From Sonora Pass

From the Sonora Pass off of CA Hwy 108, drive 3.8 miles east of the Sonora Pass. Leavitt Lake road is located off of CA Hwy 108 on the south side of the highway. No visible sign to mark the road, so you need to watch carefully for it. The dirt road is located near the apex of a hair-pin curve on Hwy 108 that points to the south. It's the only road in that immediate area. Follow the dirt road approximately 3 miles south until you reach Leavitt Lake. An SUV or truck with high clearance is a must and all-wheel drive will come in handy.

Start the 13 mile backpack along the Leavitt Pass trail, an old mining road, heads south along the eastern shore of Leavitt Lake and ascends the ridge south of the lake where it merges briefly with the Pacific Crest Trail. You can follow the PCT down Kennedy Canyon into the Hoover Wilderness Area and ultimately over Dorothy Pass to Dorothy Lake.



Wilderness Permit

You’ll need to get a backcountry wilderness permit for your trip from the Park Service. 60% of the quota is available for advanced reservations, which can be made 24 weeks in advance of your trip. If you can’t get an advanced permit, 40% are put aside for walk-ups. They start issuing permits the day before starting at 11am at the Tuolumne Meadows Ranger station. Visit Yosemite's Backcountry Site for complete details on the permit process. And if you plan on a campfire, then you’ll need a fire permit.


Dorothy Lake - Yosemite National Park

Backpacking over Dorothy Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail in Yosemite National Park

Don't let them see you cry. A line from the movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood became the quote Cam and I used as we ascended the 10,000 ft. summit about Leavitt Lake. It was the beginning of a 13 mile hike at elevations between 8,000 and 10,000 ft to reach our destination of Dorothy Lake. We were headed for the heart of Yosemite's northern backcountry.

Fly fishing for rainbow trout in Dorothy Lake in Yosemite National Park

After leaving the trailhead from Leavitt Lake we backpacked along the Pacific Crest Trail into the Hoover Wilderness, crossed the headwaters of the Walker River, and pushed over Dorothy Pass to the namesake lake. Some eight hours later, and passing a couple dozen through-hikers, we made camp. As I set up my tent, a mule deer ran by - not being chased by anything I could see with my eyes. I guessed mosquitos, and the evidence around me was thick.

Fishing from the shore of Dorothy Lake in Yosemite National Park

Fishing Gear - What to Bring

As a multiday backpack, you'll want to keep your fishing gear as simple and light as possible. A 7.5 to 9 ft., 3 or 4 weight fly-rod combined with at least a matching floating line is a must-have. If you want to fish streamers in the deeper water, then also pack a reel or spool with a fast sink-tip line. I would also pack at least two extra 7 to 9 ft. leaders in the 5X to 6X range along with tippet spools. Thankfully, the flies you'll need are light, so bring several of each! You'll want to bring the fly patterns I've listed here - Fly Patterns for the High Sierra.

Rainbows trout cruise Dorothy Lake feeding on grasshoppers, ants, mayflies, caddis, and midges in Yosemite National Park

Beyond the eye-popping landscape of Forsyth Peak towering above Dorothy Lake, and the distance from the summer crowds of Yosemite, the major reason to pack your fly-rod is the excellent fishing for wild rainbow trout. My first morning I watched ring, after surface ring appear over the southwest section of the lake. I focused on the western edge, not far from our camp. First two casts of a rubber-legged stimulator got immediate takes. After a period of no surface activity, I switched to a foam grass-hopper (size 12), and a Copper John (size 16) dropper. The Copper John proved the fish were feeding on either mayflies or midges as they emerged from the lake. I landed a 13 inch and a larger 15 inch rainbow both on the Copper John. A size 18 Parachute Adams became my go-to dry fly when I observed surface activity and a size 12, olive green wooly bugger the most productive fly stripped on an intermediate sink flyline.

Forsyth Peak reflects off Dorothy Lake  along the Pacific Crest Trail in Yosemite National Park

Not every High Sierra lake kicks out healthy wild rainbows like that (especially in a National Park like Yosemite where stocking trout has not been permitted for decades). So what makes Dorothy Lake special? Based on the week I got to walk, float, look under some rocks and fly-fish Dorothy, it's got 4 important qualities which these trout need.

Fly fishing for wild trout in Dorothy Lake located in Northern Yosemite

The four qualities are:
Large Size
Varied Habitat - ranging from sandy,rocky shoreline to deep areas with large submerged rock
Outlet Stream for Spawning and Rearing
Bugs - observed midges (lots and lots of midges), mayflies, caddis, ants, and grass-hoppers

Tent camping under the stars in Yosemite National Park

Backpacking Basics

If you are new to the backpacking game, take a look at the vast resources on the Internet to get up to speed on the gear you'll need from solid hiking shoes, to a warm and light-weight sleeping bag. I personally, read many of the articles by the folks at the REI Co-Op.

Sunset colored clouds reflect off of  Dorothy Lake along the Pacific Crest Trail in Yosemite National Park

An excellent place to start would be backpacking for beginners. And at the heart of any backpacking trip is the ability to cover ground with your legs. If you are new to hiking, or just want to read an excellent guide on it, then check out this well written guide to hiking. And finally, with today's new fabrics you can stay dry, warm, and comfortable on any backpacking trip. Picking the right fabric and understanding the various "layers" has gotten way more technical. To break down the complexity of outdoor clothing, a detailed and comprehensive guide to hiking is available here.