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Yosemite Valley and Tioga Road

Through Yosemite National Park

Mileage119 miles (192 km)
DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.2 hours, 24 minutes
SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.Spring, Summer, and Fall
RoadwaysCalifornia Highways 120 and 41
Forest PassesSome of the adventures on this scenic drive require an admission fee that these passes cover. Please read the drive description for more information.America the Beautiful Annual Pass
ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.Oakhurst, CA, Ahwahnee, CA, Bass Lake, CA, Bass Lake Annex, CA, Coarsegold, CA, Fresno Crossing, CA, Yosemite Forks, CA, Fish Camp, CA, more...Incline Village, CA, Lee Vining, CA, Yosemite Village, CA, Yosemite West, CA, and June Lake Junction, CA
Rating
4.0 average from 62 votes
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Elevation Graph for Yosemite Valley and Tioga Road

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Some of California’s most spectacular scenery awaits you in Yosemite National Park. Thanks to the foresight of John Muir, today we can enjoy the park’s natural beauty. This drive travels from Yosemite National Park’s South Entrance, through Yosemite Valley, over Tioga Pass, California’s highest drivable pass, ending at the salt water Mono Lake, surrounded by tufa towers and mountain peaks.

Half Dome from Yosemite Valley.
Half Dome from Yosemite Valley.

The scenic drive begins in Oakhurst which you can reach by following CA-41 north or CA-49 south. As you continue heading north on CA-41 through the Sierra National Forest, you will enter Yosemite National Park in 15-miles.

After entering the park, the Mariposa Grove (H1) offers an opportunity to walk through giant Sequoia trees. With trunks over 10 feet in diameter and towering over 300 feet above, the grove features trees over 2,700 years old. Visit the famous Wawona Tunnel Tree which from 1881-1969 allowed wagons and cars to drive through.

Continuing north on CA-41, the drive meanders through the forest. In 17-miles, Glacier Point Road (T1) is on your right and is a worth, 15-mile side-trip. Shortly after turning on the road, you will pass Badger Pass, where during the winter, skiers enjoy the hillside. As you continue east, consider a hike to Taft Point (H2) and Sentinel Dome (H5) or head to the Glacier Point. All of these offer breathtaking, surreal views of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, several waterfalls, other granite domes, and mountains that surround Yosemite.

Back on CA-41, you will soon reach the Wawona Tunnel View which welcomes you to the Yosemite Valley with its amazing views of Sentinel Dome and Half Dome. Consider a hike to Bridalveil Falls (H3) which plunges more than 600 feet or El Capitan (H4), a giant, granite monolith reaching to a height of 3,593 feet high.

At the end of the Yosemite Valley loop, stop in the Yosemite Visitor Center (I1) for information about your stay. A 3/4-mile hike from the visitor center will bring you to North America’s highest waterfall, Yosemite Falls (H7). The 3-step waterfall drops a total of 2,425 feet into the valley.

From the visitor center, a shuttle brings you to the Happy Isle Nature Center (H11) which teaches about the area’s ecology and natural history. From here, there are a few trails that will bring you to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.

Heading west along the loop, Ribbon Falls (H6), features a 1,612-foot fall most of the year and dries up during the height of summer.

At the end of the loop, head north on Big Oak Road towards CA-120. If you were to head straight, you would follow the Merced River to Mariposa via the CA-140.

At the CA-120 intersection, both the Merced Grove (H9) and Tuolumne Grove (H8) feature forests of giant Sequoia trees which are less visited than the Mariposa Grove.

For this drive, head east on CA-120/Tioga Road. The road follows the twists and turns of the Sierra Nevada mountains, through the forests and then opens up for mountain views of Mount Clark and Mount Hoffman. You will soon pass Yosemite Creek where an easy to moderate 2.4 mile trail through pine forest leads to a bridge that crosses the creek.

At Olmsted Point (H10), stop for the panoramic view of Tenaya Canyon, Tenaya Lake, and many granite giant domes and mountains, including the back of Half Dome, Polly Dome, and Clouds Rest. This viewpoint is considered by many to be one of California’s finest.

Just up the road, Tenaya Lake (W1) is the perfect picnic stop. The lake is surrounded by a sandy beach and the granite domes. If you like rock climbing, the nearby domes here are very inviting.

In 8-miles, you will arrive in Tuolumne Meadows, believed to be one of the largest concentrations of granite in the world. By July, the meadows are filled by colorful wildflowers. The 2.3-mile hike to the jigsaw-puzzle-piece-shaped Elizabeth Lake (W2) at 9,500 feet is a moderately difficult hike that is very rewarding.

Continuing east on Tioga Road, you will have clear views of Lembert Dome, Mount Dana, and Mount Gibbs. Soon, you will reach Tioga Pass at 9,945 feet of elevation, making it California’s highest pass for cars, and you will soon leave Yosemite National Park.

Descending down the valley, you will pass Ellery Lake (W5) and head down the Lee Vining Canyon. At the end of Tioga Road, you reach US-395, where this drive continues north. Once in the town of Lee Vining, you can get information at the Lee Vining Forest Ranger Station (I2).

This drive ends at Mono Lake, a salt-water lake surrounded by volcanic hills and tufa formations created over its million of years of existence. The lake attracts several hundred species of birds. Eighty-five percent of the California gull population nests here in the spring. This makes it an ideal location for birding, picnicking, and swimming.

From here, consider heading south on US-395 to reach the June Lake Loop.

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