The combination of granite cliffs and the picturesque lake really makes this trip a fun and beautiful one, particularly if you like taking pictures and you enjoy hiking mountains. Definitely amongst the most beautiful lakes in Yosemite, May Lake offers hikers picturesque backdrops, a beautiful drop off that looks over the Tioga Road, as well as Clouds Rest and Tenaya Lake, as well as absolutely gorgeous waters that really turn out well in pictures. Add in a pretty enjoyable hike—especially if you wish to climb the mountain—and a not-too-busy crowd factor, and you get a hike that could certainly be a highlight of your trip.
Difficulty and Hiking Time
At 1.5 hours (on the low end), this hike is pretty short; but, because of its steady inclines and rocky terrain, it still ranks a 5 on our difficulty ranking. And yet, this is without the hike up Mount Hoffman. If you do decide to go up the mountain, expect to take at least a couple more hours (up to 4, normally), and add another 2 notches to that difficulty ranking. After all, you will be climbing a mountain, and that is never easy (but always fun!). It is 2.5 miles round trip to May Lake and 6 miles round trip to climb Mt. Hoffman).
Best Time to Visit
Make sure the Tioga Pass Road is open before coming to visit this hiking trail. Else, you will be disappointed, as it will be inaccessible. So, aim for June through October (but watch for seasonal changes that may close the road even during its open season).
Remember, you are climbing a mountain, so it can be a pretty high hike. In fact, at 10,845 feet, Mt. Hoffman is among the highest points in Yosemite; so, if you are afraid of heights, you might want to avoid this one. Other elevations are as follows: 8,710 feet at trailhead, 9,270 feet at May Lake, and 2,000 feet elevation gain overall (with hike up Mt. Hoffman).