What? : 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.
Where? : located at the park high elevation nested within the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Located on Tioga pass, highway 120.
The meadow is located 8.3 miles from the east park entrance (20 miles from highway 395), and 38 miles from the junction with Big Oak Flat Rd.
If you are starting your drive from Yosemite Valley than you first need to drive 16 miles north on Big Oak Flat Rd and then you need to turn right (near the gas station) and drive the additional 38 miles to the meadows. With few short stops to enjoy the view, plan for at least 1.5-hour drive from the valley to the meadows.
Additional Yosemite and nearby locations blogs:
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: 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 location along the road, plan to be flexible.
After the road face-lift the number of road shoulders parking spots has reduced, there are still many locations, but they can be occupied. There are few large parking lots along the center section of the valley.
Due note 4: 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 5: Restrooms can be found at the visitor information center and near large parking lots along the way.
Due note 6: 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 7: 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.
Due note 8: Bring mosquito repellent with you if you are visiting here at spring or early summer.
My thoughts: The view of the large high meadow from a roadside parking is very nice but to really enjoy it you need to walk into the meadows. The Tuolumne River flowing gently, winding through the grassland, and the view from the “far” side of the valley to the east is much more impressive, where ragged mountain peaks towering into the sky.
The hikes here are relatively shorts and easy and fun to do.
The Tuolumne Meadow, is nearly two miles long, is fun and rewarding place to visit. This is not about the long hikes to mountain peak but rather the easy-going vibe of the river winding through the grassland and picturesque granite peaks surrounding it.
For three miles the Tuolumne River runs through the middle of the meadows and in spring as soon as the snow melts it flooded and practically transformed into a shallow lake. Tuolumne River is flowing and creating the remote but amazing Grand Canyon of Yosemite and eventually foe into Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (the man-made lake has a huge dam in it west end, this is the source of San Francisco).
Trailheads and Parking:
There are three trailheads’ entrances to Tuolumne Meadows:
1. From the western side of the valley, near Pothole Dome.
2. The middle one is located near Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center (there are two large parking lots nearby).
3. Eastern edge, at the Dog Lake/Lembert Dome trailhead.
In the peak tourist season Lembert Dome Parking lot gets filled up early in the day. so be prepared to look for parking in nearby areas and roadsides. Park off the road, do not block any side roads, and obey any "no parking" signs. You can also park at the wildernesses center east of here.
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.
Tuolumne Meadows has few relatively easy hikes that cover the main meadows.
You can also hike from here into the mountains or nearby valleys.
This is probably the easiest, shortest, and maybe the most rewarding hike in the meadows.
You can do this as 1 mile out and back or 3 miles loop hike.
You can start this hike from the Visitor Center or at the Dog Lake/Lembert Dome trailhead.
Start from the visitor center and carefully cross the road into the meadows, here you will be walking on a wide flat trail. Soon on your right you will see the Tuolumne River, keep walking and after 0.4 mile you will reach the large wooden picturesque bridge.
Here you can enjoy the view of the river below. Now is the perfect time to look back, you will see the panoramic view of the high granite domes and peaks of the mountains above the road.
Fairview Dome, Cathedral, Echo, Cockscomb and Johnson Peaks are the most dominate peak and the entire high mountain range contrast the flat meadows below and frame it wonderfully.