Tuolumne Meadows, the high country of Yosemite National Park at just over 8,000 feet elevation, has a short season, limited by snow most of the year. Once opened June – September, the high alpine terrain gives visitors access to rivers, lakes, granite domes, and mountain peaks. The area is frequented each summer by traditional rock climbers, day hikers, backpackers, Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers, fly-fishers, Lake Tenaya boaters, and beachgoers.
Once Tuolumne Meadows opens each year, rewards await in this campground nestled in a Lodgepole Pine forest. The Tuolumne River runs adjacent to the campground and is a popular spot to sit with a book or go for a dip.
There is a small grocery store with basic food, ice, firewood, toiletries, paper goods, beer, and souvenirs. Next door is a grill for hamburgers and soft serve ice cream, and a post office where PCT thru-hikers can be seen retrieving their re-supply buckets.
Campground reservations can be made online for half of the sites at Tuolumne Meadows Campground. The other half are first-come, first-served.
The Meadows of Tuolumne are seen from Tioga Road and can be experienced by foot. An easy stroll, a flat 0.2 miles, leads to a Tuolumne River Bridge, Soda Springs (cold water bubbling from the ground), and the Pacific Crest Trail.
Lake Tenaya, “The Jewel of the High Country,” is central to the Tuolumne Meadows area. There are a couple of parking lots with restrooms and short paths to sandy shores of Lake Tenaya. Here, lake visitors paddle kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddle boards. Beach-goers enjoy the sand and take an occasional dip in the chilly lake water. For hikers, there is a flat, two and a half mile loop around the lake.
The Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center is a one room cabin-like building housing a ranger information desk, bookstore, and natural history exhibits. Junior Ranger workbooks can be picked up here, and rangers give educational talks about the area.
Yosemite Valley is about an hour and a half, and very curvy, drive to from Tuolumne Meadows. Something to note is that while Tuolumne Meadows can be busy, Yosemite Valley can be downright crowded. As a result, parking can be challenging. If you do find a parking place, leave your car in your spot and use the free shuttle bus to help you reach trailheads or popular viewing spots, like El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. Visiting Yosemite Valley is a bucket list experience. The granite rock formations are awe-inspiring and the waterfalls spectacular.