Merced High Sierra Camp

Located within Yosemite National Park, this is both the oldest and the largest of its’ 5 backcountry camps.  It was originally established in 1905 as a U.S. Calvary Outpost.  In 1916 the early park concessionaire operated it for two years as part of their mountain chalet system.  It reopened in 1922 as a greatly enlarged Boys’ Sports Camp.  It featured a baseball diamond, basketball and tennis courts, boating and of course hiking and swimming.  Then in 1925, it took its final form as a High Sierra Camp but with the elimination of the sports improvements.

The site is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.  Except for a few permanent structures, all the guest cabins, bathhouse tent and dinner tent are completely disassembled before the winter snows.  The camp is resupplied with food and other materials entirely by mule train.  There is no electricity or cell service.  Reservations are obtained by a once per year lottery system.



The camp lies just South of the Merced River and with nearby Merced Lake to the West.  It sits in a basin surrounded by impressive granite walls.  The camps’ location is densely wooded with Lodgepole, White Fir and Jeffrey Pines.  You will even find some Aspens among the many swim holes and even a nearby Soda Spring.  Some campers take extra days here as many find this location very relaxing.  Its’ lower altitude of 7,150 feet is easier on campers from sea level and the temperatures are warmer due to the fact that this is the lowest camp in the Yosemite High Sierra system.

The camp has a more permanent look owing to its long history and medium sized rocks neatly mark all the walk ways.  Be sure to check out the historic Barn and former Ice House!  A developed campfire circle lies in the center of the camp surrounded by wooded benches.  The circle arrangement of the cabins resembles that of a military camp, most likely left over from its Calvary days.  Oddly, the camp also has a horseshoe pit which is somewhat out of place at this backcountry locale.  A NPS Ranger cabin is also located nearby.


Line of tent cabins standing at attention



The 22 canvas sided cabins can house a massive total of 56 campers.  As is the practice at all Yosemite camps, tents are assigned dormitory style, meaning you will be sharing your tents with other campers.  The 10X12′ concrete tent  platform uses steel frame poles to support the plastic coated canvas  The tent features a screened wood door and rollup canvas window openings.  A narrow vertical storage shelf is provided along with a metal folding table and chairs.

No heating is supplied in the tents nor is it needed.  Steel bear boxes are just outside each tent and hikers are required to store not only food but anything that has scent such as toiletres products.  Bears patrol this area just to check if some hiker has forgot the food storage rules.  One unique feature found nowhere else is the laundry wash basin and clothes line.  They will even supply you detergent if you need to wash clothes!  Bring earplugs in case your tent mated snore.

Beds have a cot-style mattress on a squeaky metal frame.  These are not the thick plush bedding arrangement usualy found at a hotel.   For bedding, only wool blankets are provided so you must bring a sleeping bag or more commonly, a sleeping liner.  They do however, provide a pillow.  Despite this, campers are generally comfortable and thankful just to have a spot at a Yosemite High Sierra Camp.


Merced Lake Camp Map



Meals are served family style and are hardy and plentiful.  Seasonally hired cooks prepare good tasting basic menus.  Be aware that the recipes and presentation are not at the level of a gourmet prepared meal by a trained chef.  Although after a hard day’s hike, many swear the meals taste better than they really are.  Dinners include fresh salads and end with a homemade desert.  The hot breakfast features eggs and pancakes.  Lunch sacks are available for purchase to carry on your day hikes.   Some glamping style camps described on this website do feature gourmet meals with 5 star ratings.  This is not one of them.

Although no alcohol is sold, one can bring their own or even arrange for it to be sent is on the weekly resupply mule train at $10 per bottle.  Obviously you would need to make arrangements far in advance for that option.  A 35-foot-long dinning tent features a chuck wagon style triangle bell used to sound the dinner hour.  The tent abuts one of the permanent structures now used as the kitchen.


Merced main dinning tent

Merced main dinning tent



Day hike opportunities include nearby Washburn Lake.  Although Half Dome may seem tantalizing close, it’s just too just too far away to be a recommend day hike.  A short walk to Merced Lake finds many benches and sitting stumps to rest on and enjoy the view.


Merced Lake view



This is one of the few camps that have real flushing toilets, not the composting ones found at the higher elevation camps.  Hot showers are generally available as oppose to other camps which may run out due to varying yearly conditions.  There are two shower stalls with canvas partitions and the shower itself is not on a timer or require you to push a button to maintain the flow.  This however, is the practice at other Yosemite Camps.  Remember to bring your shower shoes.


Merced Lake Bathroom



The evening entertainment might include a nature talk from the nearby stationed Ranger.  Dinner is called by a chuckwagon triangle bell.  Don’t miss the Alpenglow around sunset reflecting off the Clarks Range.



At the time you make reservations, you choose between waking in or a saddle ride, meaning a mule and donning a protection helmet.  The saddle option can be uncomfortable for many due to discomfort to the legs and buttocks.  If you have ever been “saddle sore” than you know how uncomfortable this can be.  This is definitely a cast of “pick your poison” when deciding if you want to walk long distances versus riding a mule for long distances.  It is a very individual choice.

Reservations are made through a yearly lottery and fills fast.  However, some campers have good luck with last minute cancellations, if you have that type of flexible schedule.  See our Reservations page for more information and helpful hints.  This camp sees more open availability than the other 4 Yosemite High Sierra Camps.  Yet another option is to walk in but have your extra gear brought in on the Wrangler’s mule train.


Echo Valley fire scar from 2014



Merced Lake High Sierra Camp is the most remote of the 5 camps being 12.4 miles from the road at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley.  The steep trail passes directly next to Vernal and Nevada Falls.  The breath taking views of these waterfalls makes this trail extremely memorable.  Although strenuous, once arriving at Nevada Falls, the trail levels out on it’s approach to Little Yosemite Valley.

This is bear country and very possible you will make a sighting even from the trail.  The views of the back side of Half Dome are outstanding.  Traveling up the canyon you are surrounded by majestic high granite walls.  As you get closer to the lake, you will pass through the fire scars from 2014.  Once you reach Echo Creek, you are two miles from camp.  The steep and long nature of this hike in from the road is not the typical nor the recommended route.  Most hikers prefer to travel to Merced Lake from their previous night at the Sunrise High Sierra Camp.  However, if you have booked via a cancellation and you are not doing the High Sierra Camp loop, then this is the trail you would need to use.


Merced Lake trail elevation map

Merced Lake trail elevation profile for a total of 12.4 miles