Tuolumne Meadows : The Other Side of Yosemite
We had a wild idea to try to get a campsite in Yosemite, on the Toulumne Meadows side of the park, despite the crazy "opening day" reservation craze. Yosemite rolls out their sites every few months and people snatch them up so quickly, often the same day, that it can be really difficult to reserve a site here. Kim decided to take a look at the reservations one night and there was somehow one lonely Saturday night that no one had claimed. She booked it, for about two weeks later, and we tried to convince ourselves we weren't crazy.
The drive to Yosemite is about 6 hours, including going through Los Angeles and Lancaster, and rolling up the beautiful highway 395. It's a long drive, but tends to be quite pretty and highway 395 is just fun to drive. We did the best we could with this one night reservation and the long drive, so we woke up at 4am to hit the road. We were well on our way by 4:30 and through the heaviest traffic of LA before the sun was even shining.
We had planned to do a couple of hikes, but with a 4am wake up and that long drive, we ran out of energy way before we expected. Luckily, we made the best of it, and made up our own agenda for the afternoon.
Tuolumne Meadows & Soda Springs
This is a short 1.5 mile flat meadow hike through some of the beautiful terrain that this place is known for. Views of Lembert Dome and Cathedral Peak and other large rock formations surround this area. We parked along the road and walked right to a trail which indicated Glen Aulin (an 11 mile hike, that is on our to-do list) and Soda Springs. The trails in this meadow are all interconnected for the most part, so it becomes a "create your own adventure" style of hike. We followed the large trail to a bridge, then to Parsons Lodge, and on to Soda Spring.
Soda Spring is a little log cabin, without a roof, that surrounds a Soda Spring. The ground here is marked by the minerals and lots of bubbling spots where the cold water bubbles out. The log cabin dates back to the late 1800's, and is assumed to have been built to protect this spring from livestock. It still stands, though showing some age, and contains one of the bigger bubbling spots. Many others are bubbling all around the cabin.
Tuolumne Meadows Campground
This campsite assigns your site upon arrival, so we weren't sure where we'd be staying until we were in our spot. A ranger in a little kiosk pointed us to the A loop and our site, and let us know we'd be right next to the river. We had a small area for parking our Subaru, but a pretty large campsite with a fire pit and picnic table. We were close to the restroom, but not so close to be annoyed by the noise. We had the woods on one side, and a river across the road, so it was a pretty great spot!
We camped in the Subaru on this trip. Mostly due to my fear of bears, but also due to the shortness of this trip. We wanted to have an easy sleeping option, and an early wake up the next day to hit the trails. We stopped at the little market near the campground and treated ourselves to some Mammoth Brewing beer and ice cream treats, nodded at all of the PCT hikers picking up their mail, and then went to hang out at our site for awhile. Ice cream, beer, and we had some quick coffee. That helped us recoup some of our energy to go back out exploring.
The Tuolumne River & Lyell Fork
Instead of driving off to find a trailhead, we left the campsite on foot and had another "create your own adventure" kind of hike. We followed the John Muir Trail for a short distance, but felt so drawn to the river, that we cut over to the fisherman paths. I had my tripod along, and an ND filter, so the clear water became a fun time of creating some slower exposures.
The water flowing through this river was the clearest and cleanest looking water. We saw several people swimming in this cold water, and we joined by wading in a small fork that we came upon. We jumped across a couple of smaller stream and got a little splashed, but made our way to a large boulder to enjoy for awhile. This area is exactly what I expected of this "other side" of Yosemite. Clear water, cool breezes, big rocks, and an absolutely stunning view no matter where I looked.
Dinner and Dreams
After playing alongside the river for a few hours, we were getting pretty hungry and ready to call it a night. Back at camp, we cooked up some chili and opened a couple crowlers of our favorite beers. (Gunwhale Ales in Costa Mesa - seriously tasty beers and a cozy little taproom!)
We left home without a can opener, and cans of chili for dinner... thankfully a well stocked #vanlifer was next door and helped us out with a can opener! We ate, drank, and sat under the stars for awhile, then curled up in our cozy Subaru. Early to rise the next morning and head out for Gaylor Lake!
Driving the Tioga Pass
The Tioga Pass isn't open for most of the year, but when it is, head up that road and see the beautiful surroundings. We found ourselves in awe of the Inyo Forest area on the outside of the National Park boundaries. The entire drive is just stunning.
Yosemite Valley can be such a crowded place in the summer. Tuolumne Meadows is a much less crowded option, and while it's a tad far from the valley highlights, it's a beautiful place. We drove through much of the area, and there are plenty of short and long hikes, climbing areas, and backcountry camping options. Not to mention, amazing views in every angle. No part of Yosemite National Park disappoints, and we're super happy that we've gotten to see both sides of this place. This one night quick trip will certainly not be the last - we were already planning the "next time" before we were even out of the park boundaries!