Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley Trail

28.9 mi
1,625 ft
6,290 ft

Description

The trail from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley leads to the most iconic landmarks of Yosemite National Park: Tuolumne Pass, Nevada and Vernal Falls, Merced River, Liberty Cap, and Grizzly Peak, to name a few. It’s a fantastic way to get the experience of hiking in the heart of Yosemite and is suitable for all levels. Geologic highlights, majestic wildflowers, and plenty of breathtaking views of the world-famous meadows, mountains, rivers, and waterfalls are reasons that make this trail especially memorable. 

Itineraries

Directions to the trailhead

Geology and History

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park's geology is one of the major reasons the area was awarded its National Park status. Mostly, glaciation is responsible for the majority of the park’s geological wonders - was it not for this process, peaks, domes, waterfalls, and U-shaped canyons would never have been formed. 


The geology of Yosemite National Park cannot be described without having a look at the Sierra Nevada mountains. The beginning of the Sierra Nevada geological history is associated with the Triassic period and the formation of the area’s earliest granite. During the ‘Nevadan Orogeny’ metamorphic rocks were formed. In the Cretaceous period, magma emerged from the subduction process when an oceanic plate started to dive under the North American plate, and as a result, the Sierra Nevada batholith arose. Then came the glacier-related erosion during the Ice Age, when the characteristic U-shaped canyons were carved throughout the mountains. The Sierra Nevada continues to rise, and the process is accompanied by large earthquakes, such as the Lone Pine earthquake that took place in 1872. 


Yosemite's granite has always been massive, durable, and mostly non-layered, otherwise the valleys' cliffs and numerous high peaks wouldn't have been able to rise. Despite this single layer, the Yosemite granite is not monolithic (one solid rock) and is composed of numerous smaller bodies of granitic rock, fostering a huge variety of granite in the mountains. Metamorphic rocks also dot the area, mostly in the western foothills, but they are scarce and occupy less than 5% of the park. 

The park is home to two glaciers: the Lyell Glacier and Maclure Glacier. They are of paramount importance as the glaciers provide a cold water supply to the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River and the surrounding ecosystems. The Lyell Glacier sits just below Mount Lyell, the highest point of the park (topping out at 13,114 feet). For more information on Yosemite NP's geology, please visit the NPS' Geology page.

Permits and Fees

Permits

Yosemite National Park

Wilderness permits are required for backpacking and overnight stays (unless in frontcountry campgrounds or lodging facilities) and for day hikes to Half Dome.


Reservations are highly recommended as most trails are extremely popular and the number of issued permits is limited by quotas. 60 percent of permits are reservable and the remainder are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are not needed nor available from November through April. 


Wilderness Permit Reservations for Overnight Stays


Note: If your trip starts outside Yosemite and proceeds into Yosemite, you’ll only need a permit from the starting trailhead’s managing agency and it will cover your group once you enter the park.


Follow these steps to obtain a Yosemite permit reservation:

  1. Choose a starting trailhead for your hike. Check out the Yosemite Trailheads’ Map to find the exact name of your trailhead. If you want to know more, visit the Trailhead Information Page for additional information such as quotas, parking space, and more. 
  2. Check if there are any permits left for your starting date. The trailheads report shows the number of reservable spots for a certain date of entry into the wilderness. To see the list of dates, you’ll need to choose the region where your trailhead is located and then the trailhead itself. You’ll also see an option to hide all the fully-booked dates.
  3. Finally, apply for a permit reservation online. Permit applications open and are processed by lottery 24 weeks (169 days) prior to your starting date from mid-November through October. Check out the Wilderness Permits Reservation Window to find out the first date when you can apply for your permit. Reservations can be made closer to the start date (at least two days in advance), but it should be noted that trailheads (especially popular ones) will probably fill up on the first day reservations become available.


The information you need to know while filling out the application

  • Hike Start Date
  • Starting Trailhead Region
  • Starting Trailhead
  • 1st Night’s Camp Location
  • Group Size
  • Trip Leader Contact Information
  • Hike End Date
  • Ending Trailhead
  • Alternative trips (good to have at least one in case your first choice is full)
  • If you plan to hike to Half-Dome. If you have a backpacking trip in the vicinity of Half Dome, you can request a Half-Dome Permit in your Wilderness Permit Application. Also, if you start your trip outside of Yosemite, it won’t be valid for Half-Dome. 


The results of the lottery will be sent to you within one-two business days. If your reservation is confirmed, you will receive an email with a secure link to pay for your permit ($5 per person + $5 per transaction). Complete the payment within 48 hours after receiving the email to ensure your reservation. After you get a receipt, no further action is required. 


Modification and Cancellation

If you have a confirmed reservation but need to change your start date/trailhead/group size or add a Half-Dome Permit, you can request a change, provided there is space available, by filling out the 'Contact Wilderness Reservations' form. Start date or trailhead modification is free, and is also available by calling (209)372-0826. To cancel your reservation, use the same form as above. If you decide to cancel your reservation request before it was accepted, no fees will be charged.


You can also check out the ’Wilderness Permits’ page for frequently asked questions. 

For other types of permits, like commercial use, weddings, and research, please visit the ‘Permits & Reservations’ page.




Walk-Up Permits


COVID-19 Note: The following information is current but is subject to change depending on the COVID-19 situation.


You’ll need a walk-up permit during the non-quota period (November through April) or if you decided not to reserve a permit in advance. 


Permits are available at any wilderness permit station from 11 am the day before your trip begins. Choose the station which is the closest to your entry trailhead for a better chance to receive a permit, as priority is given to those locations. For popular trailheads, there is no chance to receive a permit other than at the closest permit station. 




John Muir Trail (JMT) Permits

If you are planning to hike the JMT in the southbound direction (exiting Yosemite over Donohue Pass), you should apply for a permit through the JMT Rolling Lottery Application. Due to the high demand and strict Donohue Pass exit quota, there is a rolling lottery in place.

Reservations via this form open 24 weeks before each start date and can be made from December through March. If you’re not exiting the park on the JMT or were unable to obtain a permit via the rolling lottery, apply for a permit using the general wilderness application.


The crucial difference between JMT permit applications and ordinary ones is that you can apply for a wider range of dates.


As part of the permit application you need to specify:


  • Start Date range. You may specify a range of up to 3 weeks (21 days) long. Your application will be enrolled in a lottery for each of these days until you, hopefully, are chosen for a permit.
  • Trip length
  • Entry and exit trailheads
  • First night's camp location.

 

The following options for entry trailheads are available:

  • Happy Isles –> Sunrise/Merced Lake (you should pass through Little Yosemite Valley)
  • Happy Isles –> Little Yosemite Valley
  • Glacier Point –> Little Yosemite Valley
  • Sunrise Lakes
  • Lyell Canyon


The Happy Isles trailhead is the most popular choice - it is the official Northern Terminus of the JMT. Note: 40% of the Lyell Canyon trailhead permits are saved for first-come, first-served walk-ins.


The rolling lottery application can be filled out here. You will receive daily updates on whether or not you were granted a permit. 




Half-Dome Day Hike Permits

Permits to climb Half-Dome Peak are required every day when the cables are up. Generally, they are up between the Friday before Memorial Day through early October, but those dates may be changed depending on current conditions.


The maximum number of hikers allowed on the Half Dome Trail is 300 (including 75 backpackers with wilderness permits). 


Covid-19 Note: 2021 has a limit of 200 people. 


If you are flexible on which days to hike Half Dome, check out the graphs showing the popularity of each day

Reservations can be made via Recreation.gov. There are two types of lottery that take place when reserving a permit. 


  1. Preseason Lottery: March 1-March 31; Results: mid-April. 
  2. Daily Lottery: submit your application two days prior to your starting date, from midnight to 1 pm Pacific Time. Later that day you will get the results of the lottery.


For more details on Half Dome Permits for Day Hikers, visit the Half-Dome Permit page. 




Pacific Crest Trail

PCT hikers with a long-distance permit do not need another permit to enter or camp within the Yosemite Wilderness while along the PCT. If planning on hiking and camping off the PCT a separate permit is needed. Separate permits are also needed to climb Half Dome or visit Yosemite Valley.


For PCT section hikers without the long-distance permit, you’ll need to apply for a general Yosemite wilderness permit. 

Fees

Yosemite National Park

Entrance Fees

Yosemite charges to enter the park - all entrance stations, aside from Hetch Hetchy, are open 24 hours a day.

 

Seven-day Passes

Yosemite doesn’t offer single day entrance passes, rather they have a pass that is valid for up to a week.  


$35 per vehicle: if you enter via a car, pickup truck, RV, or van with 15 or fewer passenger seats;

$30 per motorcycle;

$20 per person (aged 16 or older): if you enter on foot, via a bicycle, non-commercial bus, van with more than 15 passengers.


Yosemite Annual Pass

An annual pass costs $70.


It is recommended that you pay for passes in advance via Recreation.gov. You can also pay for them upon your arrival, but only credit cards are accepted.

For more information on fees and Free Entrance Days, please visit the Fees & Passes page.

America the Beautiful, Senior Passes, and Access Passes also are accepted. 

 

Wilderness Permits

General Permits and JMT Permits: $5 - confirmed reservations + $5 per person 


Half Dome Permits: when you submit an application, a fee of $10 is charged. When you are granted a reservation, an additional fee of $10/person is charged.

Rules and Regulations

Camping regulations

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite offers outstanding dispersed backcountry camping and operates multiple frontcountry campgrounds.


Dispersed Camping

Except for the five High Sierra Camps and the Little Yosemite Valley where you must camp at designated sites, you generally may camp anywhere in the park provided you follow the park regulations:

  • Hold a valid wilderness permit (please see the ‘Permit’ section for more information); 
  • Camp no less than four trail miles away from Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, Glacier Point, Hetch Hetchy, and Wawona;
  • Camp no less than one mile away from any road;
  • Camp no less than 100 ft away from any water source or trail; if there is no other choice and a well-established campsite exists, camping is permitted 25 feet or further from a water source or trail;
  • No camping along the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River;
  • In the Half Dome and Little Yosemite Valley, camp only in the Little Yosemite Valley Campground; or at least 2 miles beyond the Little Yosemite Valley Campground (at or beyond Moraine Dome or beyond the Half Dome/ John Muir Trail junction);
  • No camping in these areas: Parker Pass Creek watershed, Gaylor Creek watershed, Lukens Lake, Budd Creek watershed, the top of Half Dome, below the high water line at Lake Eleanor and Hetch Hetchy.


The Wilderness Trails Map indicates minimum camping distances from trails and points of interest (beyond the arrows dispersed camping is allowed).


You may stay in the park for up to 30 nights in a calendar year and up to 14 nights from May to September 15.


Max group size: 15; though that number drops to 8 people for any cross-country hiking when more than ¼ mile from any trail.


Visit the wilderness regulations’ page for more information. 


Campground Camping

There are 13 campgrounds in Yosemite National Park, seven of which can be reserved. Reservations are highly recommended from April through September. They can be difficult to get, so be sure to follow the guidelines. 


Reservations are accepted at the following campgrounds:

  • Yosemite Valley's car campgrounds - Upper, Lower, and North Pines, and Camp 4
  • Hodgdon Meadow
  • Crane Flat
  • Wawona
  • Tuolumne Meadows


Reservations become available in one month blocks (on the 15th of each month, at 7 am PST) and up to five months in advance.  For example, on January 15 reservations open for May 15 through June 14.

Note: reservations for May through September fill up in the first minutes and seconds they become available. 


Pro-tip: Start filling out the application on Recreation.gov before 7 am and set your clock accurately to submit it right at 7. Visit the How to Make a Campground Reservation page for a helpful walkthrough on how to do this.


If you have any questions, visit the Camping Reservations or FAQ page. 


Check-in and check-out time is 12 pm.


If you don’t have a reservation, try to get a spot at a first-come, first-served campground, though be aware they fill up early from spring through fall and winter holidays (usually by noon). 

Before heading out to a campground, always check campground opening and closing dates or call (209)372-0266.  For information on each campground and useful tips for visiting them, visit the Camping Without a Reservation page. 


Don’t forget about Leave No Trace principles, and please follow the area’s rules and regulations.

Parking Info

Yosemite National Park

Parking lots fill up especially quickly from spring through fall, especially around holidays and on weekends. Arrive early in the morning to find a parking spot. For detailed information on each entrance, please visit the Traffic in Yosemite National Park page. 


There is also excellent public transportation around Yosemite and is a great way to avoid the headache of searching for parking. 

Campfire Info

Yosemite National Park

Campfires are only allowed in existing fire rings. Use dead and downed wood only.


Campfires are prohibited:

  • At Lower Cathedral Lake;
  • Within a quarter of a mile of Kibbie Lake’s shoreline;
  • Above 9,600 feet in elevation.


Always check current fire restrictions before you go!

Bear canisters

Yosemite National Park

Bears are active in the area, and the use of bear-resistant food canisters is required.

Pack Animals and Pets

Yosemite National Park

Pets are forbidden everywhere except in developed areas, campgrounds, and fully paved roads, bicycle paths, and sidewalks. 

Stock is allowed. Stock limit: 25 head of stock. 

For regulations on horseback riding, please visit the Horseback Riding & Stock Use page.

Hunting Season Info

Yosemite National Park

Hunting is prohibited in Yosemite National Park.

Other Regulations

Yosemite National Park
  • Fishing is allowed, but it requires a license from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for those aged 16 and older.
  • Bicycles are only allowed on bike trails;
  • Don’t shortcut switchbacks to avoid further erosion and area degradation.
  • Pack animals (horses and mules) have the right of way on trails - please step off to the side to let them pass.

Seasons and Weather

Yosemite National Park

Recreation opportunities abound year-round. 


The best season to hike in Yosemite NP is from July to October, although it may be possible to start earlier at lower elevations and in years when the snowpack is lower. Summers in the Sierra Nevada are usually mild, dry, and sunny with an average high of 65-75°F. Temperatures at night can drop significantly and reach 40-45°F, and occasionally to near freezing in some sections. 


Thunderstorms are pretty typical along the trail so be sure to have your rain gear ready and plan your days to climb passes in the morning. Depending on the previous winter’s snowfall, some trails at higher elevations can be covered with the snow into early July and creek crossings can be challenging earlier in the season. 


Early autumn can see high temperatures dropping into the 50’s, with 20’s at night. Be prepared for snow at higher elevations starting from mid-September.


For winter recreation opportunities, go to the Visiting in Winter page.


For current weather and weather forecasts visit the Yosemite Weather Forecast Map.

Water Sources

Yosemite National Park

There are rivers, lakes, and streams galore in Yosemite National Park, so finding water is generally not an issue. However, dehydration can cause a lot of problems, so make sure you take plenty of water: at least four quarts of water (at least one gallon) per day for an adult or even more while doing a strenuous activity. Don’t drink untreated water! Always boil it for 3-5 minutes, filter with an approved device, and/or use water treatment tablets.

Animals and Plants

Yosemite National Park

With ecosystems ranging from chaparral to subalpine and alpine zones, it should not come as a surprise that Yosemite National Park supports many different flora and fauna - including over 400 vertebrate species and 1,450 native plants. 


Various elevations feature various vegetation - for example, while the low elevation areas feature manzanita, chamise, and blue oak, the subalpine zone is characterized by mountain hemlock, western white pine, and lodgepole pine. To see a more in-depth overview, please visit the Plants page on the Yosemite NP’s website. 


As for the wildlife, its diversity is attributed to the numerous intact wilderness areas of the park. Because the area goes mostly undisturbed, 40 species, including the Harlequin duck, Mount Lyell shrew, and Sierra Nevada mountain beaver, that are endangered or protected call the park home. Additionally, 90 species of mammals roam Yosemite: the Pacific Fisher, Sierra Nevada Red Fox, and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, to name just a few. Keep your eyes peeled for park inhabitants and you’re sure to notice a few of the countless critters! For more information on wildlife, please visit the Animals page on the Yosemite NP website.

Risks and Hazards

Yosemite National Park
  • If you see a black bear or mountain lion, stop, stay calm, and back away. Do not turn your back or run away. You need to look large and scary - stand tall, raise your arms, and make noise! Avoid sudden movements and screaming. If the animal attacks you - fight back and aim blows for their face. If needed, use your bear spray. 
  • Ticks are not uncommon. Consider wearing high-laced leather boots or heavy leggings and a long-sleeved shirt. If you can, do a tick check daily. 
  • In general, avoid high water and stay out of rivers and creeks. Avoid slippery rocks near rivers’ edges - the water here moves very fast, especially during snow melt. Every year unprepared visitors need rescuing.
  • Be prepared for high elevation and snow, altitude sickness and hypothermia are no joke. Stay warm and dry, bring extra clothes, and don’t forget to drink water.


There are a number of natural and traffic hazards that might occur. For such hazards management, please visit the Safety page.


You’ll also find great Hiking Safety and Climbing Safety pages compiled by NPS!

Gear and Skills

Yosemite National Park

Be prepared. Carry the ten essentials even on a short sightseeing hike. 


Always filter or purify found water. 


Remember about the potential for altitude sickness. Give your body time to make some physiological adjustments. To minimize the symptoms, drink plenty of water, don't skip meals, avoid alcohol, and rest enough.


You might need to give first aid, read a compass, or erect a temporary shelter in certain conditions. If you’re planning to undertake a strenuous hike, make sure you’re prepared physically before going on a trip. 


Use proper gear for low temperatures (ie. layers!) and potentially bring an ice axe if you want to go hiking in winter. Be extremely careful and consider taking these items: an ice axe, avalanche transceiver, probe, ski poles, portable shovel, and an avalanche cord. Take an avalanche safety course, study the terrain you're headed into, and know how to use your gear before heading into the snowy backcountry.


Please be aware that Navigation Systems and GPS may not be accurate in the mountains if they require a cell signal.

Contacts and Resources

Address

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center

Yosemite National Park Rd 

Yosemite Valley, CA 95389


Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Rd

CA 95321

For more addresses and information about Yosemite National Park offices, please visit the Wilderness Permit Stations page.


You’ll find directions to Yosemite NP on the Directions & Transportation page.

Resources

Park Closures

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is open day and night, year-round, with the exception of the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station that is closed during night hours. You’ll find current working hours of the Hetch Hetchy Entrance on the bottom of the ‘Permit Stations’ page.

Road Closures

Yosemite National Park

Some roads are closed seasonally due to snow. There are no specific dates for closures, but generally between November and late May-June they cannot be accessed. 


Tioga and Glacier Point Roads are generally the roads of the greatest interest to most visitors. On the Tioga and Glacier Point Roads Plowing Update page, you’ll find up-to-date information and answers to frequently asked questions. Historic Seasonal Opening and Closing Dates may also be helpful if you are planning a drive along the roads. 


If you are interested in alternate routes, the National Park Service prepared a list of driving directions for various locations


Planned road work may affect accessibility, more information is available on the Road Work in Yosemite page


For information on the current road status, please visit the Current Conditions page.

Temporary Closures

Yosemite National Park

The National Park Service has the Current Conditions page for Yosemite National Park where you’ll find information on temporary road/campground/trail closures and a list of other sources you may find useful. 


Whether the Half-Dome cables are up or down is also available on the Trails and Wilderness Conditions page.


The Wilderness Conditions Update page provides more information on general conditions in the park and whether wilderness centers are open. Visit the Campground Opening and Closing Dates page for the current campground status.


You’ll find opening dates for mountain passes around Yosemite and in the Sierra Nevada on the California Department of Transportation website.

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