Yosemite Backpacking – Hetch Hetchy

Trip Length4 Days
Group Size4–12
Activity level
Starting from
$1,699 for REI Members
$1,869 for non-members
DeparturesMay 2024-Oct 2024

Experience the unparalleled brilliance and history of Hetch Hetchy Valley on this 4-day backpacking adventure, getting up close and personal with this pristine wilderness in Yosemite National Park. Hetch Hetchy has been called Yosemite Valley's little sister, equal in beauty to Yosemite Valley's waterfalls and domes.

Hetch Hetchy Valley, formed millions of years ago by glacial erosion, is often spoken of with reverence as Yosemite Valley's sibling. Stunning trails and glorious vistas greet backpackers, wildflower enthusiasts and waterfall lovers alike. Vistas that mirror famous Yosemite Valley but with fewer crowds, more intimacy and almost the same experience explorers would have had a hundred years ago: standing waist-deep in grass and flowers, dreaming under swaying towering pines.

Join us on a foray into the wilds of the Sierra and enjoy this immersive experience as we explore quiet backcountry trails, stop for photos near Tueeulala and Wapama waterfalls, and while in Tiltill Valley, keep our eyes peeled for wildlife as we pass through a variety of climate zones.

Along the way, enjoy refreshing evening swims, cozy camping accommodations and delicious meals beneath the brilliant Sierra stars. Our guides share the rich natural and human history of Tuolumne Yosemite, while sharing their love of one of the world's most revered wilderness areas. This adventure is the perfect getaway for the experienced and novice backpacker alike!

Panoramic View of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir with Kolana Rock.

Trip Highlights

  • Explore deep into Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley on foot
  • Hone or expand your backpacking skills while learning from expert guides
  • Hike past fields of wildflowers, tumbling waterfalls, open vistas and more
  • Stay at a backcountry campsite and enjoy a day of hiking with daypacks

Activities

This trip is rated Moderate [3]. Although this is a novice backpacking trip, conditioning is key to the enjoyment of it, as there are daily moderate to strenuous physical challenges. Participants will be carrying their own backpacks weighing 35–40 pounds distances of 4–7 miles daily over varied terrain with elevation gains up to 2,100'. To maximize your enjoyment of the trip, we strongly encourage participants to be involved in a training regimen before the trip, that ideally includes some training hikes with a weighted pack. Most important to your enjoyment of the trip is your overall fitness level.

  • Backpacking

What's Included

Professional instruction and guiding; meals as noted on the daily itinerary; tents; group cooking gear; group first aid kit, water filter; campsite and permit fees.

Accommodations

Backpackers campground, 1 night; Backcountry camping, 2 nights

Your Adventure Itinerary

Itinerary map for Yosemite Backpacking – Hetch Hetchy
Day 1

Meet in Yosemite National Park for dinner and orientation

Our trip begins this afternoon in Yosemite National Park, where we meet our guides and backpacking companions for a full trip orientation, gear check and sumptuous dinner. After dinner we lean back to enjoy the stars and ponder John Muir's efforts to fight the Raker Act, the act that granted permission to build O'Shaughnessy Dam and flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley. "One may as well dam for water tanks the people's cathedrals and churches," Muir said, "for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man." Dinner included.

Day 2

Set out for the backcountry—Tueeulala, Wapama & Rancheria Falls!

Enjoy a filling breakfast in camp before packing up, we then start hiking to our backcountry campsite near Rancheria Falls. This is typically a full first day of backpacking, with time along the way for lunch and learning. Standing atop O’Shaughnessy Dam we imagine what the valley looked like to early explorers as we travel in their footsteps. Today's trail runs above the pristine and peaceful Hetch Hetchy Valley and Reservoir, and we start to see why this valley is called “The Other Yosemite Valley”. Photo ops and vistas abound, presented by the gentle Tueeulala and crashing Wapama waterfalls. The plethora of wildflowers and butterflies add color to our palate of experiences as our guides share the dramatic human history of this valley and the healthy debate around its use and protection. We end the day at our camp near Rancheria Falls. When swollen by snow melt, the falls add a wilderness sonata to our camping experience. All meals and snacks provided.

Backpacking: 6.7 miles; Elevation gain: +~1,000'

Day 3

Donning only daypacks, we explore the lush Tiltill Valley

Morning coffee in the backcountry is certainly one of life’s simple pleasures. We enjoy a cup and a wonderful guide-prepared breakfast as we fuel up for another fantastic day. After breakfast, we continue exploring the Yosemite backcountry. Today we load up just our daypacks and set out for the serene Tiltill Valley. Looking for wildlife both large and small, as well as more flowers along the way, we experience the changing climate zones, going from arid landscapes to lush wetlands. As we climb up another 1,000 feet or so, our hearts will pound—as much from the breathtaking vistas as the ascent. We have lunch in the Tiltill Valley meadow surrounded by pines, a burbling creek, and among the wildlife and wildflowers. Look forward to a refreshing evening dip and dinner as we enjoy a calming campfire and our last night beneath a canopy of Sierra stars. All meals and snacks provided.

Hiking: 7.3 miles; Elevation gain/loss: +2,100’/-2,100’

Day 4

Break camp and return to the trailhead

Last days mean we are that much closer to our next first day, but still a bit sad to be leaving such a wonderful campsite embraced by soul restoring beauty. We lace up our boots and break camp, making our way out of the backcountry and retracing our path through forest, flowers, and misty rainbows from these magical and life-giving waterfalls. Completing our journey, we come to understand why the fight to reclaim this valley continues to this day. We plan to arrive back at our trailhead by 4pm but many factors could affect this, so those flying out of Fresno should plan no flights before 9:30pm, and those flying out of Oakland should plan no flights before 10:30pm. Breakfast, snacks, and lunch included.

Backpacking: 6.7 miles; Elevation loss: +~1,000'

Itinerary map for Yosemite Backpacking – Hetch Hetchy

Gear List

The key to staying comfortable while on an active trip is layering. To get maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection. Try to bring only what is necessary—this will help you and the field staff.

Already booked this trip? Sign into your online traveler profile for a more detailed list of what you'll need.

REI members can shop for gently used gear online or at most REI stores. Members can also trade in pre-loved used gear online or at any REI store in exchange for REI gift card credit. Check out Re/Supply at REI to learn more.

We provide

  • All Group Cooking Gear
  • Bear Canister
  • Group First Aid Kit
  • Stoves and Fuel
  • Tent(s)
  • Trekking Poles
  • Water Filter

What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 1 (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales ( 1 (800) 426-4840 ) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.

Trip specifics may change over time. Reviews reflect the version of the trip that was active at the time the reviewer took it. Please review the itinerary as described above and call our team for any additional details.