Some friends and I backpacked a 40 mile loop in Yosemite NP over last weekend. The rough itinerary was as follows:
Day 1 - Mirror Lake TH to Snow Creek Trail to campsite north of Mount Watkins
Day 2 - Campsite to Olmsted Point to Tenaya Lake to Sunrise Lakes
Day 3 - Sunrise Lakes to Clouds Rest to JMT (Sunrise Creek) to High Trail leading towards Merced Lake to campsite on bluff before Echo Valley
Day 4 - Echo Valley to Lost Valley to Little Yosemite Valley to JMT to Mist Trail to Happy Isles to Half Dome Village for pizza/beer
Overall we had a great time with few if any issues. Tenaya Creek was only knee deep (using the stepping stones) and was actually reasonably warm. There was still a descent amount of snow between Tenaya Lake and Sunrise, but we were able to navigate this area without even consulting our GPS. Plus the snow was hard enough that we never postholed. Sunrise Lakes was mosquito infested, but we came prepared with DEET and bug nets. Our two other campsites were very nice with not too many bugs.
For the reserving permit in advance, you have two options:
1) Apply for a permit >24 weeks before your hike start date. Your application then gets put into a lottery for a permit for that start date.
2) If you missed the lottery deadline for you hike date, you can then check the trailhead availability list here (https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/fulltrailheads.htm). In my case, I checked the list for July 4th availability. I knew I wanted to leave from Yosemite Valley or somewhere near there. The Mirror Lake -> Snow creek had availability, so I applied for a permit online and grabbed the open spots. The Trailhead Availability report gives you an idea of which trailheads are most popular.
The only other option is to show up the day before your hike and try to get a walk up permit. I've heard this can be tough for Fri/Sat departures. It's probably easier for weekday departures, but you may need to be flexible on your route since you can't guarantee what permits are available.
How hard is it to get a permit? It really depends! For the most popular trailheads (Happy Isles, Cathedral Lakes, Glacier Point, Sunrise, etc.), a lot of people apply 6 months in advance and get permits in the lottery. For other ones, there is still a good amount of availability on many dates.
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