Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite National Park

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The trip over Tioga Pass Road is a lot less nerve-racking at night.  During the previous night’s journey through this area, it was pitch-black, and there was no way to see the steep drops just a few feet from the edge of the road.

The picture above looks east, back towards Mono Lake and Bodie.

There’s still plenty of mountain to climb, before reaching the pass, but already, you can find snow near the edge of the road.

Despite the rocky soil (not to mention the bitter cold elements), trees still find a way to thrive here.

Tioga Pass Road closes once the snow starts piling up.  Wondering when that will happen?  Back in 1944 the pass was open for only 69 days, the entire year.  The latest the road opened was July 8, and the latest it closed, was January 1st.

Ellery Lake

You reach Ellery Lake just a short distance before the entrance to Yosemite (at Tioga Pass).  The water is so cool and clear, you may be tempted to take a drink.  But you really should ask park rangers if that’s a good idea, before you try it.

Rte. 120 continues its steep climb uphill.

Tuolumne Meadows

Once back in the park, you’ll drive along past an impossibly clear blue stream.  Stop for a minute and take in the view, and a breath of thin mountain air.

Tioga Pass Road passes by several large, flat alpine meadows, collectively known as Tuolumne Meadows.  They come as quite a surprise, since you’d expect to be traveling past one rocky peak after another.

In early summer, the meadows high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains may be muddy or slightly flooded, as the deep winter snow melts. 

Lembert Dome

This is Lembert Dome, an easy to spot landmark along the highway.  If you’re ready to stretch your legs, and strain your lungs, try climbing to the peak (a trail leads around to the back of the mountain, then up the steep rock face).  Keep in mind, though, you’re at a very high altitude, and the air is quite thin.

Tenaya Lake

If climbing steep trails isn’t your thing, just continue driving. You’ll soon come upon Tenaya Lake, right at the edge of the road.  Tenaya Lake makes for a great picnic spot, but there’s no camping here.

Another shot of Tenaya Lake.


There’s no single picture that can truly capture the experience of standing at the edge of Tenaya Lake, but maybe this panorama will help.  Here, the problem isn’t knowing where to look to see something amazing, it’s trying to look everywhere at once.

Just west of Tenaya Lake, you’ll want to stop again at Olmsted Point.  It looks much different in daylight, than it did the previous night, just before sunset.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.

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