Day Hikes Day Hiking Yosemite National Parks Yosemite Itineraries Yosemite National Park

10 Great Day Hikes off Tioga Pass and HWY 120 Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite

Tuolumne River Yosemite National Park
Written by Charlie Pankey

10 Best Day Hikes from Tioga Pass and Yosemite National Park Hwy 120

Visiting Tuolumne Meadows or Yosemite Via Tioga Pass These 10 Great Day Hikes are Recommended Adventures

It is a celebrated moment in time each year when the Eastern Access Point to Yosemite National Park is open for traffic over Tioga Pass. For us this means that some of our favorite day trip hiking is now only two hours from our front door.

So for this list we will not try to rank the best ever hikes, but instead our 10 favorite hikes we have done off Tioga Pass and the Tuolumne Meadows region of Yosemite.

20 Lakes Basin

shamrock Lake- 20 lakes basin

The 20 Lakes Basin is incredibly beautiful set of lakes is situated just outside of the Yosemite Gates in the Hoover Wilderness. The entire trail is located above 10,000 ft and visitors can take their choice of routes, lakes and climbs. Mountain Fishing, Backpacking, Kayaking, & Climbing are all popular day time activities for this chain of lakes. Feature Lakes include Greenback lake, Saddlebag Lake, Stealhead and Shamrock Lakes.

Cathedral Lakes

Lower Cathedral Lake Yosemite National Park
Cathedral Peak and Upper Cathedral Lake

Want to experience the Yosemite High Country with a rather short hike? Yosemite’s Cathedral Lakes are a crowd favorite (you will not be alone) for a reason. Stunning lakes draped by the peaks and domes of the Cathedral range.

May Lake & Mt. Hoffman

May Lake spring Thaw
May Lake spring Thaw

This short climb hike takes you up to the base of Mt Hoffman and May Lake Recreation area. Mt. Hoffman at 10,860 ft. is on of the most popular peak climbs in Yosemite and May Lake is a stunning area for a summer day in Yosemite.

North Dome & Indian Rock

Possibly our favorite view of Half Dome is from straight across the canyon on North Dome. North Dome provides a spectacular view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the Yosemite High Country. Along the trail make sure you Climb up to Indian Rock. This Arch is an iconic symbol in Yosemite and provides its own unique view of Yosemite.

The Tuolumne River Falls – White Cascade, Tuolumne Falls & California Falls

Out of Tuolumne Meadows follow the Tuolumne River down stream to a series of spectacular cascades and waterfalls near Glen Aulin High Camp. This hike is a down hill hike on the way out with all the work on the trail saved for your trip back. Well worth the 6 plus mile trek out of the meadow as you visit pristine river valley features, panoramic views and then in the last two miles, visit some of the most stunning water features in all of Yosemite. No they are not as grand as the Valley floor falls, but in our opinion maybe just as spectacular an experience.

Gaylor & Granite Lakes

Yosemite National Parks Granite Lake
Yosemite National Parks Granite Lake

Probably the least visited of all the hike son this list. Not because of its lack of beauty, but because it has little shade and the trailhead is right at the gate. Which from experience was just a hard place to stop normally. It took me years to discover this gem of a hike. Like traditional Yosemite hikes your first mile is straight up hill and a bit strenuous, but the reward of this lake basin is well worth the effort. Vista views of MT. Dana and Parker Pass region, plus once at the lakes area panoramic views of the Cathedral Range. Granite Lakes back along the Mountain is a spectacular hidden gem.

Dog Lake and Lembert Dome

dog lake yosemite
dog lake yosemite

Dog Lake is another of those least visited lakes in Yosemite. Still inside the no Camping Zone, this lake can be accessed both from the Lembert Dome Trail, The Tuolumne Meadow and The Dog Lake Trail which also is the access to Youngs Lake, (Not on this list as I consider it a backpacking lake at 7.5 miles) I like this trail from the Dog Lake Trail Parking lot covering Lembert Dome on the way, option to make this a loop trail and travel back down to the meadow and walk the highway back to the car.

Elizabeth Lake

Elizabeth Lake – Yosemite National Park

A popular easy day hike from Tuolumne Meadow is Elizabeth Lake. This mountain lake sits at the base of Unicorn Peak in the Cathedral Range and is set at the edge of an alpine meadow. Great for afternoon fishing, hammocks, swimming etc. Climb the ridges to see spectacular vista views of Yosemite back country.

Sunrise Lakes and Clouds Rest

Sunrise Lakes Yosemite National Park
Sunrise Lakes in Yosemite national park

Ready for a workout? Ok, we note that many people do this route because this is Clouds Rest we are talking about. Maybe the single most spectacular view in all of Yosemite. However we would argue from a day hike perspective, the Sunrise Lakes is also a great location to enjoy a relatively peaceful day in Yosemite with few visitors. Since most head on up to Clouds Rest, many just don’t bother with these three lakes. Maybe because the 1200 ft climb in less than a mile has something to do with it. They call it “The Wall” I guess you could say all good things are earned in Yosemite. Along the route are several unique and awesome views of Half Dome not often seen in pictures. Early season this is also features a stream crossing just out of the parking lot as the water flows from Tenaya Lake

Soda Springs, Parsons Lodge and Tuolumne Meadow

Looking for an easy stroll through the meadow and along the river. Park you car at take a walk to Soda springs and Parsons lodge. Early season remember the mosquito spray, but the wildlife in the meadow is well worth the visit.

Tenaya Lake, Olmsted Point, Polly Dome Lakes

Tenaya lake Pano - Yosemite National park
Tenaya lake Pano – Yosemite National park

Ok make this one a choose your own adventure day. Personally I probably just bring the hammock and chill at the lake all day. But from here you can Hike up to Olmsted Point, May Lake, Over to Polly Domes Lakes, Sunrise Lakes plus several other adventure trails back up towards Tuolumne meadows. When people ask me what to do in Yosemite if they only have a day and long hikes are not their thing. I tell them to come to Tenaya Lake, take a swim and go see the view from Olmsted Point. This is a cant miss day in Yosemite.

Now obviously on this list I missed probably 30-50 other adventures from this highway that could and maybe should be done. Climbers would tell me I have driven past some of the best off road climbing areas, and they would be right. Fisherman are just happy I didn’t highlight their favorite fishing holes and backpackers are chuckling as they know the real beauty of Yosemite lies just beyond all the Day Hikers. But there you have it. I day hike Yosemite 5-6 times a year and from Tioga Pass these are my favorite Day adventures to date!

Hope you enjoy your visit to Yosemite National Park and a little bit of the life in the High Country.

About the author

Charlie Pankey

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