The trailhead is at the May Lake parking area which is accessible from the Tioga Road (highway 120). From there it is an easy amble of about 1.25 miles and 500 vertical feet to scenic May Lake. The trail is lined with coniferous trees and on a warm day, the fragrance is one of my all-time favorites. To me, it just smells fresh and clean – the way mountains are supposed to smell.
May Lake is a true gem with crystal clear waters reflecting Mt Hoffmann above. There are also great views of Tenaya Lake below as well as Clouds Rest. A spur trail leads to a High Sierra Camp, but unless you are curious about the camp itself there isn’t much of a reason to take it. Once you have enjoyed the view, it is time to do some climbing.
The route from May Lake is pretty obvious in a general sense, but there is not really one official trail. The landscape is wide open up there so it’s very easy to make your way toward the summit. At certain times of the year you will be treated to a colorful wildflower display as you climb above the tree line. There are some ducks marking the way but I don’t think I have ever gone exactly the same way twice. The higher slopes encourage exploring and it would be difficult to get lost as long as you keep a landmark or two in sight. As you climb, you will notice a couple of apparent summits and it may not be obvious which is the highest from some vantage points. The true summit can be identified by an antenna at the peak.
The last bit of climbing to the peak can be a bit tricky. It is made up of giant slabs that can require some scrambling and has some exposure. Take your time and it shouldn’t be a problem. From the top, you are treated to a 360 degree view of some of Yosemite’s most famous features. Half Dome and Clouds rest can be seen in the distance as well as just about all of the Yosemite high country. From up high, May Lake looks like a pool of blue ink on a sunny day. One of my absolute favorite views is of a small lake directly below the precipitous north side of the peak. I don’t know the lake’s name, but if you are comfortable creeping out to the very brink it almost feels like you are flying over it. It always gets my heart pumping!
Most of this route is very exposed to the elements. Keep an eye on the weather and start down at the first sign of rain or thunderstorms. The slabs at the summit could be dangerous when wet and there is zero shelter from lightning above May Lake.
Mt Hoffmann packs a lot of scenery into a relatively easy half day walk. If your plans for hiking in California include summiting a peak or two, this hike is a great choice.