Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows: A Reason for Every Season

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Yosemite presents a lush surprise. A lovely, subalpine meadow, stacked with multiple domes in a variety of sizes, and adorned with lovely spring and summer wildflowers, Tuolumne Meadows beckons visitors to explore its breathtaking landscape, season after season. Leisurely hikes, strenuous technical climbs, and lazy picnics amid exquisite wild blooms at 8,600 feet are the order of the day in summer. Winter adventures make for surreal serenity across the crisp fields of white topped with bright blue skies.

The Tuolumne River eases through the green meadow clumps in summer, and white blankets in winter. The river transforms from broad, fast ribbons of spring runoff, to sultry, curvy traces winding their way toward August. Runoff delivers enough depth to transform Tuolumne from meadow to lake. Snow fields persist for much of the year in the surrounding high country peaks, continuing to feed the green carpet below as snowmelt tumbles toward Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

The start of many of Yosemite’s backpacking routes, Tuolumne Meadows serves both the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, with starting points for Elizabeth, Cathedral, Gaylor and Mono Lakes. Lembert Dome, Lyell Canyon, and the John Muir trail also launch from Tuolumne.

Winter cross country ski trips snake up from Yosemite Valley along Snow Creek Trail toward the Meadows on Tioga Road, with skiers often finding comfort in the wood burning stove and bunk beds in the old Visitor Center. Popular with winter visitors, it is like a game of musical chairs, with the last ones arriving to find bodies on every bunk. It’s best to be prepared to snow camp on this Yosemite winter adventure. Most who come to Tuolumne Meadows for the snow are equipped with enough supplies to max out the two-week Yosemite wilderness pass.

Throughout Tuolumne’s summer campgrounds, 304 sites accommodate a variety of camp styles, from RVs and horse trailers to backpacking in simple tents, all with fire rings for a crackling evening blaze and picnic tables for outdoor feasts. Tuolumne Dining Hall provides a la carte breakfasts, substantial dinners, and box lunches to take away, making this the ideal base camp for many summer adventures. Safe drinking water, bear lockers, flush toilets, showers, a grocer, and dump stations provide all the necessary elements for comfortable, hassle-free camping.