If you are looking for the shortest backcountry hiking experience in Yosemite, May Lake hike will do the job.
May Lake trail might be the shortest backcountry hike in Yosemite; however, it has one of the most scenic views in Yosemite. With a backdrop of Clouds Rest, Half Dome, and Tenaya Lake, the views capture the essence of High Sierra.
If the road conditions permit, the trailhead is fairly easy to access. I have seen the road inaccessible in July due to snow, so check the road conditions before heading up the trail. The May Lake turnoff is located four miles past Tenaya Lake. From the turnoff, it’s 1.8 miles to the trailhead parking lot. I will recommend getting to the parking lot early to get a spot since this is a very popular hike.
Hiking to Mt. Hoffman
May Lake is a serene subalpine lake that rests at the base of 10,845 foot Mt. Hoffmann. If you like, you can summit Mt. Hoffman by taking the rugged trail from the north side of the lake. In order to get to the top, you will need to hike for another 2 miles with 1,500 elevation gain alongside sweeping views of Yosemite. The climb is fairly hard but it is worth the effort. Make sure you have enough water and sunscreen with you.
Camping in May Lake
May Lake is one of the five High Sierra Wilderness Camps in Yosemite National Park. If you are lucky enough, you can win a lottery to stay at this campsite where you will be served dinner and breakfast. For more information check out the Travel Yosemite site for reservation. Please note that it has been determined that the High Sierra Camps will be closed for the 2021 summer for the health and safety of park staff and lodge guests.
But don’t worry, you can always stay at the backpacker campground as well. You need to bring your own food, tent and sleeping bag. And yes you are required to obtain a wilderness permit to camp overnight and you can learn all the details from the NPS.gov website. If you don’t plan to stay overnight, the May Lake trail is also a great day hike where you can complete it in 4-5 hours with a lunch break along the May Lake.
Even though it is not permitted to swim in the lake, I saw people cliff jumping and taking a dip in the lake. I would not recommend doing it since it the lake is a domestic water supply.