Tahoe to Yosemite Trail
The Tahoe to Yosemite Trail ends at Tuolumne Meadows. I never understood that. At Tuolumne Meadows we are sitting atop the great drop down a vast carved granite bowl to Yosemite Valley. End the Tahoe to Yosemite in Tuolumne Meadows? Hardly!
We are going to drop like a bomb down to the Valley after enjoying two nights resting, recovering, and recreating in Tuolumne Meadows. Thus we are going to transition off the end of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail onto the John Muir Trail, but running down the South flank of the Cathedral Range down to Yosemite Valley.
Rather than joining the typical flow of Southbound John Muir Trail hikers who have just finished undergoing the brutal "transformation through fire" of beginning their epic journey with the very difficult hike out of the low elevation heat of the Valley up to the chill environment of Tuolumne Meadows. Hiking out of the Valley is a hard starting point, especially if your're out of shape, so be ready for the climb.
But not us. We've already hiked down from Meeks Bay, and are contemplating the logistics of weaving in a hike down to Yosemite Valley on our way South to Whitney.
But we are only marginally concerned with this climb we will be making when we depart the Valley, because right now we are concerned with laying out the best topo hiking trail maps of Tuolumne Meadows focusing on how to best tie together the junctions of Tahoe to Yosemite, Pacific Crest, and John Muir Trails to run us down to the Valley and back to the Crest again.
This means we are concerned with the trails over the Cathedral Range and back again. Our route "over" will be by hiking past the Cathedral Lakes through Cathedral Pass on our "backwards" John Muir Trail route down into the Valley.
Our return trip will start by retracing our route back up the John Muir Trail, but only as far as Little Yosemite Valley. From there we will break off the John Muir Trail to follow the Merced River up to Merced Lake. A bit East of Merced Lake we're going to re-cross the Cathedral Range via Vogelsang High Sierra Camp to put ourselves back onto the John Muir Trail in Lyell Canyon about 5.6 miles South of Tuolumne Meadows Post Office
If you follow our route to the edge of the map above you can click the label for the next map to continue. The bottom of this Tuolumne Meadows Trail Map leads to the next trail map of Yosemite Valley. Each of these custom Yosemite Trail Maps are much more than just abstract representations. The vast majority of the red dots on the map are linked to the trail guide entry for that position. These have views of the surrounding terrain and topography, samples of the typical hikers, backpackers, and professionals we meet on the trail, and even videos.
But first, before beginning this fine leg of our journey down to the start point of the legendary John Muir Trail, we are going to stop, relax, soak in, and enjoy the fine environment at Tuolumne Meadows for a while.
Representatives of the whole world come through Tuolumne Meadows, so I'm going to observe and talk to as many of them as possible. Then we are going to hike down into Yosemite Valley for a visit before we return to the Southbound John Muir Trail in Lyell Canyon via Merced Lake and Voglesang Pass.
Tuolumne Meadows History
Tuolumne Meadows Resupply
Our Topo hiking map above, and our collection of Yosemite hiking maps don't just cover the high points along the John Muir, Tahoe to Yosemite and Pacific Crest Trails, which we do. But my hope is to put these fantastic trails into a wide enough context that first draws you out to explore the backbone of the Sierra Crest, then into all the nooks and crannies wedged in along its fantastic flanks between Tahoe and Whitney. Central Yosemite from Tuolumne Meadows down into the center of the rock heart of Yosemite Valley is just such a place.
This is a special place because the granite rising from the 4000 foot floor of Yosemite Valley is atypical of the granite distribution along the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. The granite rising out of Yosemite is more typical of the granite at the top of the range than at 4000 feet. Most locations at 4000 feet are rolling and rising scrubby foothills with maybe some Ponderosa Pine, and only a few knobby random granite outcroppings indicative of the great granite topping the range.
The Emigrant Wilderness has a larger sweep of granite down the West Flank than the range to its North, and the Sierra to the South of Yosemite. The granites of Emigrant's West Flank run down to 6000 feet at Pinecrest Lake, with a finger of Cherry Creek's granite valley reaching down to Cherry Lake at 4000 feet of elevation.
The massive granite drainage of the Merced River flows (flies?) into Yosemite's 4000 foot Valley Floor surrounded by thousands of feet of near vertical granite walls. This valley would be remarkable at any altitude, but being floored at 4000 feet, having a huge vein of vast granites running fully exposed all the way down off the 11, 000 foot crestline to 4000 feet is unprecedented.
That's why this Trail Map of Tuolumne Meadows follows the JMT over the Cathedrals via Cathedral Lakes and Pass, then traces out the end of our route reconnecting with the JMT via Vogelsang on our way back.
Tahoe to Whitney Route
We have two fundamental trail options hiking South from Tuolumne Meadows. We can either break off our line hiking down the Sierra Crest to drop down the John Muir Trail "backwards" into the Yosemite Valley ("finish" the TYT in the Valley?), or end the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail by picking up the Southbound route of the combined John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails heading South down Lyell Canyon, essentially continuing our Tahoe to Whitney hike down the Sierra Crestline.
I currently prefer hiking off the Sierra Crest down into the Yosemite Valley as part of what I call hiking the "Golden Triangle" route through the heart of Yosemite: Tuolumne Meadows down to the Valley, hang out and have fun in the classic beauty and historic juxtaposition of peace and chaos that is Yosemite Valley.
Then we're gonna hike back up the Merced River past the JMT turn at Little Yosemite to hike over Voglesang Pass climbing out of the Merced River Canyon a bit East of Merced Lake. We will get back onto the JMT just a few miles (5.6) South of Tuolumne Meadows in Lyell Canyon.
We could hike North from Voglesang High Sierra Camp through Tuolumne Pass for the hike back down to Tuolumne Meadows, where we could also continue our hike South on the JMT down Lyell Canyon.
The Big Turn
However you cut it, the map above shows the beginning and end of the Golden Triangle Route, the end of the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, and the classic route of the John Muir Trail over the Cathedral Range via Cathedral Pass, where our trail begins bending to the East on its way down to Tuolumne Meadows, where the JMT completes its turn from Northeast to Southeast entering Lyell Canyon.
On its Left side (West) we can see where we begin following the JMT Southwest up through Cathedral Pass and down past Matthes Crest on our way down to Yosemite Valley.
On the Right side (East) of the map we can see where our trail up from Merced Lake reaches Voglesang High Sierra Camp for the drop down into Lyell Canyon past Evelyn Lake.
Though we've hiked down to the Valley and back, we're only a few miles South of Tuolumne Meadows. That's been good enough for me so far, but next time I'll likely through I'll hike back to Tuolumne Meadows before turning down Lyell Canyon.
Hiking the Golden Triangle as part of our Tahoe to Yosemite backpacking trip means we're going for a "long" version of the Tahoe to Whitney Backpacking Trip. I figure it adds about 54 miles to our trip total, compared to hiking straight through Tuolumne Meadows.
High Sierra Camps
These topo hiking maps depict more than Tuolumne Meadows. This map also shows the three High Sierra Camps around Tuolumne Meadows, two of which sit along our main routes through Tuolumne Meadows. High Sierra Camps are curiosities to me, some kind of relic from a past age that still hangs on. They have a nice culture of folks who work the High Sierra Camps that is overwhelmingly good, if they have not become too egotistical.
High Sierra Camps Information
Glen Aulin sits along our combined Tahoe to Yosemite/Pacific Crest Trails route as we hike South across the North Yosemite Backcountry.
Sunrise High Sierra Camp sits along our backwards route down the John Muir Trail to Yosemite Valley.
Voglesang High Sierra Camp does not sit along the Tahoe to Yosemite Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, nor the John Muir Trail, but is on our route back to the John Muir Trail in Lyell Canyon from Yosemite Valley, where we will resume our Southbound hike to Mount Whitney from Lake Tahoe, after our delightful detour down to and back up from Yosemite Valley.
Click the Red Dots to see the trail guide entries for each of these High Sierra Camps.
The map above shows two corners of the Golden Triangle, the junctions marking its beginning and end. The bottom corner of the Golden Triangle is way down at the Happy Isles Bus Stop in Yosemite Valley.