One of my absolute favorite places in the world is Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. It is less visited than the Valley but is a jewel along Highway 120. This alpine meadow at 8600 feet above sea level in the High Sierra is a place wide open and green, with views of the mighty Sierras, and calming to the soul.
Tuolumne Meadows, with the designated Wild and Scenic Tuolumne River running through it, is an area of scientific and hydrological importance. For starters, the Tuolumne River watershed is the source of drinking water for San Francisco. This mountain water is so clean, it requires minimal treatment to make it potable. In terms of biodiversity, there are a variety of different plant species, and one can watch changes in plant types as you move from wetter to drier areas within the meadows. The meadows are also home to a variety of animals. A family of black bears- a mama and her three cubs- were seen just a day or two before we got there. The girls were delighted to watch a multitude of deer in the meadows as we drove along Tioga Road back to our campsite. There are also many different rodent types, from squirrels to chipmunks to marmots.
There is much to do in the Tuolumne Meadows area. There are several short hikes that are perfect for kids, as well as access to the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails.
Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge- 1.5 miles round trip- The NPS site has this hike beginning at the Lembert Dome shuttle stop and walking along the gravel road and past the locked gate (signed Glen Aulin and Soda Springs). We did it ‘backwards’ starting just west of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, and crossing the bridge. The springs bubble up from the ground and are protected by a log enclosure. We have the problem of taking too long to complete the hike, as we tend to get distracted and end up playing in the icy river.
There are several domes that can be hiked in Tuolumne Meadows. Lembert Dome and Dog Dome are just two. We hiked Pothole Dome, west of the visitor center. It was a gentle smooth granite dome rising above the meadow that was relatively easy to climb, and perfect for our skill level -or lack thereof.
There are many more hikes ranging from the easy but long Lyell Canyon via John Muir Trail to the more arduous lakes trails. Full information can be found at nps.gov.
Some things to consider:
The Tioga Road is closed during the winter months due to snow and ice. Clearing typically begins in April with opening in late spring. Check current conditions when planning your visit.
The weather is cooler with the higher elevation, so I recommend bringing clothing items you can layer. I typically bring lightweight tops and a compressible down puffer jacket that I can unzip or remove as temps warm up.
Yosemite is home to a few hundred black bears. Follow proper food storage. For a day trip, keeping food out of sight in your locked vehicle is okay. If you’re camping, be sure to store your food and anything with a scent, such as soaps and toothpaste, in a bear locker or bear canister. Bears will go to great lengths to obtain delicious people food so these precautions are to our benefit as well as theirs.
The other important thing we can do to protect the bears and other wildlife is to observe posted the speed limits. The number of wildlife killed due to vehicle collisions increases during the popular summer months. Let’s do our part to protect the bears and ourselves by following posted traffic rules. Besides, it’s much harder to enjoy the national park experience if we’re rushing through it.
As mentioned in the previous post, Junior Ranger books are available at the visitor center. They’re no longer free; they’re $3.50 USD at time of posting. The badge is really cool though. It’s a wood badge rather than the plastic found at many other parks, and it also comes with a Junior Panger embroidered patch. We also earned a two other free patches. There is a Yosemite Legacy patch as well as the Preventive Search and Rescue patch kids (and adults!) can earn. Perhaps the coolest thing for us is that there’s a guest book that every junior ranger signs when they earn their badge. Emily and I found our signatures from when we earned our first Yosemite Junior Ranger badges during our visit in 2016. This time, Sami added her teeny-tiny signature to the book.
I hope that you’ll ‘follow me to Tuolumne’ and enjoy a day or few in Tuolumne Meadows. Happy trails!
For more information, visit the National Park Service website.
Most of the info in the post came from the ‘Welcome to Tuolumne’ ranger talk. Ranger talks are a great way to find out more about the park and its features. I definitely recommend making a talk part of your visit.