Destination Yosemite: Adventure Abounds in Tuolumne High Country

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The summer season may be winding down, but we're still yearning for more sun-kissed mountain time. Fortunately one of the best times to visit Yosemite National Park, specifically the higher elevations of the Tuolumne Meadows area, is post-Labor Day, when daytime weather remains warm and pleasant yet the summertime crowds have thinned.


Whether you enjoy scenic lakeside lounging, meditative meadow walks, climbing heavily-featured granite or descending glacier carved canyons, late summer and early fall in Tuolumne provides the perfect mountain playground. And did we mention that booking a campsite at the Tuolumne Meadows Campground becomes exponentially easier post Labor Day? Just make sure to get on it soon, as there's no telling when the next early season storm will drop a blanket of white stuff, limiting access until next year.

Tuolumne Meadows

One of the largest meadows in the Sierra Nevada and the main access point for exploring much of Yosemite’s higher elevations. Surrounded by striking granite formations, sharp peaks, pinnacles, and massive granite domes, Tuolumne Meadows offers a comforting swath of level terrain with a rugged backdrop. 

Inside Tip: Due to winter snowfall, Highway 120 is typically only open from May to November, limiting car-access to the meadow much of the year. 

Cathedral Lakes Trail

One of the most popular day hikes in the Tuolumne Meadows area, Cathedral Lakes explores some of the grandest glacially-carved terrain in the Yosemite high country. An 8-mile round-trip hike visits the shores of both Lower and Upper Cathedral Lakes and passes through splendid alpine scenery including the shapely granite pinnacles that form Cathedral Peak.

Inside Tip: Tack on another mile round trip from Upper Cathedral Lake to reach Cathedral Pass for an even better view. 

Lembert Dome Loop

Wondering where to get an elevated view of Tuolumne Meadows and the surrounding area? Look no further than the summit of the granite monolith of Lembert Dome. Rising 800 feet above the eastern edge of the meadow, Lembert Dome affords some of the best Panaromic views that Tuolumne Meadows has to offer.

Inside Tip: Climb up Lembert Dome's back side for an exhilirating workout. When you've made it to the top, descend by retracing your steps back to the dirt trail and return to the loop, taking a right back at the junction. 

Soda Springs

f you are looking for a nice walk to soak in the grandeur of Tuolumne Meadows, look no further than Soda Springs. This naturally-carbonated cold water source bubbles right out of the ground next to the Tuolumne River in the heart of Tuolumne Meadows. While the springs are interesting (the largest enclosed by a log structure), the peaceful setting alongside the Tuolumne River and the picturesque views of the Cathedral Range that include Cathedral Peak and the surrounding granite domes are really what accentuate this short hike. A beautifully constructed bridge spans the Tuolumne River near the springs. 

Inside Tip: Reach Soda Springs and Parsons Memorial Lodge from either the Lembert Dome/Stables Road or from a trail leading out from Highway 120.   

Tenaya Lake

Lying at 8,150 feet, Tenaya Lake is a beautiful alpine lake popular with summer swimmers and outdoor enthusiasts that sits between Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley. Nestled below Tenaya Peak and surrounded by multiple glacially-shaped domes, Tenaya Lake is set in stunning scenery. 

Inside Tip: Like Tenaya Canyon below it, Tenaya Lake is named after Chief Tenaya of the Ahwahnechee people, who inhabited much of Yosemite before their forced relocation in the 1850s.

Cathedral Peak, Southeast Buttress

Cathedral Peak (10,912') is one of the best beginner alpine climbs in the country. It is a priceless trip that culminates in a very dramatic summit needle that offers a complete panorama of beautiful wilderness. The climbing is fun and easy to protect, the rock is grippy and features cool knobs (consistent with the Tuolumne formations), and the approach is mild enough to make this alpine route fairly accessible. 

Inside Tip: Those afraid of heights, need not apply. 

Matthes Crest

Matthes Crest is a 1-mile, fifth-class ridge traverse in the High Sierra of Yosemite National Park's Tuolumne Meadows. This route is one of a kind, and it features wild movements, breathtaking views, incredible exposure, and excellent rock quality. It's undoubtedly one of the best traverse routes of it's kind in the United States. 

Inside Tip:This is a serious, but feasible, undertaking for beginning climbers. If you are relatively new to fifth-class traversing, simul-climbing, and downclimbing, get a really early start, and bring a lot of water, food, and sunscreen!

Vogelsang Peak

Vogelsang Peak in Yosemite National Park offers some of the most spectacular views from any point in the park. Named after Charles A. Vogelsang, the executive officer of the California State Board of Fish and Game around 1900, the peak reaches 11,516 feet in elevation. 

Inside Tipetting to the peak calls for scrambling over large, uneven rocks, but the trip does not require any gear. You can make it to the top and back in a day hike, but getting to the camp at the base will take a day as well. It is best to attempt this hike as part of a longer trip along the John Muir Trail, such as the hike from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley. 

Tenaya Canyon Descent

This feature often does not get the attention it deserves. Although not as famous as Yosemite's granite formations, the glacially-carved and water-eroded terrain of Tenaya Canyon is the underbelly that connects the floor of Yosemite Valley to the high country by way of Tenaya Creek. 

Inside Tip: Flash floods can happen at a moments notice and pose a risk in Tenaya Canyon. Take caution and travel prepared by understanding the weather forecast and having an escape plan in place should you encounter 

Tuolumne Meadows Campground

ar and away the largest campground in Yosemite National Park, Tuolumne Meadows Campground offers excellent access to a variety of hikes, lakes, and some of the most remarkable viewpoints in the Tuolumne Meadows area. 

Inside Tip: Take the popular trail to the famous Elizabeth Lake, which beckons with serene waters. Otherwise, embark upon the John Muir Trail, which leaves right from the campground and leads to the Cathedral Lakes, Cathedral Peak, and other sights.

Please be responsible and practice Leave no Trace principles when out and about so everyone can enjoy these beautiful natural places the way they're intended to be.