Yosemite isn’t all about the valley. Just an hour and a half’s drive up the road is one of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada. As you wind up Tioga Road (Hwy 120) from Tenaya Lake, the pines open up and you catch sight of the first granite dome and a meadow that seems to go on forever.
The amount of trails that leave from this meadow is staggering. Tioga Road is the northern border of the largest roadless wilderness in the lower 48. The only way to get around in all this beauty is by walking its extensive trail network.
Tuolumne Meadows is one of the main trailheads to start the world-famous John Muir Trail section of the PCT. This 211-mile hike travels through high mountain passes above the treeline and valleys filled with countless clear alpine lakes.
If multi-week backpacking trips aren’t your thing, there are plenty of shorter hikes too. Lembert Dome is a quick 2.8 miles straight up. It’s a strenuous haul but the 360-degree view of the meadow makes up for it.
For an even shorter option, try Olmsted Point on 120, this flat .2 mile jaunt gives you a unique view of the valley below. Bring binoculars and see if you can catch a glimpse of hikers ascending the cables of Half Dome.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the rock climbing. Tuolumne’s granite domes make for some world-class slab climbing. For the more vertically inclined, try nearby Cathedral Peak and the Matthes Crest.
Camping can be had at Tuolumne Meadows Campground. You can reserve half of the campsites online (they go really fast), the rest are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Backpackers can take advantage of the Tuolumne Meadows Walk-in sites.
Tioga Road closes with the first heavy snowfall of winter, so its season is short. We recommend going in spring or fall to take advantage of the lighter crowds. Be sure to check the road conditions and weather before you head out.
Offered near the campground.
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Natural features you'll find at Tuolumne Meadows Walk-In Campground.
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Yosemite in the fall is my favorite. Crowds are lighter & the warmer clors of the park come alive. Everything feels crisper. This campsite has some first come first serve sites so get here early to claim your spot. Not a party campsite.
This flat campground can accommodate a ton of people and was full when I was there in September. There are all kinds of people, some of who are waking up for early adventures so it's best not to bring a rowdy late-night crowd to this campground.
During the winter this place is usually snow packed and the roads are shut down. But late spring on is amazing. So pretty, but can be packed. Get there early to grab a spot and just be patient people are always leaving. There is a cool guide around the native area that takes you to see the flora and fauna as well as the native lands. And you are right up the way from the best view of half dome. Seriously. There is a small 1 mile hike on the left of the drive up, you'll know which it is, it isn't far from the campground exit when driving up to the half dome viewing point. Do it. Go to the top of the big rock. And just take it in. Its super beginner but the rock can be slippery so as always dress appropriately!
We love the Tuolumne Meadows backpackers camp before and after our main trek. The walk-in camp is behind the A loop. Family friendly, fun campfire show, quieter sans RVs. Great spot for meeting fellow backpackers. Plus the meadows and the river are beautiful!