It’s hard to find a quiet spot in one of the United States’ most attended natural attractions, but the Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park is likely your best bet if you plan on visiting Yosemite. Though closed in the winter (and frequently in the early spring and late fall, depending on snowfall), the Tuolumne Meadows area is truly a special place where you’ll find great hiking, wildflower-filled fields, peaceful streams, secluded lakes and maybe even a bit of quiet in this otherwise densely populated park.
While Tuolumne Meadows isn’t exactly in the center of Yosemite National Park and takes a little work to get to, it’s definitely worth the effort for those willing to spend the time driving here. We highly recommend spending at least several hours driving through, but really think you’ll enjoy spending the better part of a day here or more!
Things to do in Yosemite National Park, including the best hikes (in ranked order), what to pack, what to see in the area, information on camping and where to stay while you are in the park, download our itinerary for Yosemite National Park.
Tuolumne Meadows map, courtesy of the National Park Service
While in Tuolumne Meadows, here are a few things to do that we recommend:
TUOLUMNE MEADOWS HIKES
As you can probably imagine, hiking in Tuolumne Meadows is truly amazing. Not only is the scenery incredible, while you are here you won’t have to contend with the same crowds that you do in other parts of Yosemite National Park. That is not to say that you won’t have people around, but it will certainly be less crowded than Yosemite Valley!
Some of the best day hikes in Tuolumne Meadows include the following:
- The Cathedral Lakes Trail is a moderate, 8.5-mile round trip hike that starts at shuttle stop #7. The initial incline is quite steep, with most of the elevation gain occurring in the first half-mile after getting on the John Muir Trail and between miles 1.5 to 2.0. The trail includes amazing views of Cathedral Peak which provides a wonderful backdrop to the lakes. The entire hike is beautiful, but the main attraction are the lakes at the end. Though not necessarily easy enough for kids, this is a great trail if you have the time and are willing to climb the ~1,500 feet.
View of Upper Cathedral Lake, courtesy of Steve Dunleavy
- The Lembert Dome Trail is a moderate, 3.8-mile loop that climbs a total of 921 feet that starts at shuttle stop #2. This trail shares the same start as the Dog Lake Trail, but veers off to the east at the 0.9 mi point. Continue 1 mile to the peak and return via the same trail or continue in a loop along the Pacific Crest Trail back to the parking lot. From the peak of Lembert Dome there is a great view of the meadow and Cathedral Lake.
Lembert Dome, courtesy of Stan Shebs
- The Elizabeth Lake Trail is a 4.9-mile, round-trip that climbs a total of 843 feet and starts at shuttle stop #5 from campground loop “B.” The hike gains elevation steadily for the first mile before easing up on the incline for the remainder of the hike. This trail is very picturesque and offers great views of Unicorn Peak behind Elizabeth Lake. You can cut the hike short by 1-mile by not trekking around the lake at the end.
- The Gaylor Lakes Trail is a short 2.0-mile, round-trip hike that only climbs about 400 feet and starts close to the Tioga Pass entrance station on the east side of Tioga Pass Road. The hike provides great views of the Sierras before arriving at Gayor Lakes. This hike can be extended up to 3.5 mi total if you continue to the next peak.
- The Dog Lake Trail is a great day-hike for young families. It is an easy, 3.6-mile round trip hike that climbs slightly over 600 feet and starts at shuttle stop #2. This trail provides wonderful views of Dog Lake, which is a very calm and peaceful getaway. The trail is mostly flat, but with the elevation gain happening in the first mile of the trip. The trip can be extended to also hike around Dog Lake, which would be a total of 5.0 miles. Bring bug spray!
Dog Lake, courtesy of Supercarwaar
- The easiest hike in the area, and one of the most popular, is the Soda Springs / Parsons Memorial Lodge Trail. This easy 1.5-mile round-trip hike that starts at shuttle stop #4 and has nearly no elevation gain. Take the trail along the Tuolumne River to a small log enclosure which has bubbling water coming out of the ground. You can continue on the trail to the Tuolumne Visitor Center, which adds approximately 1-mile (round-trip) to the hike. While this is one of the easiest trails in the park and a great stroll, some of the previously mentioned hikes are more impressive and rewarding if you are up for them!
There are few things in the world as breathtaking as mountain lakes, and Tenaya Lake is one that you absolutely don’t want to miss. Located just 7 miles west of Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, Tenaya Lake is easily accessible from Tioga Road. The lake is nearly a half-mile long and about 1000 feet across at the widest point.
Since Tenaya Lake was formed by glaciers, the lake has wonderful backdrops of granite peaks, which makes for some amazing photos, particularly in the early morning or evening light.
Tenaya Lake, courtesy of John Graham
Fishing is allowed in Tenaya Lake (with a valid California fishing license), as is kayaking and canoeing. Another good option to consider is Tioga Lake, which is located on the east end of the Tioga Road. While not quite as picturesque as Tenaya Lake, this lake is nearly the same size and quite beautiful.
TUOLUMNE MEADOWS WEBCAM
If you’d like to see the current conditions of Tuolumne Meadows, check out the Tuolumne Meadows webcam. This is only operational in the summertime, but it will give you an idea of what to expect in the area.
Tuolumne Meadows Webcam, courtesy of Yosemite Hospitality
TUOLUMNE MEADOWS VISITOR CENTER
The Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center is located on the eastern half of the Tioga Road, right in the heart of the Tuolumne Meadows. As with all park visitor centers, this is a great place to talk to park rangers about what’s happening in the area, trail conditions and check out the exhibits. Here, rangers also occasionally host talks and also have maps and area specific information.
There are also restrooms located at the Visitor Center.
TUOLUMNE MEADOWS SHUTTLE BUS
The Tuolumne Meadows shuttle bus is operational in the summer (though be advised there have been summers when the shuttle has not run at all). It stops 12 times and includes most of the major stops along the Tioga Road, including Tenaya Lake, Olmstead Point and the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center.
The shuttle is not free, but it is reasonably priced considering the convenience that it offers hikers and backpackers, as well as those that don’t want to have to worry about being able to grab a parking spot during busy times of the year.
For further information (including the latest fees), check the Yosemite National Park Tuolumne Meadows shuttle bus website, which provides up-to-date information about the status of the shuttle.
TUOLUMNE MEADOWS LODGING
The Tuolumne Meadows Lodge is the only non-camping option in Tuolumne Meadows. However, it is a bit of a rustic experience, as the lodging consists of canvas tents built around metal frames. If you know what to expect, it is still a nice place to make as your home base while you explore Tuolumne Meadows.
Each cabin doesn’t have its own shower or bathroom, instead there are centrally located showers and restrooms. This lodge is in high demand, so reservations for Tuolumne Meadows Lodge are highly recommended well in advance of your planned visit. Rooms are typically full for the summertime early in the year.
The Tuolumne Meadows Lodge is located just east of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center on the Tioga Road.
TUOLUMNE MEADOWS CAMPING
Camping in Tuolumne Meadows is very peaceful, especially in relation to the crowded Yosemite Valley. There are 304 campsites at the Tuolumne Meadows Campground. There are both tent and RV sites, but no hookups. Showers are located in the Yosemite Valley, so plan on not showering daily if you stay here!
The Tuolumne Meadows Campground is located about 90 minutes from the Yosemite Valley, and click here for directions from the Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows Campground.
Reservations are available and recommended, and can be found here. Reservations are not accepted at about half the sites, so even without a reservation you can stop in and see if they have availability. Porcupine Flat Campground, White Wolf Campground and the Yosemite Creek Campground are also available along the Tioga Pass Road to the west.
OTHER TIPS WHEN VISITING TUOLUMNE MEADOWS
- It may not be intuitive, but the Tuolumne Meadows elevation is over 8,000 feet. This means that the sun will be a bit stronger and you’ll need to make sure you stay well hydrated. You also should expect to take a few more breaks while hiking.
- The bugs in Tuolumne Meadows tend to be worse than the rest of Yosemite National Park. Be sure to bring bug spray!
FURTHER INFORMATION ON YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- What to do in Yosemite National Park, including where to stay and what to pack, is covered in our extensive guide for Yosemite National Park.
- Make sure you take the time to send us a photo when you get back so we can work with you to create a vintage-style travel posters from your own photo!
OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION ON TUOLUMNE MEADOWS AND THE SURROUNDING AREA
- To the west of Tuolumne Meadows at the end of the Tioga Road in Lee Vining is Mono Lake. This lake has a very interesting story and is absolutely beautiful to visit. Michael Frye has several great posts on landscape photography at Mono Lake. You have to check out his amazing resources, both about Mono Lake and Yosemite.
- Allison (from “She Dreams of Alpine”) has a great article on the 21 best hikes in Yosemite National Park.
- Nearby Yosemite National Park is Devils Postpile National Monument. This little known attraction is a great place to visit. To learn more, check out the article that Diana and Bruce (from “Mojo Traveler”) wrote on Devils Postpile National Monument.