Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hike across Yosemite’s subalpine meadows

Lambert Dome rises over Tuolumne Meadows. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Topo map for Tuolumne Meadows-Soda Springs Trail.

Fast-moving river, soda springs, granite dome await on trail

A lush subalpine meadow, a soda springs, and fascinating granite formations await day hikers on the Tuolumne Meadows-Soda Springs Trail at Yosemite National Park.

Not the official name of the trail, the route runs about 2-miles round trip depending on how much exploring you do of the exposed rocks along the way. The hike can only be done in summer as the highway to reach the trail – the Tioga Road – closes November through May. Early summer marks the best time hike the trail as the meadow will be greener.

To reach the trailhead, from Yosemite Valley take Big Oak Flat Road northwest. In about 10 miles at Crane Flat, turn right/north onto Calif. Hwy. 120, aka Tioga Road. The meadow is another 40 miles away, so be prepared for a long albeit scenic drive. After passing Tenaya Lake, watch for the Tuolumne Visitor Center; just east of it is a park in pullout along the road’s north side. Park there.

You’re at about 8619 feet elevation. The trailhead is a wide gravel path heading northeast from the pullout's center into Tuolumne Meadows.

Tuolumne Meadows
Western white pine, mountain hemlock, and lodgepole pine punctuate the subalpine meadow that is lush with a variety of grasses. When snow melts in spring, the meltwater often floods the flatland, turning it into a lake.

To the trail’s northwest is the Tuolumne River, which begins as two streams, one flowing from Lyell Glacier and the other from Mount Lyell, the national park's highest point. The fast-moving river ultimately runs 149 miles out of the Sierra Nevada into California’s Central Valley.

Continuing up the trail, an exposed formation of ancient sits to the east. Footbridges then cross two streams, the latter of which is Unicorn Creek. Both flow into the river.

Next the trail crosses Tuolumne, which is full of riffles. A small dirt path runs along the river’s north shore, which you can take as a spur to get a closer look at the waterway.

The trail continues northeast, passing a road leading to Parsons Memorial Lodge. Briefly follow the dirt path along the road to Soda Springs, from which carbonated, cold water bubbles out of the ground. A log enclosure protects the spring.

Lembert Dome
Return to the main trail and go left/north. When the trail curves more easterly, it parallels the river’s north shore. Exposed granite appears with increasing abundance.

The trail soon passes a road heading north to Tuolumne Stable. Immediately past the junction sits a large set of exposed rocks on the path's north side that are fun to scramble over.

Lembert Dome looms to the east (John Muir called it Glacier Rock in his books), rising 290 feet above the meadow. The dome is absolutely gorgeous at sunset as the orange light reflects off its granite surface. It’s a good reason to stay overnight at the meadows.

After taking in an explore of the rocks, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.