Tuolumne Meadows Hiking

7 Best Tuolumne Meadows Hikes in Yosemite National Park

It’s no secret that in order to really see Yosemite National Park that you have to get off the beaten path, and there are a ton of Tuolumne Meadows hikes that provide you many opportunities to do so.  While there is a lot of things do in Tuolumne Meadows (without venturing far from Tioga Pass, the main road through this part of Yosemite) without even leaving your car, we’re confident that you’ll love the hiking in this wonderful, relatively isolated part of Yosemite National Park.

Tuolumne Meadows on Yosemite National Park

yosemite national park itinerary
The best activities in Yosemite National Park, the best hiking trails (in ranked order), packing list essentials, what to see nearby, campground information and where to stay while you are in the park are included in our downloadable itinerary for Yosemite National Park.

Tuolumne Meadows Trail Map

Tuolumne Meadows map, courtesy of the National Park Service

If you are interested in hiking in Tuolumne Meadows, there are a ton of trails to choose from for all skill levels.  You really can’t go wrong with any of the hikes, but here are the ones that we recommend the most frequently whenever we’re asked.


Soda springs trail map

Soda Springs / Parsons Memorial Lodge Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service

Parson's Memorial Lodge in Yosemite National Park

Parsons Memorial Lodge, courtesy of Gowittylb

The Soda Springs / Parsons Memorial Lodge Trail is easily one of the most popular Tuolumne Meadows hikes.  Not only is the hike easy to get to, it is also not difficult and very suitable for hikers of all skill levels.  This 1.5-mile round-trip hike only has a small amount of elevation gain (such that you may not even notice the slight inclines while hiking).  

The trail heads along the Tuolumne River for most of the way before coming to a small log enclosure.  Here you’ll find water bubbling out of the ground. There are a few theories out there, but the most prevalent one is that the bubbles are carbon dioxide coming out of solution.  This carbon dioxide is the result of limestone reacting with volcanic acid creating carbonic acid.  

The carbonic acid is very soluble in water.  The carbonic acid creates carbon dioxide, which remains in solution with the water under underground, where the pressure is high.  As the water approaches the surface (and the pressure drops), the carbon dioxide comes out of solution in the form of bubbles. The phenomenon is exactly what is seen when the top of a bottle of soda is removed.

Just past Soda Springs is the Parsons Memorial Lodge.  This stone building was built by the Sierra Club in 1915 as a base to help protect the local lands.  The lodge is used today as a meeting house for historical talks that inform visitors about the local history.  Talks are typically in the early afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays in the summer.

It is at this point that most hikers turn around and head back to the trailhead.  This pleasant walk is great for families in particular, as it has both great scenery and an interesting destination that your kids will be talking about for quite some time.

The trailhead starts at the Lembert Dome Picnic Area (shuttle stop #4), about 1.3 miles east of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. 

Hike Option: The trail continues to the south, crossing the Tuolumne Meadows Footbridge.  This part of the hike extends the adventure by another 1.0-mile (round trip) and continues to the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center.



Dog Lake Trail map

Dog Lake Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service
Dog Lake in Yosemite National Park
Dog Lake, courtesy of Supercarwaar


Another great hike for families is the Dog Lake Trail.  While a bit more of a challenge and longer than the Soda Springs / Parsons Memorial Lodge Trail, it is very doable in less than two hours.  The 3.6-mile round-trip hike climbs slightly over 600 feet.

Most of the elevation gain occurs in the first mile of the hike, with the remainder of the trek being mostly flat.  After the hike out, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful view of Dog Lake. You’ll love taking in the view and just enjoying the scenery.

Dog Lake is a relatively small lake and is at an elevation of just over 9,000 feet.  It is quite cold, so if you are considering a swim, you’ll need to be mentally prepared for quite a shock!

The trailhead starts at the Lyell Canyon trailhead (shuttle stop #2), about 2.1 miles east of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. 

Hike Option: Once you arrive at Dog Lake, continue hiking around the lake. This turns the hike into a 5.0-mile hike, but it is a good way to get away from any remaining people that are hanging around Gog Lake. Be sure to bring bug spray, as the lake area can get quite buggy.


Gaylor Lakes Map in Yosemite National Park

Gaylor Lakes Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service

The Gaylor Lakes trail is a relatively easy hike that is also a great choice for families.  The 2.0-mile round trip hike climbs approximately 400 feet, but provides fantastic views. It is on the eastern side of the Tioga Pass, making it a great first hike if you are entering the park from the Mono Lake area to the east.

After arriving at Gaylor Lake, the trail then heads to the north following a creek that connects both Gaylor Lake and Upper Gaylor Lake with Gaylor Peak just off to the east.

The trailhead starts just west of the Tioga Pass entrance station, or about 8.3 miles east of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. 


Lembert dome trail map in Yosemite National Park

Lembert Dome Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service

Lembert Dome in Yosemite National Park

Lembert Dome, courtesy of Stan Shebs

The Lembert Dome trail is a moderately difficult hike that is suitable for most skill levels, provided you are willing to take a few breaks if you get too tired. This 3.8-mile round trip hike climbs just over 900 feet.

Starting off as the same hike as the Dog Lake Trail, this trail splits off to the east at the 0.9-mile point and continues to the peak.  The Lembert Dome is a bare rock dome, which overlooks Tuolumne Meadows from a view over 800 feet in elevation above the surrounding area.  This dome has also been known as Glacier Rock and Soda Springs, but has taken its permanent namesake after Jean Baptiste Lembert, a homesteader in the 1800’s.

From the peak of Lembert Dome, you can get a terrific view of the meadow and Cathedral Lake (more details on Cathedral Lake below).

Once you reach the peak, you have to return 1-mile down the same path, and then return to the parking area.

The trailhead starts at the Lembert Dome Picnic Area (shuttle stop #4), about 1.3 miles east of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. 

Hike Option: After coming down from the peak, continue on the Pacific Crest Trail back to the parking lot.  




Cathedral lakes trail map in Yosemite National Park

Cathedral Lake Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service

Cathedral lake in Yosemite National Park

View of Upper Cathedral Lake, courtesy of Steve Dunleavy

Increasing the difficulty and length a bit, the Cathedral Lakes Trail is a moderately-challenging hike.  At 8.5-miles round trip, this hike will take you the better part of the day (be sure to leave at least before noon, even if you are in really good shape). The hike climbs nearly approximately 1,500 feet, with the steepest elevation gain occurring between mile 1.5 and 2.  

The trail meets up with and becomes the John Muir trail shortly after departing the parking area.  Along the way, you’ll be able to see the Cathedral Peak for much of the hike. However, the main highlight of the hike is the view of the Cathedral Lakes, which has Cathedral Peak as the backdrop.

The lakes area incredible.  Sitting on their shores while you teak a break and refuel is truly an incredible experience.

The trailhead starts at the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead (shuttle stop #7), about 0.6 miles west of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center.


Lyell Canyon Trail Map in Yosemite National Park

Lyell Canyon Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service

Lyell Canyon in Yosemite National Park

Lyell Canyon Trail, courtesy of Kaitymh

The Lyell Canyon Trail is a moderately challenging hike, but only because of the length, not the elevation gain.  At 8.0-miles round trip, the hike will take some time, but since the elevation gain is only about 200 feet, you’ll progress quite rapidly.

Along this trail you’ll have a view of the Lyell Meadow along with the Canyon, which has quite the view.  Be advised that there are a couple river crossings, and one of them is without a bridge. Be prepared for this, especially in the early spring when the snow is melting rapidly.

The trailhead starts at the Lyell Canyon trailhead (shuttle stop #2), about 2.1 miles east of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. 

Hike Option: One option is to continue on the trail as an overnight backpacker and do the and Vogelsang Loop, which will take you over 20 miles.


Glen Aulin Trail map

Glen Aulin Trail map, courtesy of the National Park Service

Glen Aulin Trail in Yosemite National Park

Glen Aulin Trail, courtesy of Mountain Majesty

The Glen Aulin Trail is fairly long, but the elevation gain is relatively shallow at only approximately 200 feet over the duration of this 12.0-mile, round-trip trail.  Leading through a valley in the Tuolumne Meadows, this beautiful hike ends at the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, which is along the Pacific Crest Trail. This camp is a great place to stay the night, but you have to have reservations which can be challenging to come by if you don’t plan well in advance.  

The view up to the camp is one of the best in the park, and if you end up getting here toward the evening, you’ll get some great photos.  The camp (and part of the trail) is along the Tuolumne River.

The trailhead starts at the Lembert Dome Picnic Area (shuttle stop #4), about 1.3 miles east of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center.


We’ve mentioned the shuttle bus a few times.  The Tuolumne Meadows shuttle bus is a super-convenient way of traveling around the Tuolumne Meadows area in the summer.    With 12 stops along the Tioga Road, you can visit most of where you want to go including Tenaya Lake and the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center.

There is a fee for the shuttle.  For information, see the Yosemite National Park Tuolumne Meadows shuttle bus website.  Here you’ll find current information about the shuttle to help you plan your visit.




  • Be sure to bring with you plenty of water and food on your hikes.  Dehydration at this altitude is a real threat.  
  • We highly recommend bringing a good bug spray when hiking in Yosemite and the Tuolumne Meadows in general.  Here is a bug spray that we recommend.


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Amy and Pete from Just Go Travel Studios

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About Just Go Travel Studios

We are Amy & Pete Brahan. Very simply, we are passionate about our National Parks and Public Lands and explore them with our three kids whenever we can.

As much as we enjoy traveling, we also love sharing our knowledge and helping others create everlasting memories through our custom-made travel posters, downloadable travel itineraries and detailed blog articles.

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