Tioga Rd (or Hwy 120 E), the only road through the park, travels through 56 miles of superb high country at elevations ranging from 6200ft at Crane Flat to 9945ft at Tioga Pass. Beautiful views, and giant sequoias in Tuolumne and Merced groves await after many a bend in the road. Heavy snowfall keeps it closed from about November until May.
Beautiful views await after many a bend in the road, the most impressive being Olmsted Point, where you can gawp all the way down Tenaya Canyon to Half Dome. Above the canyon’s eastern side looms the aptly named 9926ft Clouds Rest. Continuing east on Tioga Rd soon drops you at Tenaya Lake, a placid blue basin framed by pines and granite cliffs.
Beyond here, about 55 miles from Yosemite Valley, 8600ft Tuolumne Meadows is the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierra. It provides a dazzling contrast to the valley, with its lush open fields, clear blue lakes, ragged granite peaks and domes, and cooler temperatures. If you come during July or August, you’ll find a painter’s palette of wildflowers decorating the shaggy meadows.
Tuolumne is far less crowded than the valley, though the area around the campground, lodge store and visitor center does get busy, especially on weekends. Some hiking trails, such as the one to Dog Lake, are also well traveled. Remember that the altitude makes breathing a lot harder than in the valley, and nights can get nippy, so pack warm clothes.
The main meadow is about 2.5 miles long and lies on the northern side of Tioga Rd between Lembert Dome and Pothole Dome. The 200ft scramble to the top of the latter – preferably at sunset – gives you great views of the meadow. An interpretive trail leads from the stables to muddy Soda Springs, where carbonated water bubbles up in red-tinted pools. The nearby Parsons Memorial Lodge has a few displays.
Hikers and climbers will find a paradise of options around Tuolumne Meadows, which is also the gateway to the High Sierra camps.
The Tuolumne Meadows Tour & Hikers’ Bus makes the trip along Tioga Rd once daily in each direction, and can be used for one-way hikes. There’s also a free Tuolumne Meadows Shuttle, which travels between the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and Olmsted Point, including a stop at Tenaya Lake.