Tioga Pass Road (Route 120): A Beautiful Summer Road Trip

Visiting Yosemite in the summer brings about flowing waterfalls, beautiful views, lush meadows and some of the best hiking the United States has to offer. While the valley is where the main attractions are, a lot can be said for the often overlooked beauty of the road that leads from Mammoth into the valley know as Tioga Pass.

During the winter, this road gets snowed in and is not passable, but during the summer its 45 mile length provides an adventure all on its own. Traveling this highway will take you from the base of Yosemite at 4,000 feet of elevation all the way up and over the pass the road is named for at around 10,000 feet of elevation. These changes provide for beautiful views and vistas so make sure you take your time and to be able to pull out when the road shows you something beautiful, which is often. Below are some of my favorite stops.

Olmsted Point

This pull out is about 20 miles from Yosemite Valley and is called Olmsted Point. It provides an incredible vista of the surrounding area which is covered in sparse trees and granite.

You can scramble up a small rock and even see views of Half Dome far in the distance from the backside, as well as a lot of the backcountry Yosemite wilderness only accessible by walking.

Tuolumne Meadows

This lush meadow stretches for as far as the eye can see and literally jumps out at you after a bend in the road, which had up until this point been nothing but forest. It is often so green and beautiful that you won’t have a choice but to stop and take pictures. The meadows also have a small hotel and a lot of camping if you want to spend a couple of days there hiking and fishing.

Lembert Dome

On the East side of Tulamee Meadows, there is a dome much like Half Dome but much smaller in size. This provides a stark contrast with the unique earth tones of the meadows and the grays of the granite dome. Accessible via a moderately easy hike, this dome offers vistas of the meadows below.

Tenaya Lake

As you make your way from Olmsted Point, you will immediately notice Tenaya Lake appearing in the distance. This high altitude lake is dotted with campsites along its shores, and you can see why. It is utterly breathtaking and provides an almost serene and relaxing retreat that you would not expect to see so close to civilization.

During the summer months when it is hot, the water is refreshing enough to take a dip in, fish at or paddle a kayak over.

Tioga Pass

The pass itself is the official entry point to Yosemite from the east side. If you are entering from here, you will need to pay the park fee but just for a day driving Tioga Pass alone, it is worth it. This is also the highest point on this road and here you will be close to 10,000 feet.

Ellery Lake

Right before you start your steep descent into the Mammoth area there is one last beautiful lake you can turn out at. This lake allows you to spend some time walking around or just to sit and think about the amazing experience and beauty you just drove through.

This was my first trip through the pass and I couldn’t recommend it more. It is a beautiful way to experience the wilderness even while driving. While it was out of my way, I felt it was worth it for the amazing picture of what the mostly untouched areas of California have to offer. Check it out if this sounds like something you would enjoy, but make sure to take your time, you will want to.

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  • Wow – beautiful photos! I’d love to take this trek with my boys one day.