Tuolumne Meadows

#5 in Best Things To Do in Yosemite
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Tuolumne Meadows2 of 3
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Key Info

East Highway 120

Price & Hours

Free
24/7

Details

Hiking, Free Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
4.0

scorecard

  • 5.0Value
  • 3.0Facilities
  • 4.0Atmosphere

In the east section of the park you'll find Tuolumne Meadows, known for being one of the Sierra Nevada's largest high-elevation meadows at 8,600 feet. Here, you'll find plenty of scenery to write home about, including the peaceful grasslands, lush forests, windy, bubbling rivers and creeks and scenic mountainscapes. You can experience the scenery from the comfort of your own car, thanks to the vista points posted along Tioga Road (Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake), or take advantage of the many trails available within the vicinity. 

Luckily for hikers, there are a plethora of trails available. The least time-consuming trail is the flat, 1½-mile hike to Soda Springs, which goes right through the meadows. Continue farther along the trail and you'll hit the Glen Aulin trailhead. Glen Aulin is a much longer hike (11 miles) but offers more variety in terms of landscape, including closer dome views, waterfalls and a much more active section of the Tuolumne River, such as whitewater rapids. If that's too long of a trek, consider a more moderate hike to one of the region's many alpine lakes, including the Gaylor Lakes hike, a 2-mile trail that takes visitors to a stunning collection of small, alpine lakes about 500 feet above Tioga Pass. There's also Cathedral Lakes, one of the area's most popular trails (7 miles) and Mono Pass (8 miles), the latter of which goes straight into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For more information about hiking in Tuolumne Meadows, visit Yosemite National Park's website

Visitors strongly suggest visiting Tuolumne Meadows because it is so different from the landscape of Yosemite Valley. Travelers found the meadows to be beautiful and incredibly peaceful, attributing the quiet atmosphere to fewer crowds. Because Tuolumne Meadows is considered part of Yosemite's backcountry, and 53 miles northeast (about an hour-and-a-half drive) of Yosemite's most popular attractions, not as many travelers make it to this part of the park. Not only that, but Tuolumne Meadows is only accessible seasonally. Toiga Road, the only road that can reach Tuolumne Meadows, is typically open during the summer months thanks to snow that tends to stick around from May, or sometimes early June.

Tuolumne Meadows features a visitor center, a wilderness center, the Tuolumne Meadows Grill and the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge. There are also campgrounds available for booking. There is no entrance fee or set hours for the region, though it's not a good idea to wander along trails after dark. In addition to Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows benefits from Yosemite's free shuttle service. The seasonal service, available only during the summer months, offers transport from the meadows to various area points of interest, including Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake. For more information about Tuolumne Meadows, visit Yosemite National Park's website

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#1 Yosemite Valley

Unless you are solely planning backcountry expeditions during your trip to Yosemite, chances are you'll end up in Yosemite Valley at one point or another. That's because Yosemite Valley features much of the park's top attractions, including Tunnel View Outlook and a handful of Yosemite's most famous waterfalls, including Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Bridalveil Fall and Yosemite Falls, to name a few. One of the world's largest granite monoliths, El Capitan, is also located here. 

Yosemite Valley is an excellent place for first-time visitors to set up shop. In addition to housing many of the park's most popular points of interest, Yosemite Valley is home to Yosemite Village, where you'll find plenty of amenities and lodging options, including campsites and hotels as well as visitor centers, some dining options, including a grocery store, and a couple shops. There are also a handful of lookout points, picnic areas and light trails, perfect for those who aren't looking to do strenuous hiking in Yosemite.

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Photograph by Chanon Kanjanavasoontara/Getty Images
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