Driving Tioga Road in September
Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Road is an incredible drive. In fact, it is my favorite scenic drive. It offers the usual twists, turns and inclines of most mountain roads. But it also passes through a range of gorgeous landscapes.
This year, after an unusually heavy winter, the road was not open for unrestricted driving until July (vs. its usual May opening). In mid-September, I wandered into Yosemite National Park, entering via Wawona and Tunnel View. Eventually, I headed east on Highway 120, officially starting onto Tioga Road near Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance.
From this juncture outside of Yosemite Valley, the drive rises gradually from about 6,000 feet through pine trees, heading along Highway 120 toward Tioga Pass, which is roughly 50 miles away at almost 10,000 feet. The road itself winds through sheer granite cliffs, showcasing impressive craggy rock walls, trees erupting from the rocks and fantastic views.
There were even some wildflowers still lingering along the road.
An impressive stop is Olmsted Point, sitting at 7,500 feet. The trees, by this time, have diminished, and the impressive views of the granite rocks and mountains stretch in all directions. In the distance, you can even see Half Dome. The boulders are strewn everywhere.
That’s Half Dome in the Distance
At one parking area, there were some butterflies and bees who actually posed a bit for photographs. This delightful little butterfly is called a Great Spangled Fritillary.
Tenaya Lake is the next gem that surfaces along the road. Its sparkling blue waters are eye-catching.
My favorite stretch along this drive wanders along Toulumne Meadows. This wide expanse is a gentle dome-shaped, sub-alpine meadow, sitting at 8,619 feet. Its 39 inches of rain annually comes mainly in the form of snowfall. The spring is probably the most beautiful time of year to visit the meadows when there are marshes and wildflowers scattered across the area. I last drove this route in August 2017. But any time of year, the wide expanse is impressive.
Not far past Toulumne Meadows, the drive ascends to Tioga Pass, sitting at 9,945 feet. From there the road descends fairly quickly on a steep drop to the park entrance not far from U.S. Highway 395. Tioga Lake sits along this stretch of the route.
As Highway 120 nears Highway 395, the rocks take on a reddish hue indicating some iron must be in the rocks.
At the end of the drive, I settled in at a hotel in Bishop. I stopped at Erick Schat’s Bakkery in the morning before heading home.
It was a great drive!
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE DRIVE YOU’VE DISCOVERED IN YOUR TRAVELS?