Top 5 Things to Do in Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Kenny Karst.

Tioga Road is open for the summer and the weather is fine in Yosemite National Park. With so many options to choose from, how do you decide where to go and what to do during your visit? Certainly any area of Yosemite can provide experiences filled with wonder, but one area in particular provides the opportunity for a summer filled with memories of the High Sierra: Tuolumne Meadows. Located on Tioga Road CA 120 at an altitude of 8000 feet, the Tuolumne Meadows area is inaccessible in winter when the road is closed. This limited accessibility creates a short but sweet summertime window of opportunity to visit high alpine meadows and streams, along with some of Yosemite’s highest peaks. Though services are available in Tuolumne Meadows, the High Sierra views are unobstructed.  In addition to camping and tent cabin lodging, Tuolumne Meadows has a visitor center, wilderness center, store, a grill restaurant, a gas station, a stable and an outpost of the Yosemite Mountaineering School. The following top five list of things to do in Tuolumne Meadows gives you an overview of this stunning slice of the Sierra Nevada in Yosemite.

1. Hiking: Tioga Road is littered with trailheads that can take you deep into Yosemite’s backcountry or offer simple sightseeing. Soda Springs and historic Parsons Memorial Lodge, Lembert Dome, Mount Dana, May Lake, Pothole Dome, the John Muir Trail, Cathedral Lakes, Twin Bridges, and Elizabeth Lake are among the hiking options in this area. These high-elevation hikes range from an afternoon stroll along the Tuolumne River to Twin Bridges to traversing the Sierra Nevada on the John Muir Trail.

2. Camping: Tent cabin lodging and family-style dining is provided at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and the Yosemite High Sierra Camps. Traditional camping can be found at the national park system’s largest campground in Tuolumne Meadows. Camping allows you to experience the Yosemite landscape up close with opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, photography, fishing, swimming and more. But no matter where you lay your head in the High Sierra, the access to the night sky filled with stars will fill you with wonder.

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge

3. Dining at Tuolumne Meadows Grill: Menu favorites include burgers & fries, veggie chili, breakfast, and ice cream cones. You won’t find a dining room at the rustic Tuolumne Meadows Grill, but you will find tasty take-out options after a long summer hike in the high country. Picnic tables are available outside the restaurant and store, where you can trade adventure stories with other hikers and climbers.

4. Photography: Tuolumne Meadows are beautiful alpine meadows riddled with wildflowers in the summer, Tenaya Lake is an easily accessible alpine lake with sand beaches made for summer swimming, Mount Dana provides amazing views of the Sierra Nevada at 13,000 feet of elevation, the Tuolumne River carries snow melt from the High Sierra to points below and the night sky is brilliant with exceptional opportunities for night sky photography.

TM Wildflowers

Tenaya Lake. Photo by Kenny Karst

Tenaya Lake. Photo by Kenny Karst

5. Trail Ride: Take a day trip on a mule at the Tuolumne Meadows Stable and visit Tuolumne View on the Young Lakes Trail, an ideal lookout point for Cathedral Range, Johnson Peak and Mammoth Peaks or take a half-day ride and visit Twin Bridges on the Tuolumne River just above Tuolumne Falls. If you can’t bear to leave the beauty behind, commit to an extended backcountry experience with a saddle pack trip to one of five High Sierra Camps (or take the 50 mile loop and visit them all!).

Sunrise High Sierra Camp

Sunrise High Sierra Camp

This article was published in the Yosemite in Focus newsletter for the month of June. Get stories about Yosemite delivered right to your email inbox every month by signing up here: Yosemite Newsletters.

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Not All Bad News: The Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park

Though we think of wildfire in national parks as a bad thing, the fact is that positive opportunities also arise as a result of this natural process in wilderness ecosystems. For instance, Giant Sequoia trees use fire to propagate as the heat from fire causes their cones to open and drop seeds to create a new generation. A program in the state of California has inmates contributing to firefighting efforts, providing them with a chance to give back to society and perhaps learn a trade in order to craft a better future. And in Yosemite National Park, employees had the chance to rescue horses that were stuck in the fire evacuation zone with no transportation, providing a safe haven for non-humans impacted by wildfire. The Rim Fire that originated in Stanislaus National Forest on August 17 has since spread to Yosemite wilderness north and west of the Tioga Road and Highway 120. Though most of the park currently remains unaffected, road closures have affected the visitor experience. With the exception of White Wolf Lodge on Highway 120, all services and lodging remain open and available to park visitors in Yosemite Valley, Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows. Not only are visitors still enjoying their vacations to Yosemite, but horses from the Mather Saddle and Pack Station enjoyed some rest and relaxation too.

Stables JR and Kermit

Stables Manager J.R Gehres and Packer/Shoer Kermit Radoor take a break from doing good deeds.

“I got the call late Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning we were on our way with empty horse trailers and four stable hands to help rescue and transport 40 head of horse from the Mather Corrals, “ said J.R. Gehres, manager of the DNC Parks & Resorts stable operations in Yosemite.  The Mather Saddle and Pack Station is a family run stables that have been in operation since 1929, located just outside the Yosemite National Park boundary. The Rim Fire, currently the 5th largest wildfire in California history, was quickly approaching Mather Station and the owner, Jay Barnes, had been given notice to evacuate the area.  “Jay had no way to get the forty remaining horses out of the corrals and called us for help.  On the way, we came across fire officials and explained the situation; they gave us one hour to collect the horses and get out of there.”  The horses were brought to the Yosemite Valley stables where they were fed, watered, and put up in corrals until Barnes was able to relocate them a few days later.  “Horse people take care of one another, and the Barnes family has a long history with animal packing in Yosemite – how could we say no?” said J.R.  Joe Barnes, Jay’s father and original owner of the Mather Saddle and Pack Station, was a wrangler for Yosemite’s early concessions back in the 1930s.  Though the Rim Fire came very close to the Mather Station, burning the forest and meadow land nearby, the facilities were saved. “Jay Barnes was so grateful DNC was able to help him, he had no one to turn to and DNC came through,“ J.R. noted while packing up the last few horses for their trip home.

stables_horses

Guest horses from the Mather Saddle and Pack Station enjoying some hay at the Yosemite Valley Stables.

Thanks to Vicky McMichael for reporting on this story.

Favorite Yosemite Spots: Tenaya Lake

Photo by Kenny Karst

Photo by Kenny Karst

As part of an ongoing series, we’ll feature the favorite places of Yosemite community members and park visitors.Tenaya Lake in Yosemite’s high country is a favorite spot of Linda Eade, who lives in El Portal at the park’s west gate and has worked in Yosemite Valley for 42 years with 33 of those years as the Research Librarian for the National Park Service. “I’ve been asked this question many times and my response is always Tenaya Lake. Not only for the beauty of the area, but because every year I would take my girls [daughters Kelly and Ellen] to spend the day at the beach on Tenaya Lake just before they went back to school. It holds cherished end-of-summer memories for me.”Tenaya_Lake_beach

Tenaya Lake is one of the most accessible high alpine lakes in the Sierra Nevada, but that doesn’t prevent it from also being one of the most beautiful. This stunning location is often first glimpsed by the park visitor as they head east on the Tioga Road (Highway 120) toward Tuolumne Meadows. Vividly blue and nestled amongst pines and shining granite, Tenaya Lake beckons road weary travelers to keep exploring – and provides a cool place to swim on a hot summer day. Named after native Chief Tenaya, the east beach of Tenaya Lake is the focus of an extensive restoration project funded by the Yosemite Conservancy. The shoreline and wetlands will be restored, native Willows will be planted and access to the beach will be designed to protect this restoration.

Big Oak Flat Road/Hwy 120 closed for repairs Feb. 29, 2012 thru April

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A section of Big Oak Flat Road, leading from Hwy 120 into Yosemite Valley and other park destinations is scheduled to be closed for roughly six weeks starting at 8:00 am Wednesday, February 29, 2012 to repair damage from a rockfall on January 22 of this year. The road is expected to be closed 24 hours per day, seven days per week until early April. During this time, crews will be working around the clock to the get road ready for visitors hoping to use that route to see Yosemite’s waterfalls in peak flow for spring. (You can see an interactive version of the map here.)

Meanwhile, you can still get to Yosemite Valley via Hwy 140 (El Portal Road) coming from Merced/Mariposa and Hwy 41 (Wawona Road) coming from Fresno/Oakhurst. If you’re coming from the Bay Area, the Highway 140 route is commonly referred to as the year-round Yosemite Highway, and although longer in terms of distance, adds little, if any, time to your drive.

The best way to get current road information inside Yosemite National Park is to call (209) 372-0200 and press 1 and then 1 again. This recorded road information is updated by NPS as soon as road conditions change. For other current park information, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Read the full NPS press release below:
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Big Oak Flat Road/Hwy 120 to Re-open Tomorrow

Great news for the folks heading in from Sacramento and the Bay Area! NPS announced that the Big Oak Flat Road is re-opening tomorrow morning at 8am. That section of the road surface is still currently gravel, so be aware and drive carefully. We may see some traffic restrictions or closures over the following week for paving, but specific dates and times have not been set yet, so check the road conditions line if you’re planning to take that route next week – (209) 372-0200 (press 1 and 1 again). That recorded message contains the most up-to-date information on road conditions inside the park.

A huge shout-out and thank you to the road crews for working so hard to get 120/Big Oak Flat open again!

Read the Official News Release here.