Yosemite National Park

Hiking in Tuolumne Meadows

To reduce traffic congestion, ride the free Tuolumne shuttle, which serves many trailhead and facilities in the Tuolumne area.

Cloud's Rest At Cloud's Rest (photo), you will feel on top of the world - I want to say the best view in the park, but how can one compare so many superlatives? The hike is a 14 mile round-trip from Tenaya Lake. The trail starts out along a meadow, where an early start lets you observe deer grazing. After 2 streams and about a mile, it climbs a steep rocky hump. The trail construction here is a marvel; part of the path is practically cobbled. You'll hit the top in about 45 minutes, then drop down the other side, to a trail junction at 2.5 miles. The right fork heads to the Sunrise High Sierra C& you go left (well-signed). Meander through woods and meadows for another 2 miles to another junction. Follow the sign to Cloud's Rest.

Two and a half miles further, a wedge of beige rock slants ahead at 45 degrees. Several yards wide at the base, Cloud's Rest narrows to only a few feet half way up, with a seemingly endless drop down each side. Farther ahead at the apex, the land falls away into a huge chasm on three sides, plunging several thousand feet to the Yosemite River on the right and its lesser sibling the Little Yosemite on the left. The scramble up is a little harrowing. But I could not have felt seriously endangered since I did it twice, the second time when my camera clicked its last shot with all my film at the base.

If you are interested in geology, Cloud's Rest is a great place to see one of Yosemite's granite domes up close and to get a view of the famous mounds that line the Valley. These massive hemispheres, reknowned in climbing lore with names like Half-Dome and El Capitan, instigated a rancorous debate in the nineteenth century over the forces that carved the Sierras. The official state geological survey proclaimed the mounds had bubbled up as fluid granite during some early geologic convulsion. A young upstart, declared an"ingnoramus" by the leading state scientist Josiah Whitney, argued that flowing ice had slowly chiseled this sculpture over thousands of years. Today John Muir provides us not only with insight into how these magnificent creations arose but also the inspiration to leave nature's work pristine.

Cathedral Lakes A shorter hike of 8 miles round-trip with a scenery of lakes and meadows that matches the Cloud's Rest vista in beauty. The trailhead is at the Tuolumne Meadows Campground just west of the Visitor Center. The path starts with a stretch of uphill, then becomes rolling woods and meadows. About halfway in, Cathedral Peak looms up to the west. Its massive bulk dominates the skyline all the way to Upper Cathedral Lake, at 9,585 feet altitude. The lakes basin contains some of the park's lushest meadows and if your stamina holds you can continue through them to top Cathedral Pass.

Watch for wildlife on both these trails. A buck ambling up the hillside and a grouse hen with brood trailing behind were highlights of these trips.

Soda Springs/Parsons Lodge
Trailhead: Lembert Dome Parking Area, adjacent to the Tioga
1.5 miles, 1 hour round tripEasy
A good way to explore Tuolumne Meadows. Walk north-west along the gravel road and continue straight, past the locked gate (signed Glen Aulin and Soda Springs). Soda Springs, where carbonated water bubbles up through the ground, is found inside a wooden enclosure. Although many people drink this water, health officials advise against it due possible surface contamination. Ahead, historic Parsons Lodge offers exhibits during the summer season. A path winds to the bridge below and continues on to the visitor center.

Dog Lake or Lembert Dome
2.8 miles, 2 to 3 hours round trip

Dog Lake and Lembert Dome
4 miles, 4 hours round trip
Trailhead: Dog Lake parking area
Elevation gain to Dog Lake, 600 feet; to Lembert Dome, 850 feet.

The trail goes up steeply for 3/4 mile to a signed junction. The trail to the left takes you to the top of the dome for a spectacular view. (Never climb domes during thunderstorms.) The trail to Dog Lake goes straight ahead.

Glen Aulin
11 miles, 6 to 8 hours round trip
Moderate to Strenuous 600 ft elevation gain on return trip
Trail begins at Soda Springs, dropping to Glen Aulin. Route is noted for scenic cascades. Tuolumne Fall and White Cascade are 4 miles from the trailhead. Past Glen Aulin are California Fall, 13 miles round trip, LeConte Fall, 15 miles round trip and Waterwheel Falls, 17 miles round trip. Return via same route.

Elizabeth Lake
Trailhead: Tuolumne Meadows Campground
4.8miles, 4 to 5 hours round trip
Easy to moderate 900-ft elevation gain
Climbs steadily to the glacier-carved lake at the base of Unicorn Peak. Return via same route.

Cathedral Lakes
Trailhead: Tioga Road, 1/2 mile west of Tuolumne Meadow Visitor Center
7 miles, 4 to 6 hours round trip
Moderate 1000 feet elevation gain to Upper Cathedral Lake. Near top it passes spur trail to Lower Cathedral Lake. Return via same route.

The John Muir Trail through Lyell Canyon
Trailhead: Opposite Dog Lake parking area
8 miles, 2 hour; Easy
This flat trail wanders through canyon, mostly alongside theLyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. No destination; return at any time. Trail heads upstream alongside Dana Fork of Tuolumne River, crosses it, and subsequently arrives at the Lyell Fork.

Mono Pass
Trailhead: Tioga Road 6 miles east of Tuolumne Meadows
8 miles, 4 to 7 hours round trip
Moderate, 1000 feet elevation gain
Trail climbs gently at first . At junction with Spillway Lake fork, trail climbs steadily and more steeply to Mono Pass (10,500 feet elevation). From the Pass, Upper Sardine Lake is another 3/4 miles. Return via same route.

Gaylor Lakes
Trailhead: Parking area just west of Tioga Pass Entrance Station
2 miles, 2 hours round trip
Moderate to Strenuous 500 feet elevation gain in first half mile
Climbs steadily to a ridge, with rewards of many over-the-shoulder views of Dana Meadows with its scattered ponds. At ridge, trail drops 200 feet to lake and meadows which can be explored with side trails (not included in 2-mile trip length). Return via same route.

Hiking in Yosemite
Yosemite Valley | Wawona | Tuolumne Meadows

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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