Yosemite Day Three: Tuolumne Meadows and the High Sierra

After our amazing hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls in Yosemite Valley, we decided to get out of the valley for our third day in Yosemite National Park.  I’d heard amazing things about Tuolumne Meadows and the High Sierras, so we packed up our day packs and hit the road!  Our first stop was Olmsted Point, a short one mile hike out to some gorgeous views.  We could see the backside of Half Dome and everything was just granite and green bushes as far as we could see.  It was so different from the views in Alaska!

Olmsted Point

We had spent a lot of time looking up hikes to do along Tioga Road, but what we didn’t know is that the Sierras were having a high snow year and that Tioga Road had just fully opened up the week before we got there!  So as we drove higher and higher in elevation, the snow started showing up along the road and in the heavily shaded woods.  When we drove all the way to the end of Tioga Road to hike the trail to Gaylor Lakes, we realized that the trailhead was completely snowed in!  The snow was up to my knees and I didn’t feel comfortable doing such a long hike at 10,000 feet in elevation on a trail that I wasn’t familiar with.  We did stop at a pullout on the way back to take pictures on snow in July!


Next, we drove back to Tuolumne Meadows.  I’d heard so many amazing things about Tuolumne, and it didn’t disappoint!  It was huge, filled with gorgeous lakes and streams, and surrounded by tall granite mountains covered in snow.  It was the greenest and coolest spot in Yosemite, and I loved it.

Tuolumne Meadows

We spent an hour wandering on a dirt trail that cut through the middle of the meadow.  It led across a bridge over Tuolumne River and over to Soda Springs, an area where carbonated water was bubbling up out of the ground.  After wandering around the area, we climbed out to a rock on the edge of Tuolumne River and stuck our feet in the water to cool off.  It was freezing!  But it felt so nice to lay out in the sun with the cold water running over our toes.

Soda Springs

Eventually we dragged ourselves off the rock and headed back to the car for the rest of our hikes.  Well, what we thought would be the rest of our hikes!  First we pulled over at Tenaya Lake to hike the trail around the lake, which was 2.5 miles.  There was snow covering the first quarter mile of the trail, but we figured it would eventually end.  And it did…in a giant, random runoff stream that was totally impassible.  We tried so hard to find a way across but it was too wide and deep, and we figured there would be more of these around the rest of the trail.  So we turned around and gave up on that hike.  Although we did end up eating lunch by the lake, which was a beautiful place to stop!

Tenaya Lake

Next, we pulled over at the trailhead for May Lake, which had been recommended by one of my friends (and by John Muir himself in The Yosemite!).  However, the road to the trailhead was closed, which would have added 4 extra miles round trip to our hike.  We figured that if the road was closed the road must have still been snowy, especially since there was still piles of snow in the turnoff area.  I’ve done lots of snowy hiking in Alaska, but I didn’t have the right gear or enough familiarity with the trails to feel comfortable doing it in Yosemite.  We had one hiking idea left, and I was hoping that this one would work out.

We drove to our final hiking attempt, Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias.  The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias was shut down for restoration, so this was our next best chance at seeing some giant trees.  The best news was that it was low enough in elevation at 6200 feet that there was no snow, so the hike was officially on!

The trail dips down into a forest for about a half mile before you reach the grove.  The big sequoias were beautiful!  It’s crazy to think about how old those trees are, and all the things they have survived over thousands of years.  I really enjoyed walking through the quiet forest and getting up close to the biggest trees I’d ever seen.

Really big roots!

The best part was the Tunnel Tree!  The tree is dead, but there’s a tunnel built through it that you can walk through.  People used to drive through it over one hundred years ago as they entered Yosemite!


After all those attempts at hiking, we were tired and ready for dinner.  Although it wasn’t exactly the day I’d planned, I still had a great time exploring the High Sierra regions of Yosemite.  And now I have an excuse to go back there someday!

Have you ever had plans change on vacation due to snow or bad weather?  Have you ever stood on snow in July?

One thought on “Yosemite Day Three: Tuolumne Meadows and the High Sierra

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s