Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Road


What? : Tioga Road is the most beautiful high Sierra Road and enable the drive from east to west across this high Sierra mountain range. This road is close during winter month, starting at the first major snow storm and up to mid-May.

This is state highway 120 and the name Tioga Pass apply to it section in Yosemite National Park.

Plan for a full day trip to this road (59 miles long), there are many places to visit along the road, amazing viewpoints, short and long hikes, and enjoying Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows.


Where? : Start at Lee Vining in the east at highway 395 highway 120 cross the Sierra all the way to the other side of the mountains.

Google Map Link



Additional Yosemite and nearby locations blogs:

Yosemite National Park – How to plan your One-Day visit

Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass May Lake Hike

Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass North Dome Hike

Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Lembert Dome Hike

Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Tuolumne Meadows

Yosemite NP – Tioga Pass Tenaya Lake

Yosemite NP – Hetch Hetchy Visit Planning

Yosemite NP – Hetch Hetchy, Wapama Falls Day Hike

Yosemite NP – Hetch Hetchy, Laurel Lake Day Hike



When? : If you are planning to drive Tioga pass road (highway 120), enter or exit the park east entrance or visit Tuolumne Meadows make sure to visit the park main page to understand if this road is open or close. The road is usually open from mid-May to end of October.

Follow the link below for history records of road opening and closing dates:



The recommended time is at spring when the road is open, all is green and the mountains top covered with snow.

Summer and fall are also good time to be here because it is not hot at the higher elevation. At fall the river is running low and the grassland is yellow.



Due note 1: Interesting to know that Tioga Pass (highway 120) that cross the Sierra east-west mark the north section of the largest contiguous roadless wilderness in the continental United States. From this road all the way 150 miles to the south of Mt. Whitney (highway 178), no other roads cross the High Sierra.


Due note 2: Tuolumne Meadows is the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada and probably also the most accessible one, Tioga pass road (highway 120) cross it east to west and there are many parking spots along the road.


Due note 3: Tenaya Lake is the largest lake in Yosemite Park and one of the most beautiful lakes in the Sierra.


Due note 4: Tioga Pass Road went under renovation so driving conditions are good.

Parking:  The main problem is that during crowded weekends and holidays it will be challenging to find parking spots at specific popular location along the road, plan to be flexible.


Due note 5: The nearest Gas stations locations:

West: 38 miles at the junction with Big Oak Flat Rd.

East: 21 miles at highway 395 and the town of Lee Vining


Due note 6: Restrooms can be found at the visitor information center and near many of the large parking lots along the way.


Due note 7: when I visit here, Oct. 2022, the grill & convenience store near the east end of the meadow was close and under major renovation. Not clear when this will be open.


Due note 8: There is a large campground in Tuolumne Meadows but from my experience it is fully booked early in the year. If you are planning to stay here, book your campground in advance. There are few other campgrounds along the road that may be less crowded.


Few general hiking guidelines:

Stay on established trails, pack out what you pack in, Overnight backpackers need a wilderness permit, carry (and drink) plenty of water. Be sure to treat river, stream, lake, or spring water.



My thoughts:

One of the most amazing roads I ever drove.
Along the years and my so many Yosemite visits I drove here many times and always amazed by the beauty of this area.



The Road Trip:

Most visitors to Yosemite spend their time in the valley but I highly recommend making this winding drive up the mountains and see this amazing region.

The landscape views, the attractions, and hikes worth your trip, even if at the end of the day you need to drive back down to the Valley for your night stay.


I will describe the attractions along the road from East to West, I will cover the full length of this road also outside the east park boundaries all the way to highway 395, this is 59 miles long road.


If you are only driving and maybe doing few stops along the road in viewpoints plan for 2 hours’ drive.


When driving here you do not need to do all the attractions, hikes, and viewpoint along this long road, even if you want you can’t do it all in one day.

If you want to really explore this wonderland you can camp in one of the campgrounds along the road and do long hikes.


Assume you are only driving here in one day;

I will list below my “must do” stops along the road:

1.      Tuolumne Grove – If you did not visit any other large Giant Sequoias, if you already did or plan to you can skip this stop

2.      Olmstead Point – This is best viewing point along the road

3.      Tenaya Lake – The largest and most beautiful lake in Yosemite Park

4.      Tuolumne Meadows – Large Alpine meadows and excellent location for easy hikes



The road attractions (ordered west to east):


Tioga Pass Road, Gas station:

This is the “official” start of Tioga Pass Road (highway 120). From here the road climb the mountains and cross them over to the other side of the Sierra.

If you are coming from the east (driving west on Tioga Pass) than turning left here will take you to Yosemite Valley and if you turn right, you will drive to the north exit of the park.



Tuolumne Sequoia Grove Hike:

The Tuolumne Grove, though not as large as the more famous Mariposa Grove, still contains dozens of thousand-odd-year-old Giant Sequoias.

The trailhead is located a 0.6 mile from the gas station on Tioga Road, turn left into the parking lot.

From the large parking lot (+ restroom) the trail drops 500 feet in one mile (the Old Big Oak Flat Road). This is moderately challenging route on the way back up. Once you reach the Tuolumne Grove there is an easy, half-mile, self-guiding nature trail.

Overall, this is 2.5 miles out and back hike.

The grove itself contains a couple dozen mature Giant Sequoias, including dead one you can walk through.

This trail is open year-round including when it fully covered with snow.




White Wolf Campground:

White Wolf Campground is located about a mile off the Tioga Road between Tuolumne Meadows and Crane Flat, approximately an hour from Yosemite Valley at 8,000 feet.

Even if the road gate is close at Tioga Road, you can park your car there and walk and explore this area. I hiked through this campground few years back and it was nice place place with meadows and forest, in 2021 there was fire in this area, so I do not current conditions.



Yosemite Creek Campground:

Yosemite Creek Campground is 4.7 miles off Tioga Road (Highway 120), about 26 miles west of Tuolumne Meadows and at 7,700 feet elevation. The road to get to the campground is narrow, winding, and rough so RVs and trailers are not recommended. No tap water is available at Yosemite Creek Campground.



North Dome Hike:

The view from North Dome across Yosemite Valley straight to the cliff-face of Half Dome is unique and impressive. From this location you also have a good view of Diving Board location on the lower right side of Half Dome and Clouds Rest ridge line higher to the left side. This is 10.5-mile out-and-back trail (includes the Indian Rock detour) with 2400 ft of overall climbing, plan for 6-8 hours hike.

This is easy hike but not super hard hike. 

You start descending in the direction of North Dome, the way back is mainly ascending so take this into consideration.

A short side-trip will take you to Yosemite’s only natural arch, Indian Rock.

Link to my Blog about this hike



Ten Lakes Trailhead:

I did not hike yet this trail so I can’t provide a lot more information on top of what you can look online. This is 13 miles out and back hike to the Ten Lakes area. From here you can also see the impressive views to the peaks across the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.



May Lake Hike:

This is relatively short 2.5 miles out and back hike to May Lake from the end of the road trail head, here you will climb 470 ft to the beautiful May Lake nesting on the foots of the impressive Mount Hoffmann (10,845 feet).

Link to my Blog about this hike



Olmstead Point:

This point can be easily accessed by car as it right on Tioga Pass Road and offers unforgettable views of Clouds Rest, Half Dome and the Tenaya Canyon.

I consider this as a “must stop” location on your Tioga Pass drive, no matter how many times I was here I always stop to see this amazing view.

If you look east from this location, you can also see the granite domes above Tenaya Lake, once you drive east there are pull-out roadside spots to better see the large lake below.



Cloud Rest Hike:

Cloud Rest is probably one of Yosemite's best 360-degree panoramic views in the park and as a bonus, a unique, from above, view of Half Dome.

There are few trails that reach this mountain top location, and, in this blog, I will describe the “easiest” and shortest popular option, Starting from Tenaya Lake in Tioga Pass. This is 13 miles out and back with 3,100 ft elevation gain where the mountain top is at elevation of 9,926 feet (3025m).

I consider this trial to be a challenging hike; Including 30 minutes rest at the top it took me total of 5:45 hours. I’m relatively fast hiker (av 3 miles/hr) please plan at list 7-8 hours for more relax hiking.

Link to my Blog about this hike



Tenaya Lake:

One of the standout attractions along the road is Tenaya Lake.

Tenaya Lake is the largest and probably the most spectacular lake in Yosemite located just along Tioga Pass Road. It is the perfect location for a break in your day trip, enjoy the view and you may even go for a swim in the lake cold water.

Link to my Blog about this lake



Tuolumne Meadows:

At elevation of 8,600 feet above sea level, nearly two miles long, with the Tuolumne River winding gently through it and a variety of picturesque granite peaks and domes surrounding it.

The Tuolumne Meadows is one of Yosemite gems and most visited destination. You will drive here through Tioga pass that is a destination by itself and provides many viewing spots, hiking trailheads as well as providing access to Yosemite Park from the east.

Link to my Blog about this hike



Cathedral Lakes Hike:

I did not hike yet this trail so I can’t provide a lot more information on top of what you can look online.

This is one of the popular hikes in this area, climbing from the Tuolumne Meadows to Upper and lower Cathedral Lakes. You can do this hike as out and back or a more longer loop option.



Lembert Dome Hike:

Lembert Dome is one of the most impressive large granite mountains that is located at the east side of the Tuolumne Meadows, just above the Tioga Road. This 3.7-mile loop trail features stunning panoramic views looking west across Tuolumne Meadows. Plan for 3 hours to enjoy this hike.

Although the trail involves some climbing and exposed rock section the Lembert Dome Trail is one of the least strenuous ways to enjoy the panoramic view of this area of the park.

Link to my Blog about this hike



Yosemite Entrance Gate (East) - Tioga Pass:

This is where highway 120 enter Yosemite National Park.

Nothing specifically interesting here except maybe to take a picture of the park entrance. This is the highest point on this road, almost at 10,000 feet.

Keep with your drive in/out the park and enjoy the view from the road.



Tioga Lake & Ellery Lake Campgrounds

Located just off Highway 120 (Tioga Road) and only 1 mile east of Yosemite National Park east entrance. This can be an excellent option for camping if you can’t find campground in Tuolumne Meadows All campsites at Tioga Lake Campground are first-come, first-served.

Check for more information:





Saddlebag Lake:

Located at the end of 2.5-mile sideroad turning from Tioga pass will take you to this lake (10,000 feet elevation), you can find here few campsites and from here you can hike into the Hoover Wilderness.




Tioga Pass Road Valley View

The best views are from the south side of Tioga Pass Road, this will be on your right when you are driving east to west.

There are few wide road pullouts just after you are passing Ellery Lake dam, here the road bend sharply to the left and start to descend, there you can find safe offload parking. The views down the steep creek below and the high mountain slopes on the other side are impressing.

It looks like real engineering marvel to build and maintain this road section.

This section of road was first built in 1899-1905 and it is long steep drive all the way down to highway 395. Drive slowly and with a low gear.



Lee Vining:

Located at the start/end of highway 120 and Tioga Road is the small town of Lee Vining, Mono County. It is located on highway 395, 21 miles south of Bridgeport and 30 miles north of Mammoth Lakes, at an elevation of 6781 feet. Lee Vining is located on the southwest shore of Mono Lake.

It a perfect place for your road trip refreshing stop, fill up gas, eat, or even stay for the night.

On top of the many restaurants available here there is also several Gas stations and large groceries tor.

This is not only the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park (12 miles to east of Yosemite entrance; 69 miles from Yosemite Valley) but also there are many things to do nearby.

I wrote many blogs about this section of the eastern Sierra and highway 395, few links are:

Mono lake - South Tufa Area

Mono lake - Rattlesnake Gulch

Bodie State Historic Park

June Lake Loop

Mammoth Lakes



Mono Lake:

Mono Lake is a saline soda lake covering about 65 square miles in Mono County, California, formed at least 1 million years ago, the lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake which make its water alkaline.

The lake is famous for its unique tufa towers, calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water.

When the city of Los Angeles diverted water from the surrounding freshwater streams, it dramatically lowered the lake level. The Mono Lake Committee formed in response and won a legal battle that keeps lake level.





I hope that the information in this blog will help you to plan your Tioga Pass drive and enjoy the stay in this amazing part of California and Yosemite National Park.



Additional Pictures: