approach via Ireland Lake is a good option if climbing nearby Parsons Peak or Amelia Earhart Peak. Instead of turning south towards Vogelsang at the Rafferty Creek Trail junction, continue straight through Lyell Canyon until reaching the Ireland Lake junction 6 miles from the trailhead. Follow the trail another 4 miles to Ireland Lake, a fantastic grassy area with excellent views of the surrounding peaks. Head south around the lake’s east shore towards the pass southeast of Parsons Peak, then into Lewis Creek Basin and joining the west ridge or southwest slope routes described above.
North Ridge via Ireland Lake 12.2 miles one-way, 4100 feet elevation gain out plus 300 feet on the return
Another option to Simmons Peak from Ireland Lake is via the class 4 north ridge, which is an especially convenient option if also climbing Amelia Earhart Peak. See the North Ridge page for complete details.
East Slope via Maclure Creek 12.0 miles one-way, 3900 feet elevation gain out plus 100 feet on the return
This approach is less frequently used than the others due to the long walk through Lyell Canyon, but is the best option if climbing the east arête (Grade III, 5.8) or also visiting Mount Maclure or Mount Lyell on the same trip. Leave Tuolumne Meadows and follow Lyell Canyon south for 10 miles to the footbridge crossing the Lyell Fork. Before crossing the footbridge continue following Maclure Creek southwest towards two unnamed lakes and then the class 2 southeast slope or the east arête.
Dawn on Simmons Peak
Access to Simmons Peak lies in Yosemite National Park and an entrance fee is required. The Yosemite fee page has full details.
Permits are required for overnight trips, but be aware that Yosemite has perhaps the worst permit pickup process in all of California. After hours pickup is not available, and if arriving in the morning expect to wait in line 1 ½ to 2 hours even with a reservation. Permits can be picked up at the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center near the trailhead during open hours. This is one of the most popular trailheads in Yosemite, and subject to quotas, so if seeking a permit reservations far in advance are highly recommended. 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.
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.
Sunset over Kuna Crest from Ireland Lake
Backcountry camping options are abundant at the many lakes or streams encountered almost constantly on any approach to Simmons Peak. Excellent options include Lewis Creek Basin, Maclure Creek, and Ireland Lake among many others.
Roadside camping is not permitted in Yosemite. Established Tuolumne Meadows Campground in Yosemite has just over 300 sites and is within walking distance of the trailhead. 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 Lee Vining/Mono Lake Camping page has further details.
“Named by R. B. Marshall, U.S.G.S., in 1909 for Dr. Samuel E. Simmons of Sacramento. (R. B. Marshall.)” – Francis P. Farquhar, Place Names of the High Sierra (1926)