Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass
Only a small percentage of visitors to Yosemite see this part of the park, so there are few traffic problems here. The Tioga Pass Road crosses the entire northern portion of the park from east to west. Unless you’re headed to Lake Tahoe/Reno you will have to turn around and come back when you reach the eastern terminus of the park near the town of Lee Vining. That makes for a long drive, so you might want to arrange an overnight in town. There are many steep grades and sharp turns, but the overall journey isn’t difficult unless you’re a novice to mountain driving. The mountain scenery is rewarding. Pretty and colorful mountain meadows, canyons, lakes and rivers are also in abundance. The Tioga Pass Road is also an access point for those wishing to explore the extensive Yosemite back-country. The road, however, has numerous pullouts for those who simply want to drive through the Tuolumne Meadows and take in the scenery.
To reach this area from the valley, take the Big Oak Flat Road from the valley’s north side. The road, like the route to Glacier or Mariposa, begins to rise quickly and steeply, affording some excellent views. Along the way you’ll pass through three tunnels and also be able to stop and view a small waterfall and raging river. The Tioga Pass Road is also called SR 120. Take it heading east and you’ll be on your way.
The scenery is excellent all the way and there are many convenient pullouts, but the best part is between Olmsted Point and the Tuolumne Meadows. Olmsted Point looks out over the tops of many famous domes in Yosemite Valley, as well as more distant Sierra peaks. You are actually standing on another dome. The cracks in the rock surface here are interesting and hold a special beauty. The road then swings around Tenaya Lake before reaching the visitor center at Tuolumne Meadows. During the summer the meadows are an explosion of wildflowers in every color under the sun.
You can traverse the Tioga Pass Road from end to end (about 50 miles), including the mentioned stops, in about two hours. However, if you’re making a round-trip to and from the valley, we suggest allowing the better part of a full day.
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