Benson Lake Loop – Yosemite National Park (48 mile loop)

 

Trip Overview: This ~50 mile loop traverses through a very scenic area in the northern section of Yosemite National Park. The highlight of the trip is a stay at Benson Lake, which features a large natural sand beach and mountain views. +/- 10,000 feet of elevation across the course of this trek with a peak elevation of 10,560 feet. Other highlights include glacial-fed alpine lakes, impressive granite peaks, meandering rivers, and alpine meadows. The majority of the images here are from a trip in late July.

Overall map of the Benson Lake backpacking loop in Hoover Wilderness and Yosemite National Park. The hike is divided across five days.
Overall elevation profile of the Benson Lake backpacking loop in Hoover Wilderness and Yosemite National Park.
  • Higher resolution version of the overall map for the Benson Lake Loop (PDF)
  • Topographic map of Northern Yosemite and Hoover Wilderness for purchase (amazon link)

Jump to Day 1: Robison Creek Trailhead to Crown Lake
Jump to Day 2: Crown Lake to the Matterhorn Canyon
Jump to Day 3: Matterhorn Canyon to Benson Lake
Jump to Day 4: Benson Lake to Peeler Lake
Jump to Day 5: Peeler Lake to Robinson Creek Trailhead

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Preparations:

Click here to read more about Permits

Permits:  Though the majority of this trek is within Yosemite National Park, the itinerary starts and ends at the Robinson Creek Trailhead in the Hoover Wilderness. Thus, you need to secure a Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Wilderness Permit for your trip. You do not, however, need to secure any additional permits for Yosemite National Park. From the last Friday in June through September 15, wilderness permits are limited by a trailhead quota. Each year quota season permits become available for advanced reservations six months in advance of your trip start day. During the quota season, up to one half of the wilderness permits for each trailhead are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Bridgeport Ranger Station. On your permit, you only need to specify your start date and party size. Permits can be reserved at recreation.gov and for this specific itinerary you are starting the trek at the Robinson Creek Trailhead.

Click here to read more about Logistics

Logistics: Most backpackers choose to spend the night before their trek at Annett’s Mono Village. Here you can camp for a fee and can park your vehicle for the duration of your trek for a modest fee. There are over 250 campsites and they are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Robinson Creek Trailhead is located very close to the campground, so you can easily start the Benson Loop trek from here.

Click here to read more about Difficulty

Trail Conditions and Difficulty: The Benson Lake Loop itinerary is an ambition ~50 mile route with significant amounts of elevation gain. Be sure to plan a reasonable itinerary that does not cover too much distance in any given day. Our 5 day/4 night itinerary keeps the daily mileage at ~10 mile per day and should be reasonable for experiences hikers and backpackers. If you plan to finish the loop in fewer days, you should be in excellent shape or should be prepared for some pain and soreness! Overall the trail is well marked. If hiking early in the season you may encounter snow on the mountain passes, so it is wise to check snow levels before setting off on your hike.

Supplies: There are very active black bears in the Yosemite National Park, so you need to bring a bear canister to store food and scented items. Bear spray is not allowed and hanging food is illegal throughout Yosemite. If you do not own a bear canister, you can rent them from the various Wilderness Centers in the park for ~$5 per week.

You likely will want bug spray because the mosquitoes can be out in force in certain areas of the trek. I prefer a picaridin based spray because it does not damage plastics and synthetic fibers like high concentration DEET sprays can. I also like to pre-treat my clothes and tent with permethrin spray repellent. The permethrin treatment stays on your clothes for up to 7 washes, so it helps reduce the amount of spray you need to put on your skin.

Below is a list of the gear I brought on this backpacking loop in Yosemite National Park:

Hiking clothes

Clothes for camp

Hiking gear

Camp gear

Random

Food and drink

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Day 1: 7.7 miles; +2,800 feet / -480 feet; Robinson Creek Trailhead to Crown Lake

Map of the Day 1 hike of Benson Lake Loop in Yosemite National Park, from the Robinson Creek Trailhead to Crown Lake (magenta line)
Elevation profile of the Day 1 hike of Benson Lake Loop in Yosemite National Park, from the Robinson Creek Trailhead to Crown Lake

The first starts with a westward hike along the Robinson Creek Trail. The trail steadily climbs in elevation over the course of the entire hike, so expect little to no downhill hiking. Near the 6 mile mark, you reach a junction with the Peeler Lake Trail. Here you take a left and continue hiking south towards Robinson Lakes and Crown Lake. After passing by the beautifully-colored Robinson Lakes you eventually will reach Crown Lake, the camp destination for the first night. There is a great campsite located on the northeast corner of the Crown Lake.

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Day 2: 12.7 miles; +2,500 feet / -3,240 feet; Crown Lake to the Matterhorn Canyon

Map of the Day 2 hike of Benson Lake Loop in Yosemite National Park, from Crown Lake to Matterhorn Canyon (light blue line)
Elevation profile of the Day 2 hike of Benson Lake Loop in Yosemite National Park, from Crown Lake to Matterhorn Canyon

The Day 2 hike is arguably the toughest hike of this trek at nearly 13 miles with 2,500 feet of climbing. Along the way you climb over Mule Pass and Burro Pass before gradually descending into the Matterhorn Canyon. The trail follows the meandering Matterhorn Creek as you hiking through the canyon. You can camp anywhere within Matterhorn Canyon. For this itinerary we specify a camping area near the trail junction with the Pacific Crest Trail.

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Day 3:  9.9 miles; +2,350 feet / -3,240 feet; Matterhorn Canyon to Benson Lake

Map of the Day 3 hike of Benson Lake Loop in Yosemite National Park, from Matterhorn Canyon to Benson Lake (yellow line)
Elevation profile of the Day 3 hike of Benson Lake Loop in Yosemite National Park, from Matterhorn Canyon to Benson Lake.

Day 3 takes you to the highlight destination of this backpacking loop, Benson Lake and its sand beach. For the first 4 miles of the hike you climb up to Benson Pass. From there you hike down past Smedberg Lake (a great lunch spot at the ~5.5 mile mark), and eventually reach the turnoff for Benson Lake. The turnoff will lead to the beach on the northeast shore of Benson Lake. Most backpackers choose to camp along the beach on this shore, so you shouldn’t have to hike far to find a nice campsite.

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Day 4: 10 miles; +2,700 feet / -790 feet; Benson Lake to Peeler Lake

Map of the Day 4 hike of Benson Lake Loop in Yosemite National Park, from Benson Lake to Peeler Lake (blue line)
Elevation profile of the Day 4 hike of Benson Lake Loop in Yosemite National Park, from Benson Lake to Peeler Lake.

On this hike you travel from Benson Lake up to Peeler Lake, which will be the last stop before reaching the Robinson Creek Trailhead. There is a tough climb up to Seavey Pass in the first 3 miles of the hike and then the trail gradually climbs until you reach Peeler Lake.

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Day 5: 7.6 miles; +610 feet / -2,980 feet; Peeler Lake to Robinson Creek Trailhead

Map of the Day 5 hike of Benson Lake Loop in Yosemite National Park, from Peeler Lake to the Robinson Creek Trailhead (red line)
Elevation profile of the Day 5 hike of Benson Lake Loop in Yosemite National Park, from Peeler Lake to the Robinson Creek Trailhead.

On the last day you hike out to the Robinson Creek Trailhead. This is a relatively modest hike compared to the previous days at less than 10 miles and with less than 1,000 feet of elevation gain. After hiking east along the Peeler Lake Trail for ~1.5 miles, you reach a junction with the Robinson Creek Trail. From this point on you retrace the path you hiked on the first day until you end up back at the Robinson Creek Trailhead.

Some backpackers may choose to combine this hike with the previous day’s hike to make for a big 17 mile last day. This allows for an extra night of camping at the beach on Benson Lake (or allows you to cut one day off the itinerary).

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Here are some similar trip reports!

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Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River – Yosemite National Park (33 mile point-to-point)

Yosemite Highlights Loop – Yosemite National Park (40 mile loop)

Rae Lakes Loop – Kings Canyon National Park Backpacking (41 mile loop)

5 Replies to “Benson Lake Loop – Yosemite National Park (48 mile loop)”

  1. Just want to say that I hiked this loop 2 years ago. Benson lake is awesome and we had a great time swimming. watch out for the skeeters tho, they swarm like crazy

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    1. Hi Bobby – thanks for the info! We had some bug issues in July, but treating our clothes with permethrin before the trip and using serious DEET lotion helped a ton. The Benson Lake area can definitely be buggy in the early season though.

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  2. HI again, we were planning on doing both of your Desolation Wilderness routes in later September, after returning from the two Wind River Range routes, in which we exchanged comments on a few days ago.

    Most of the Desolation Wilderness is now closed until Sept. 30 due to nearby fire activity so I rebooked us to do the Benson Lake Loop instead. Thanks again for all of the great trip plans.

    I have one question please. We are considering breaking it into 6 days so as to avoid the long 12.7 mile day from Crown Lake to where Matterhorn Canyon intersects the PCT as described in your Day 2. I’m thinking of camping about 4 miles earlier in Matterhorn Canyon; then going to Smedberg Lake; then a short day to Benson Lake. In order words turn your Days 2 and 3 into three days.

    Do you please know anything about availability of water and suitable camp locations farther back up Matterhorn Canyon towards Burro Pass? I’m thinking of maybe near Quartz Peak or a bit closer back up towards Burro Pass. Thus cutting about 4 miles off your 12.7 mile day out of Crown Lake.

    I’ve read mixed information on this. Some sources suggest the canyon is steeper farther up without any real flat spots. Other sources seem to indicate others have camped up Matterhorn Canyon closer to Burro Pass with no problem.

    I’m curious if you have any insight on this. Thanks again for all of the great information. I would be happy to provide you with feedback on gear or any backpacking routes anytime I could contribute to your web site.

    Thanks.

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    1. Hi Jim – If I recall correctly, the trail is fairly steep downhill for 1-2 miles after Burro Pass. I would plan to hike through this section before setting up camp. After about the 8.5 mile mark on my route for that day the trail begins to flatten out a bit. I’d start looking for camping there as the trail is both less steep and closer to Matterhorn Creek.

      As far as water availability, you best bet is to call up the Yosemite Ranger Station and ask about the flow of Matterhorn Creek. Given we are in a drought and it’s getting later in the summer, I really have no idea if it’s flowing or dry. Best of luck with your trips!

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      1. Hi. Thanks. I was just this minute texting my girlfriend that my only concern about that trip is water in Matterhorn Creek. Then I saw your response. I will of course talk to the rangers and adjust our plan as necessary.

        From a few of your posts, I’m inferring you are from the Bay Area. The routes in Henry Coe State Park were the tip off. I grew up in San Jose.

        Thanks again. We do your two Wind River Range routes starting next Tuesday. Then the Benson Lake Loop starting Sept. 19. I’ll give you any relevant feedback from those trips.

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