“This is a short off-trail tour of five exceptional lakes just off the PCT.”
— Lee Watts
Features: Lake — River/Creek — Swimming — Views — Wildflowers
Dogs: No Dogs
These lakes are off the PCT, just north of the Yosemite boundary. The closest trailheads are Sonora Pass (PCT) or Leavitt Meadows.
One of the unfortunate characteristics of the PCT is that it skirts some very beautiful spots not on the trail. These lakes are prime examples. On the PCT, Lake Harriet and Lower Stella Lakes are OK, but Cora, Helen, Ruth, and Upper Stella Lakes are much more beautiful and are great places to camp. Visiting all four lakes only adds about two miles and an extra 150 feet of elevation gain as compared to continuing straight on the PCT.
The old trail to these lakes has not been maintained for decades and is now essentially non-existent. However, this route is common enough that when I went, I saw one group fishing at Cora Lake and two groups camping and swimming at Lake Helen – maybe too cold for real swimming, but they were in the water.
At a minimum, if you were planning to camp anywhere near here, you should consider Upper Stella Lake. It is only a quarter mile and two feet higher than Lower Stella Lake, but it is much more beautiful and a world away from the crowds and horse residue of the PCT.