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.
- 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
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:
- a lightweight hiking rain jacket (North Face Venture 2 Jacket)
- fast drying synthetic hiking pants (prAna Zion Pants)
- a quick drying long sleeve hiking shirt (Columbia Silver Ridge L/S Shirt)
- wool outer socks (People Socks Moreno 4-pack)
- thin blister preventing base socks (WrightSock double layer Coolmesh)
- quick drying synthetic boxer briefs (ExOfficio Give-N-Go)
- Gore-tex hiking shoes (adidas Outdoor Terrex Fast R Gore-Tex Shoe)
Clothes for camp
- wool leggings (Minus33 Merino Wool Kancamagus Midweight Bottom)
- wool base layer shirt (Minus33 Merino Wool Chocorua Midweight Crew)
- lightweight down jacket (Patagonia 800-fill Down Jacket)
- lightweight camp shoes (Xero Z-Trail lightweight sandal)
- topographic map (Tom Harrison Yosemite Hoover Wilderness Map)
- trekking poles (Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles)
- 2 liter hydration bladder (Platypus Big Zip Water Reservoir)
- 65 liter backpack (Osprey Atmos 65 Liter pack)
- water filtration system (Platypus gravity filtration system)
- strong tent with rain-fly (Alps Mountaineering Chaos 2 Tent)
- inflatable sleeping pad (Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro Sleeping Pad)
- sleeping bag (REI Co-op Igneo 25 Sleeping Bag)
- lightweight backpacking chair (Helinox Chair Zero)
- headlamp (Black Diamond Cosmo Headlamp)
- multi-tool with knife (Gerber MDime Mini Multi-Tool)
- bear canister (BearVault BV500)
- lightweight stove (MSR PocketRocket 2)
- lighter (BIC plastic lighters)
- 2 liter pot (GSI Outdoors Halulite Boiler Pot)
- coffee cup (GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Cup)
- lightweight spork (Snow Peak Titanium Spork)
- small, quick drying towel (REI mutli towel mini)
- wet wipes (Stall Mates individually wrapped wipes)
- mole skin for blisters (Blister medic kit)
- small amount of duct tape for gear repairs
- chapstick and sun screen
Food and drink
- a variety of my favorite dehydrated meals
- electrolyte replacement (NUUN Hydration Tablets)
- instant coffee (Starbucks VIA)
- quick snacks (Clif Shot Bloks and Clif energy bars)
- small plastic water bottles filled with whisky 🙂
Day 1: 7.7 miles; +2,800 feet / -480 feet; 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.
Day 2: 12.7 miles; +2,500 feet / -3,240 feet; Crown Lake to the 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.
Day 3: 9.9 miles; +2,350 feet / -3,240 feet; 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.
Day 4: 10 miles; +2,700 feet / -790 feet; 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.
Day 5: 7.6 miles; +610 feet / -2,980 feet; Peeler Lake to 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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