Hiking in Yosemite National Park in California.

Yosemite National Park: A Day on Tioga Road

On our second day in Yosemite, we decided to avoid the crowds and go explore Tioga Road.  This road is open from roughly late-May to November, and has  the  highest-altitude highway pass in CA (9,943 ft). While it doesn’t have the wow factor of Yosemite Valley, there is still plenty to keep everyone happy. And it looks quite different than much of California.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Our morning started way too early when my alarm accidentally went off at 5:20am (oops).  Fortunately, we were able to go back to sleep for a bit longer.  Once we got up for real, we made breakfast, then started driving to the park.


After spending the previous day in the Yosemite Valley, this time we opted to continue on Highway 120 to Tioga Road.  There weren’t a lot of stops in the beginning, but it was still pretty and we pulled into a few turnouts.

We intentionally skipped the Tuolumne Grove, which is supposed to have a nice sequoia grove, but requires a fairly steep 2 hour round-trip hike.  Since we have been to both the Sequoia National Park, Muir Woods National Monument, and redwood groves in Northern California, the sequoia grove wasn’t a priority for us.

Olmsted Point

Our first real stop was at Olmsted Point. It wasn’t too long of a stop, but has a nice view of Half Dome.


The boys loved scrambling on the rocks and the signs helped us give them a lesson on glacier melt.

Questions: Why were the rocks completely smooth?  Why were there random deep cracks?  Why were there gigantic boulders sitting in places where they really shouldn’t be?


Answer: The sliding glacier polished the rocks, the freeze and thaw in the cracks made them  bigger each year, and when the glacier melted, rocks that were in the middle of it were dropped in crazy locations.

Tenaya Lake – Small Side Beach

Next, we stopped at Tenaya Lake.  We found a parking spot near a small beach on the west side and let the kids play for quite a while.


John found a gigantic stick, more of a log, that reminded me of a sea monster and he had tons of fun sitting on it and swimming with it.  The kids also like scrambling around on the boulders.

It was a bit early for lunch, but the boys seemed hungry, so we made some sandwiches.


Tuolumne Meadows

After playing on the shore a bit more, we decided to continue to Tuolumne Meadows. This beautiful area of the park is under snow much of the year, and it mostly open for a 2.5 month window (mid-July to late September). We stopped the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center to see what our best options for short hikes were.  When James heard about the “Soda Springs,” where he could taste water bubbling up from the ground, there was no turning back.


Since parking at the Visitor’s Center was limited to 30 minutes, we moved the car a little down the road and started the walk through the meadow.


We ducked into the “Parson’s Lodge”, where a park ranger gave us a bit of history.


Then we continued to the Soda Springs, but forgot to take pictures.


While the water was technically supposed to be clean, they warned of potential human or animal containments, so we limited the boys to one small taste each, hoping we wouldn’t have to deal with bathroom problems later.


On the way back, we stopped at a stream where the boys took off their shoes and planned to walk to a small island.


At first they thought the problem would be the frigid water, but in the end, it was the sharp rocks that made them turn back.


John was super excited when a small fish swam by and lamented his lack of a net to try and catch it.

Tioga Pass Entrance

We continued back to the car, then continued driving to the Tioga Pass entrance.  We briefly considered hiking a bit, but the ranger said that the trail was quite steep.  The 10,000ft elevation was getting to us a bit, so we decided to just look around and skip the hiking.

From there, we turned around on the road – though if we had kept going, we would have descended down the Sierras to Lake Mono. There were plenty of real hikes that we could have done along the way back, but honestly we were a little tired from the altitude and the weekend, and just having fun doing what we were doing. We did stop at the shop in Tuolumne Meadows on the way back to pick up some ice cream.

Tenaya Lake – Main Beach

On the way back we stopped again at Tenaya Lake, but this time at the main beach area on the east side.


There was a lot of sand and a nice area for swimming.  The boys said this was their favorite swimming spot of the day.  John spend a lot of time turning a huge piece of driftwood into a kayak and a smaller one into a paddle.  So much fun!


By late afternoon, everyone was pretty tired, so we decided to head back to our cabin in Buck Meadows, about 45 minutes outside the park. All-in-all, a great weekend!

Keep reading our travel blog for more National Park ideas:

More from Adventures of the 4 JLs!

More in California

National Parks in the USA:

National Parks around the World

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