Tioga Pass Road aka Highway 120 makes way for perfect summer and early fall adventures in Tuolumne Meadows. After a heavy winter, the waterfalls are still strong, and there is even some snowmelt on some of high country trails. We have a list to plan your perfect day of trail hiking, whether you’re just looking for a short and sweet stroll or something to test those limits. The best part? Even with its popularity, and short season, Tuolumne tends to be much less crowded than Yosemite Valley (cue prayer hands).
Check out the free Tuolumne Meadow Shuttle if you’re planning to knock out a few trails in a day.
Cathedral Lakes (7-8 miles/Moderate)
Part of the John Muir Trail, this is a gorgeous and very popular scenic hike surrounded by peaks like Cathedral Peak (hence the name) and by Echo and Tresidder Peaks, all standing at 10,000 ft in elevation. The reason Cathedral Lakes is plural is that there is a detour for Lower Cathedral Lake, as well as Upper Cathedral Lake. Lower Cathedral Lake is a more popular destination, but why not visit both?
Tenaya Lake (2.5 miles/Easy)
Get ready for postcard views on this hike, featuring one of Yosemite’s most beautiful and picturesque lakes surrounded by granite domes and peaks. A naturally beautiful hike, its short length and ease makes it popular for good reason.
Elizabeth Lake (4.6 miles/Moderate)
Have you caught on to Tuolomne’s lake theme yet? This hike isn’t as popular as Tenaya Lake, likely because of its steep uphill beginning. However, it’s just as picturesque. The lake is surrounded by evergreens and large gorgeous granite like Unicorn Peak.
Glen Aulin (13 miles/Strenuous)
Alright, so this one isn’t a lake, however, it is a trail that guides you to beautiful Tuolumne Falls and White Cascade. It’s also popular because it’s part of the Pacific Crest Trail and is a gateway to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. Yes, Tuolumne Meadows has it all.
Gaylor Lakes (2 miles/moderate)
Easily one of Yosemite’s most underrated hikes. A steep climb rewards you with spectacular views of Dana, Mammoth, Gibbs and other mountains as well as Dana Meadows. In addition, it has five lakes that seem untouched, picturesque, almost like a Hollywood backdrop. If that’s not enough, there’s even an abandoned 1870’s mine that sits above Gaylor Lake.
Mono Pass (8 miles/moderate)
This trans-sierra trail takes you through wet meadows and rushing creeks, providing you with amazing views of Bloody Canyon and stunning Mono Lake. Not nearly as crowded as other trails in the area.
Lyell Canyon via the John Muir Trail (8 miles/Easy)
A pleasant hike that passes through the Lyell fork of the Tuolumne River, as well as the bridged Rafferty Creek and Ireland Creeks. At the eight-mile mark, you are awarded with the Kuna Creek’s cascade. Looking for something shorter? You can walk ½ hour each way to and from the Twin Bridges. Keep in mind, this trail can get muddy and you will likely run into some Pacific Crest Trail and/or John Muir hikers.
Dog Lake (2.8 miles/Moderate)
No, there are no puppies to be found here. Though, there is a still mountain lake, bordered by evergreens and granite mountains. You’re already en route to Lembert Dome, why not continue forward and get a beautiful view of Tuolumne Meadows?
Lembert Dome (2.8 miles/Moderate)
Lembert Dome does not feature a lake or cascade, but it does offer some fantastic views of Tuolumne meadows. If you stay straight at the junction it will lead you to Dog Lake, making it a solid four miles. It may get windy, so hold onto your hats. And as always, stay off domes during chances of thunderstorms.
Soda Spring and Parsons Lodge (1.5 miles/Easy)
Also located in the same parking lot as the Lembert Dome and Dog Lake trailheads. The third hike of the day is a charm, right? This trail takes you to springs that spew cold bubbling water right out of the ground. This is where your carbonated beverages come from. Kidding. And there is an enclosure to ensure you don’t try testing the carbonation levels.
Looking for a home base for your hikes?
All of our 120 Redwoods In Yosemite cabins are located in historic Wawona, near the South Entrance of Yosemite National Park, just a few miles from the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (free shuttle access to grove when you stay with us!). Relaxing and private, these fully equipped vacation homes border the wild and scenic South Fork of The Merced River, the Wawona swinging bridge and Chilnualna Falls (the second-highest vertical drop waterfalls in Yosemite)! Our Event Center includes full use of the Fireside Room and adjacent deck, with audio and visual equipment and a catering kitchen. Many of our cabins are pet-friendly, some feature spa tubs, and all have private decks with BBQ’s and upgraded linens for that, “Home Away from Home” experience. Come on up! Relax. Explore. Escape!
Written By Christina Kantzavelos
Yosemite National Park brings in over four million visitors each year! Since 4 million yearly fans can’t be wrong, there are many reasons to want to visit Yosemite, and plenty of reasons to stay within the park boundaries during your next visit. During peak season, we expect large crowds, heaps of cars, traffic delays (sometimes 1-2 hours), busy attractions, and limited parking and lodging. Here are five reasons why staying in Wawona will allow you to spend less time in your car, and more time enjoying what this great park has to offer…
Avoid the Morning Wait at the Southern Entrance
Waiting for any attraction is as certain as taxes, and the wait for the entrance to Yosemite can begin up to two miles before you reach the Southern Gate, or other entrances too. After finally driving up to the entrance, why would you want to squander extra waiting in your car? If you’re already in the park, the morning wait is one less thing to worry about, so you can spend your precious vacation time wisely.
How To Spend Less Time Spent Driving in the Valley
If you’re staying closer to Yosemite Valley (in the heart of the park), you have easier access to the park’s free shuttle. Once in the valley, we strongly encourage you to take the free bus rides or book a valley tram tour for example. The shuttle runs from 7 AM – 10 PM daily, and provides access to all of the valley’s hot spots. The more people who opt for the use of the shuttle, the less traffic within the park. It takes about 35-40 minutes, a 26 mile drive, from Wawona to Yosemite Valley. Renting a bicycle is also a great option!
Wawona Walking Distance Perks
Staying in Wawona means you are within walking distance to two local markets, a restaurant in a historical national landmark such as the The Wawona Hotel, gas station, The Pioneer History Village, Thomas Hill Studio, Wawona Stables, barn dancing, stagecoach rides, river walks, swim hole hikes and dips, waterfall access, golfing, a beautiful library, a laundry facility, (deep breath!) and the Mariposa Grove. Basically, you have access to all of these perks from your private home rental nestled in a historic, mountainous, small town inside a national park.
Access to the Mariposa Grove Shuttle from Wawona
If you’re a guest at The Redwoods, then you’re entitled to a free Mariposa Grove Shuttle from Wawona (park and ride at the Wawona General Store near the gas station) to the newly reopened Mariposa Grove Plaza, from where another quick 5 minute bus/shuttle takes you inside the giant sequoia grove.
Fall asleep underneath the Redwoods or lay on a meadow stargazing
There is nothing more serene than staying away from the city buzz, to fall asleep underneath a clear sky in the shade of the Redwoods. You can see just why Theodore Roosevelt had his breath taken away when he first arrived here. There is nothing like enjoying the early mornings, sunset, and evenings in the tranquility of Yosemite’s spectacular natural beauty, so grab the blanket and a picnic basket, and find your spot under Wawona’s starry skies this summer and fall!
Have we convinced you to plan your next stay within the Yosemite National Park?
All of our cozy Redwoods cabins and spacious vacation homes are located in Wawona, at the Southern entrance of Yosemite, just 6 miles from the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (don’t forget the free shuttle access). Relaxing and private, our fully equipped vacation homes and cabins border the wild and scenic South Fork of The Merced River, the Wawona swinging bridge and Chilnualna Falls (the second highest vertical drop waterfalls in Yosemite)! Our Event Center includes full use of the Fireside Room and adjacent deck, with an audio and visual equipment and a catering kitchen. Many of our cabins are pet friendly, some feature spa tubs, and all have private decks with BBQ’s and upgraded linens for that, “Home Away from Home” experience. Relax, explore, escape!
Text collaborator: Christina Kantzavelos, BuenQamino