Yosemite: An Introduction
Tioga Road, Tuolumne Meadows, and the High Country
Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite's high country, traversed by the Tioga Road, offer some of the Sierra Nevada's most rugged, sublime views.
The Tioga Road is a 39-mile (63km) scenic drive through forests and past meadows, lakes, and granite domes from Crane Flat, past Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake, through Tuolumne Meadows, and on to Tioga Pass, which at 9945 feet (3031m) above sea level is the highest automobile pass in California. There are many turnouts with broad and beautiful vistas. The Tioga Road was built in 1882-1883 as a mining road and was realigned and modernized in 1961.
The Tioga Road is generally open to vehicle traffic only from late spring (usually late May or early June) through mid-fall (usually until the first significant snowfall in November). In 2004, however, the road closed for the winter on October 17, the earliest closing in at least 25 years. A page on Yosemite National Park's Web site about the Tioga Road winter closure explains the closure, lists the dates of the Tioga Road's seasonal closings and openings since 1980, and includes photos of the current or most recent clearing operations.
Tuolumne Meadows, at an elevation (altitude) of 8,600 feet (2600m) above sea level, is the largest sub-alpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada. It is 55 miles (89km), 90 minutes by car, from Yosemite Valley via the Tioga Road. The Tuolumne Meadows area is graced by the winding Tuolumne River and surrounded by majestic peaks and domes. A visitor center, lodging, camping, food service, and gasoline are available in summer.
Though the Tioga Road is closed to vehicle traffic during the winter and spring, there is a ski hut in Tuolumne Meadows for use by cross-country (nordic) skiers during that time.
The High Country
A trip into the high country can be rewarding. Tuolumne Meadows is a favorite starting point for backpacking trips and day hikes to even higher elevations. Spectacular in summer, higher meadows abound with wildflowers, animal wildlife, and views of the soaring mountain ranges. This area is also popular for winter mountaineering.
Be prepared for changing weather! High country elevation (altitude) ranges from 7,000 feet to 13,000 feet (2100m to 4000m) above sea level, so vigorous exercise can tax even hardy visitors. Yosemite's meadows are fragile and easily damaged by foot traffic, and all are closed to bicycles, strollers, and vehicles.
The visitor activities, facilities, and services available along the Tioga Road and in Tuolumne Meadows are described in the Yosemite Guide and Yosemite: Your Complete Guide to the Park. The National Park Service has a map of Yosemite National Park on its Web site.
Lodging along the Tioga Road and in Tuolumne Meadows is limited to the summer season (except for ski hut lodging for cross-country skiers during the winter and early spring). The following visitor accommodations are available:
- White Wolf Lodge (canvas tent cabins and cabins with private bath just off the Tioga Road in central Yosemite National Park, higher than and north of Yosemite Valley)
- Tuolumne Meadows Lodge (canvas tent cabins just off the Tioga Road in Tuolumne Meadows)
- The High Sierra Camps (canvas tent cabins in five backcountry camps, each a day's high-altitude hike or horseback ride from another, in eastern Yosemite National Park)
See Lodging within Yosemite National Park for details and reservations. Nearby lodging is also available outside Yosemite National Park's borders (and on some private property within the borders).
Camping: Tioga Road, Tuolumne Meadows, and the High Country
The following campgrounds are available along the Tioga Road and in Tuolumne Meadows:
- Tamarack Flat (open from June to early September; no reservations; tents and small RVs)
- White Wolf (open from July to early September; no reservations; tents and small RVs)
- Yosemite Creek (open from July to early September; no reservations; tents and small RVs)
- Porcupine Flat (open from July to early September; no reservations; tents and RVs)
- Tuolumne Meadows (open from July to September; 50% reservations required and 50% no reservations; tents and RVs)
Away from Yosemite's roads, backcountry camping is available throughout the park's wilderness areas. A wilderness permit is required for all overnight backcountry use. See Yosemite Wilderness for information about wilderness travel.
Continue your introduction to Yosemite National Park: