Manuel Sulzer/Getty Images

Tioga Pass

This is your ticket to Yosemite National Park's majestic granite peaks, cobalt lakes, and unsurpassed alpine scenery

Start:Yosemite Valley
End:Lee Vining
1 - 3Days,11Stops,84Miles
Yosemite Valley
James O'Neil/Getty Images
Crane Flat Gas Station
Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias
Javen Lin/Getty Images
White Wolf Lodge
Danita Delimont/Alamy
May Lake & Mount Hoffmann
E+/Getty Images
May Lake High Sierra Camp
E+/Getty Images
Olmsted Point
Ji-fang Zhang/Getty Images
Tenaya Lake
Tom Grubbe/Getty Images
Tuolumne Meadows
Ron and Patty Thomas/Getty Images
Tuolumne Meadows Grill & Store
Westend61/Getty Images
Lee Vining
Kevin Delgado/Getty Images
Stop 1

Yosemite Valley

9035 Village Dr, Yosemite Valley

Seven miles long and one mile across at its widest, Yosemite Valley is a mélange of sheer granite cliffs, plunging waterfalls, and verdant meadows bisected by the clear Merced River. The Valley’s world-famous sites include Yosemite Falls—the tallest free-leaping waterfall in North America—which drops in a foaming torrent of three tiers totaling a prodigious 2,425 feet, or nearly a half-mile of vertical whitewater. There’s also iconic Half Dome, Yosemite’s most recognizable chunk of granite. With three smooth, rounded sides and one sheer vertical face, the dome’s bald pate appears as if it’s been sheared in half. The towering monolith of El Capitan rises 3,593 feet above the Valley floor as “the largest single piece of granite rock on earth,” an irresistible challenge to daredevil rock climbers. Yosemite Valley also has man-made majesty, as seen in the National Historic Landmark Majestic Yosemite Hotel. This 1930s architectural gem is adorned with massive hand-stenciled timber beams, sandstone fireplaces, and intricate stained-glass windows.

Stop 3

Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias

Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, Yosemite Valley

One of three giant sequoia groves in Yosemite National Park, the Tuolumne Grove is accessible from Tioga Pass Road’s west end via a one-mile downhill hike on an old paved road. (Be sure to save some energy for the uphill return.) About 25 mature giant sequoias thrive in the grove, and they’re surrounded by a shady canopy of incense-cedars, dogwoods, and sugar pines. These ancient botanical giants are a must-see attraction for Yosemite visitors traveling Tioga Pass Road. Beef up your Instagram account with a few photos of the Dead Giant, a 25-foot-tall sequoia stump with a large tunnel you can walk through. The stump was tunneled in 1878 so that wagons, and later automobiles, could drive through. For quiet, tree-inspired solitude, visit early in the morning, or even better, show up in winter and snowshoe into the grove to see the giant sequoias crowned in snow. (Unlike most destinations on Tioga Pass Road, Tuolumne Grove is accessible year-round.)

Stop 5

May Lake & Mount Hoffmann

Mount Hoffmann, Yosemite Valley

Get a taste for Yosemite’s high country on this easy hike off Tioga Pass Road. Even young children can walk the 1.2 miles to May Lake, a granite-ringed alpine lake cupped in a perfect cirque at 9,300 feet in elevation. The trail begins at Snow Flat, 12 miles west of Tuolumne Meadows, and makes a quick ascent through lodgepole pines to the lake’s azure shores, tucked in below 10,850-foot Mount Hoffmann. The white tents of May Lake High Sierra Camp—a wonderfully rustic lodging with bunks, meals, and showers—are perched on May Lake’s southern shore. The water is bitterly cold for swimming, but you’ll want to stick your toes in anyway, then bask in the alpine sunshine. Want to see more of this grand Sierra high country? Follow the trail along the northwest shore to Mount Hoffmann’s summit.It’s a steep tromp that gains 1,500 feet in two more miles, but it offers an astounding payoff.

Stop 7

Olmsted Point

Olmsted Point, Yosemite Valley

Nothing can prepare you for the superb scenery at Yosemite’s Olmsted Point. Anchored by Half Dome’s distinct profile, this astonishing panorama of the Sierra crest encompasses a banquet of ancient granite that’s been chiseled and etched by glaciers. The gray bulk of 9,931-foot Clouds Rest and the skyscraping walls of Tenaya Canyon are in full view, plus dozens more famous Yosemite landmarks. You can drive right up to this amazing vista point—it’s just a few miles west of Tuolumne Meadows on Tioga Pass Road—but be sure to get out of your car. Walk the quarter-mile-long interpretive trail over glacier-polished slabs. Olmsted Point was named for Frederick Law Olmsted, one of Yosemite’s first preservationists and the landscape architect who designed New York’s Central Park, and also his son, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., who worked as a planner in Yosemite National Park.

Plan your visit

Stop 8

Tenaya Lake

Visitor Center Dr, Lee Vining

One of Tioga Pass Road’s loveliest attractions lies only a few feet from the pavement six miles west of Tuolumne Meadows. Glittering Tenaya Lake fills a granite-backed basin, its sapphire waters lapping near the highway’s edge for nearly a mile. Park your car on the east end of the 150-acre lake and take a stroll down to its white-sand beach. The water is icy cold for swimming, but the beach offers a perfect vantage point for watching rock climbers inch their way up neighboring granite domes. (The Yosemite Mountaineering School offers daily lessons and guided climbs for all ability levels.)

Plan your visit

Stop 9

Tuolumne Meadows

7943 Willow St, Wawona

One of the most photographed regions of Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows is a wide, grassy expanse bounded by high granite domes and peaks. At elevation 8,600 feet, this pristine meadow extends for more than two miles along the Tuolumne River, making it the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada. From its tranquil edges, hiking trails lead in all directions—to the alpine lakes set below the spires of Cathedral and Unicorn Peaks and to a series of roaring waterfalls on the Tuolumne River. The meadow’s small visitor center, housed in a historic cabin, features exhibits that focus on the area's geology, wildflowers, and wildlife. (Note the access to Tuolumne is limited; roads generally close due to snow mid-November to June.)

Plan your visit

Stop 11

Lee Vining

Lee Vining

Waiting at the eastern end of Yosemite’s spine-tingling Tioga Pass Road drive is the sagebrush-bound village of Lee Vining, northern gateway to the Eastern Sierra. With a population of less than 8,000 year-round residents, the town has exactly what a Yosemite traveler needs—a passel of motels, restaurants, gas stations, and shops. It’s also home to spectacular Mono Lake, an ancient saline lake that’s a magnet for photographers and nature lovers and a major stop for migrating birds. The Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center, perched on a hill high above the lake, is a great stop for recreation information. In the middle of downtown, the Mono Lake Committee’s Information Center and Bookstore stocks an impressive selection of hard-to-find books about Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra and offers information on Mono Lake’s unique features and history. Next door, the Latte Da Coffee Café serves top-notch espresso (and it tastes even better from a seat in the flower-filled back garden). For lunch, dinner, and live music, head to the Whoa Nellie Deli, tucked inside the Tioga Gas Mart.

 

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Road Trip Snapshot

Learn more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

STOP 1Yosemite Valley
9035 Village Dr, Yosemite Valley
STOP 3Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias
Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, Yosemite Valley
STOP 5May Lake & Mount Hoffmann
Mount Hoffmann, Yosemite Valley
SPOTLIGHTMay Lake High Sierra Camp
May Lake, Yosemite Valley
    STOP 7Olmsted Point
    Olmsted Point, Yosemite Valley
    • Olmsted Pointhttps://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/viewpoints.htm
    STOP 8Tenaya Lake
    Visitor Center Dr, Lee Vining
    • Tenaya Lakehttps://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/lakes.htm
    STOP 9Tuolumne Meadows
    7943 Willow St, Wawona
    STOP 11Lee Vining
    Lee Vining

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