There are plenty of places to hike in Yosemite that will leave you thoroughly exhausted. It’s nice to know that there are also some simple, family-friendly hikes that are not too steep and not too long, but still abound with natural beauty. One such option is the Soda Springs trail in Tuolumne Meadows. The spring is interesting, but the real attraction is the scenery you’ll enjoy along the way.
The Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite National Park is located along Tioga Road. If the road is closed for the winter/spring months, you will not be able to access the area. If Tioga Road is open (usually by May or later), watch for the Lembert Dome parking area in the middle of Tuolumne Meadows. Drive past it, towards the stables. Before you reach the stables, the road will make a sharp right curve, and there will be a gate straight ahead. Park along the road in this area. The trail begins at that gate. As an alternative, you can reach Soda Springs from the Tuolumne Meadows visitor center. Look for a trail on the opposite side of Tioga Road (near shuttle stop #6).
A short hike was just what I needed, to fill the time before sunset. I had plans to watch the day end at Pothole Dome — which proved to be an excellent spot. Tuolumne Meadows is book-ended by Pothole Dome and another, similar granite hill — Lembert Dome. And it didn’t take long after I began my hike to Soda Springs that I realized the springs aren’t the star of this trail, Lembert Dome is.
The trail begins at this sign, at a big curve on the road to Tuolumne Meadows’ stables. I parked at the side of the road and walked around that gate.
It takes a few minutes to get out of the trees, but once you do, you can turn around for a great view of Lembert Dome. It’s lit beautifully in the afternoon and evening.
As you get close to Soda Springs, the trail splits. It makes a loop around the springs, so you can’t go wrong. If you decide to follow the Glen Aulin trail, you’re in for a much longer hike. The Glen Aulin campsite is about 5.4 miles, Young Lakes is about 6 miles, and several other destinations are further out.
Soda Springs is a pretty spot, thanks to the extra splash of color added by the soggy ground. Water bubbles up here, and does indeed appear to be sparkling like soda water.
The spring is, or at one time was, protected by this shed. You can walk into it, and balance on rocks to avoid a wet foot. The water bubbles up out of the ground inside and outside of the old log cabin, and soaks the ground all around.
Just uphill from the spring, you’ll find Parsons Lodge. It was built in 1915 by the Sierra Club, as a memorial to an early Sierra Club guide, Edward Taylor Parsons.
The spring was nice, but I realized that the best photos in the area would likely be along the Tuolumne River, which runs nearby. So I walked down to it…
… and started looking for good reflections. This footbridge is quite picturesque. It’s part of a trail that runs across the meadow to the visitor center.
But the best photo spot I could find was just beyond the footbridge, where once again, Lembert Dome was looking quite beautiful. If you’re lucky, the lazy Tuolumne River will be still enough to provide a great reflection.
As sunset approached, I headed back to the car, on the same trail, then drove out to Pothole Dome for the final moments of the day.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a relatively easy, short, simple, and beautiful hike in the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite National Park, Soda Springs is a very good option. Hiking this area later in the day will give you stunning views of a beautifully-lit Lembert Dome.
Here’s a look at the time-lapse drive from Lee Vining, up Tioga Pass, and through Tuolumne Meadows: