Yosemite’s high country is an outdoor enthusiast’s dreamscape, filled with jagged peaks, granite domes, expansive meadows, and glacilly-carved lakes. At the heart of it all lies Tuolumne Meadows, one of the largest meadows in the Sierra Nevada and the main access point for exploring much of Yosemite’s higher elevations.
Accessible by car from Highway 120/Tioga Pass Road that runs along the south side of the meadow, Tuolomne Meadows is home to a broad sub-alpine grassland surrounded by lodgepole pine forest that rises to grand Sierra peak and ranges. The road is the southernmost road to cross the Sierra; Highway 108 lies over 200 miles to the north, making the wilderness lands of the Sierra south of Yosemite the longest stretch of contiguous roadless wilderness in the country. Highyway 120 passes over Tioga Pass at 9,943 feet a few miles east of Tuolumne Meadows, making it the highest mountain pass highway in on the west coast.
Due to winter snowfall, Highway 120 is typically only open from May to November, limiting car-access to the meadow much of the year. Hikers and skiers can make the slog in, but for the most part, Tuolomne Meadows sees nearly all its visitors during the summer and early fall. The timing of the road closure varies depending on the arrival of the first big fall or winter snowstorm, so check with the park for road conditions for status.
The Wild and Scenic Tuolumne River and multiple creek tributaries flow through the core of the meadow. During spring snowmelt, Tuolumne Meadows transforms with a bright and ephemeral burst of green. During this time the meadow is often more reminiscent of a wetland. The headwaters of the Tuolumne originate nearby, just to the east and upstream of the Lyell and Dana Forks.
Surrounded by striking granite formations, sharp peaks, pinnacles, and massive granite domes, Tuolumne Meadows offers a comforting swath of level terrain with a rugged backdrop. To the south rise the spires and peaks of the Catheral Range, including Cathedral Peak, Unicorn Peak, and the Cockscomb. Within and near to the meadow are the notable granite domes, Fairview Dome, Pothole Dome and Lembert Dome, the latter two with summits that are accessible to hikers. Climbing routes, including a handful of Yosemite classics, ascend nearly all of the steep granite features visible from the meadow.
Hikers will love the trail access that Tuolumne Meadows offers. Both the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail pass through the meadow, and it serves as the starting point for reaching two of the famed High Sierra Camps, Vogelsang and Glen Aulin. Popular day hikes for Cathedral Lakes, Lembert Dome and Dog Lake all begin in the meadow. Within the meadow itself is a network of trails allowing exploration and peaceful wanderings along the Tuolumne River and to notable landmarks such as Soda Springs.
Tuolumne Meadows sees a hefty amount of visitor traffic during the summer months. As such, the park maintains a visitor center, a Wilderness Permit Center, and one of the Yosemite National Park’s largest campgrounds at Tuolumne Meadows Campground. A gas station, provisions store, and mountaineering shop are all in operation during the peak season.