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Yosemite: Tuolumne Meadow to Tenaya Lake


Star Star Star Star Star

This 11.5-mile trip follows the Tuolumne river to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, then heads south through a quiet forest to Tenaya Lake.

Day 1 (~5.2 miles, -800 feet elevation)
We took the two-hour bus trip from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadow grocery store (~$14 for adults, ~$8 for kids).  We grabbed some last-minute supplies at the store and started the hike.

From the store, we hiked east along Tioga road for ~0.25 mile, then turned north on the 0.5 mile trail/gravel road to Soda Springs. 
From the open sky of Tuolumne Meadow and Soda Springs, we entered a sparsely populate forest of pine, walking through alternating patches of sun-drenched granite and moderate tree cover.  
Soon we joined the Tuolumne river on its journey toward Glen Aulin.  The scenery was amazing.  Our only regret here is that we didn't have a wide-angle lens for our camera.  From wide expanses where the river crosses an open granite field to small meadows full of bright green life, the views just kept getting better.  This was easily the most beautiful hike we've done in our (limited) hiking careers.

The last third of the day was headed down into Glen Aulin (which means beautiful canyon).  Passing two waterfalls, we enter into the High Sierra Camp and search out a spot to setup our tent.  At this campsite, we saw our first and only bear - a great experience for all of us! 

Day 2 (~5.5 miles +800 feet elevation gain)
After a night hanging out at Glen Aulin (including a marshmallow roast thanks to the Glen Aulin folks), we headed out the next day toward Cathedral Creek and Polly Dome Lakes.  
It was a relatively short hike to Cathedral Creek (through a pine forest) and we arrived with lots of extra energy, so decided to do the last few miles to Polly Dome (despite the ~800 foot elevation gain).  Along the hike, we encountered few others, and to our surprise, encountered a doe and speckled fawn, followed just a little while later by snow!  (it was July). 
Polly Dome Lakes is a series of small lakes / ponds.  It looks like they're mostly small stands of water that doesn't have anyplace else to go.  We spent ~45 minutes trying to find the biggest of the lakes (we'd read that it was a great place for the kids to play).  Unfortunately, we never found it (we don't have a GPS and this difficulty made a great argument for the expense).  Later, we ran into a family that spent a few nights there and had great reports (I guess we need to go back :).

Day 3, 4, and 5 (~0.5 miles, relatively flat)
We spent one night in a mosquito-infested spot at Polly Dome Lakes and decided to move on to find a better spot.

 A little over a mile from Tioga road, we found the best campsite of the trip!  Murphy's Creek flows from Polly Dome Lakes down to Tenaya lake and at this established campsite, it flows over the granite, creating lots of little (and a few big) pools, lots of swift-moving streams (6 inches deep and 6 inches wide).  It made a great spot for the kids to send boats shooting down the stream, to go swimming, and to relax.  The campsite was in a wide-open area, so keeping an eye on the kids was easy.  The only thing we didn't like about the site was that there wasn't much shade. 

We spent our last two nights at this spot.  The first full day there, we took a day hike to Tenaya Lake (where we built a sand castle) and caught the free bus to Tuolumne Meadow grocery store to grab some ice cream. 

The last day, we headed down to Tenaya Lake to eat our last backcountry meal, and wave down the bus to get back to Yosemite Valley (this trip cost a little less per person because it wasn't as far).

For our first big backcountry trip, we learned a lot: It is possible to feed our family for 5 days with only two bear kegs (we dehydrated a bunch of food in the months prior to our trip) It's also possible to pack out diapers.  Our youngest enjoyed learning to pee on a tree, but he still had plenty of diapers to pack out.  We stored them in the bear kegs, being sure to seal everything in plastic bags so it didn't come in contact with the food. We should have stayed two nights at Glen Aulin.  It would've lightened our packs a little for the 2nd half of the trip, not to mention the difficulty we had a Polly Dome Lakes The kids are great hikers!  Getting the kids on the trail leaves them only two options (go forward or go backward).  They did really well and when we they did get tired, we just stopped to take a break. A GPS would have helped tremendously (perhaps we'd have found that lake at Polly Dome)
Two sets of clothes for each person was maybe one outfit too many (I might have thought differently about this had we been caught in the rain).  This earth is amazing - at every turn, we were in awe. In the future, we'll probably look for ways to spend multiple nights in the same spot at the beginning of the trip (instead of like we did here at the end of the trip).  This would allow us to lighten our load a little earlier in the trip
We didn't weigh our packs and that was smart.  The few people we saw on the trail asked us and we're glad we didn't know :) Experiencing the outdoors with together was good for our family.
Some of our photos
A google map of our route

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