One of an unforgettable memory in Yosemite trip was driving on the mountainous path Tioga Pass (Highway 120) from Half Dome to Mono Lake, as we passed many beautiful scenic stops like Tuolumne Meadows, Lembert Dome or several crystal clear lakes along the road.
Due to its high elevation and some dangerous parts of the road, Tioga Pass is only accessible during May to October, depending on the weather. Check https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tiogaopen.htm before travelling there.
We drove through the pass on a clear day at the end of September, but the road was full of snow from the day before. Some parts of the road were pretty dangerous to drive on as we nearly veered off the cliff at one bend while driving down Tioga Pass to Mono Lake. On the way back, we got stuck in heavy traffic because someone might have driven off the cliff and there were a medic helicopter parking right in the middle of the road 🙁
Along Tioga Pass, there are several lakes that you can easily stop as they are mostly on the right hand if you drive from the West to Mono Lake, such as Tenaya Lake or Ellery Lake, and all of them are breathtakingly beautiful!
We stopped at this lake to have some snack at a picnic table and enjoy the view of the largest natural lake in Yosemite, surrounded by granite domes, lodgepole forests, and Yosemite’s vast wilderness. With its remarkable scenic qualities, its inviting blue water, and its proximity to Tioga Road, Tenaya Lake is one of the most popular destinations for summer visitors in Yosemite.
Even though we were there in the winter, there were still some water activities like kayaking happening on the lake, but it was quite quiet and peaceful as there were not many people here compared to Summertime.
The water here is spectacularly clear, so clear that you can see through, and it’s not deep so it may be safe for children to be near.
The last lake you would see before exiting Tigoa Pass to Mono Lake is Ellery Lake, which at one of the high points, presents two vastly different vistas, one from the end nearest Yosemite (above, at 9,489 feet elevation) and another from the eastern end of the lake (below – also, curiously enough, at 9,489 feet). It is magnificent in different ways in both winter and summer, as you would see more snow in the winter on top of the mountains around the lake, but in the Summer, the water looks deeper and more blue. In addition to excellent kayaking opportunities, Ellery Lake provides a wide range of recreational activities, including fishing, climbing, photographing, camping, wildlife viewing and hiking.
Only a short distance from Tenaya Lake, at 8,600 feet, Tuolumne Meadows is one of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada.
It’s accessible due to the park roadway that crosses the southern edge of the meadow. From this point all the way to the south of Mt. Whitney, no other roads cross the High Sierra. Thus, this roadway marks the northern end of the largest contiguous roadless wilderness in the continental United States.
In the winter when we drove by, Tuolumne Meadows was covered with a thin layer of white snow from a storm the night before, in contrast to the Summer when the whole meadows are totally green.
If you are lucky, you can spot some wildlife here. We saw a little coyote ran across the meadow while driving so I couldn’t take a picture of it but it was really exciting to see wild animals just enjoying nature without lots of visitors in the winter 🙂