Tuolumne Meadows sits high above Yosemite Valley just to the north along Tioga Road. This open meadow is dotted with granite domes and peaks and is a favorite destination for hikers and outdoor lovers of all stripes during the summer months.
Because Tuolumne Meadows (and the Yosemite high country) is roughly 4,000 feet (~1,200m) or more above destinations like Yosemite Valley or Wawona, temperatures are distinctly cooler. For example, in July an average high temperature of 89F (32C) in Yosemite Valley is just 72F (22C) in Tuolumne Meadows.
With gorgeous hiking trails, rustic lodging and camping, and a small set of services, Tuolumne Meadows is the heart of the Northern Yosemite region.
Simply ambling through the meadows is a worthwhile activity. Stop at Soda Springs and the Parson’s Memorial Lodge for views of the surrounding domes. Keep your eyes open for deer often browsing this serene landscape.
Alpine lakes such as Gaylor Lake (3 mi/4.8 km round-trip) or Dog Lake (2.8 mi/4.5 km round-trip) are popular Tuolumne hiking destinations. There is also a trail around the far side of Tenaya Lake (2.5 mi/4km loop). Or, if you’re looking for a view and not intimidated by some steep hiking find your way to the top of Pothole Dome (2.5 mi/ 4 km (round-trip) or Lembert Dome (2.8 mi/4.5 km round-trip).
There are so many options for long hikes that start in or near Tuolumne Meadows! The Pacific Crest Trail passes through Tuolumne Meadows so you can literally hike to Mexico or Canada from here. Cathedral Lakes (7.0 mi/11.2 km round-trip) sits like a gem between the soaring Cathedral, Tressider, and Echo Peaks. Or for a longer journey, walk out to Glen Aulin to enjoy granite cliffs, waterfalls, meadows, and forests (13 mi/ 21km round-trip).
You’ll probably want to bring your own food to Tuolumne Meadows when possible, but there are groceries at the Tuolumne Meadow Store and you can grab a bite at the Tuolumne Meadows Grill. Reservations are required in advance for the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge family-style dining.
The Visitor Center and Wilderness Center in Tuolumne Meadows typically open in late May, depending on conditions. Chat with rangers at the Visitor Center through roughly late September. You can pick up wilderness permits, bear canisters, maps, and guidebooks at the wilderness center through about mid-October, again depending on the weather.
The Tioga Road, which runs through Tuolumne Meadows, is open during the warm season. The exact dates depend on conditions. The National Park Service tries to get it open as soon as possible in the spring and then close for the season mid-October depending on when the first major snow falls.
Tuolumne Grove/Merced Grove: When driving from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows, you’ll pass two groves of giant sequoias. The Tuolumne Grove (2.5 mi/4km round-trip) and Merced Grove (3 mi/4.8 km round-trip) are delightful stops for those who love giant and ancient trees.
Olmsted Point: This popular pullout along Tioga Road provides a view of the ‘other side’ of Half Dome, particularly brilliant towards sunset. And if you walk to the other end of the parking area, you’ll also get a glimpse of Tenaya Lake from above.
Tenaya Lake: Once you get to Tenaya Lake you’re only a few miles from Tuolumne Meadows proper. Tioga Road kisses the shore of Tenaya Lake, making it one of the most easily accessible lakes in Yosemite’s high country. The best views of granite peaks and domes is on the west side, but the east side has a sandy beach idyllic for kayaking, SUPs, or simply enjoying some beach time.
While Tuolumne Meadows doesn’t technically close in the winter, it sure gets a lot harder to get to!
Tioga Road, which crosses Tuolumne Meadows, is not open to vehicles, so to get there in winter you will need a sturdy set of skis and the skill set to traverse snowy mountainous terrain. A few people make that trip each winter.
The rest of us wait until Tioga Road is open. Unfortunately, the opening and closing dates vary widely depending on snow conditions from the prior winter. As a very rough guideline, check the historical opening dates.
For opening dates, pay particular attention to the April 1 snowpack data, and try to match the current year’s snowpack to make the best guess for when the road will open. In fall, the road closes after the first significant snowfall after mid-October, so keep your eyes on the weather forecast.