The hike from Tuolumne Meadows to White Wolf follows the Tuolumne River
as it descends from the high Sierra Meadows and ends up in the Hetch Tetchy Reservoir. The trail starts by passing Parsons Lodge, which provides a glimpse of the history of the Sierra Club, John Muir, and people enjoying Tuolumne Meadows.
The trail enters the forest and then starts to follow the river. Along the river bank, you get some great views of the Cathedral Range with views of Echo Peaks, Cathedral Peak, and numerous domes in the region. Before you realize it, you cross over the Tuolumne River
as it begins its descent through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne
Numerous cascades and waterfalls will come into view over the next several miles. From small, unnamed cascades to large waterfalls like Tuolumne, California, LeConte, and Waterwheel Falls as the trail starts to descend into the canyon. Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp and campground are popular overnight destinations for hikers.
Looking down canyon, you get an idea of how the river has shaped the landscape. The trail follows the river and provides beautiful views of the rugged canyons of Yosemite's backcountry as it descends to Pate Valley, where the river widens and flows gently toward Hetch Hetchy.
Shortly after passing Pate Valley, the trail climbs steeply up toward Pate Valley, providing excellent views of Hetch Hetchy. The trail emerges at Harden Lake, where if there is enough water, you can enjoy a dip to cool off on a warm summer day. The trail ends following an old road back up to White Wolf where the hike ends. The hike offers the opportunity to get away from the large crowds that fill Yosemite Valley and allow you to enjoy peace and quiet in some remote parts of the park.
This 30 mile hike can be hiked in either direction, it just depends how you want to enter and exit the canyon. Starting from Tuolumne Meadows, the trail descends 4200 feet steadily with a couple of uphill sections over roughly 20 miles and then you have to climb steeply 3600 feet out of the canyon in about 4 to 5 miles and then a gentle uphill into White Wolf. If you start at White Wolf, you have a steep descent into Pate Valley, and then spend the next 20 miles hiking up hill. Speaking to people who have done it both ways, opinions seem to be slip which indicates that it can be enjoyed no matter which way you hike the trail. In the climb up to White Wolf, water can be scarce later in the summer so make sure to fill up before tackling that part of the trail.
The hike through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne
River allows you to escape the crowds of Yosemite, see some beautiful waterfalls, and enjoy the rugged nature of the Yosemite backcountry. The trail starts in Tuolumne Meadows, and can begin from several spots. You can park at the far end of the visitor center and hike out to Parsons Lodge. You can park at Dog Lake or the Wilderness Center and hike along the PCT to Lembert Dome
and meet up where most people start.
Most people park along the road beyond Lembert Dome
or in a parking lot at the end of the road, hike past the gate and then start making your way toward Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge. As you hike out, you enjoy views of Unicorn Peak and Cathedral Peak to the left and if you turn around, beautiful views of Lembert Dome
can be enjoyed.
When you get to Soda Springs, you can enjoy a quick detour to see the bubbling spring and then go over to Parsons Lodge to enjoy exploring the historic lodge if it is open. Exiting out of the back of the area, the trail crosses Delaney Creek at 1.2 miles (rock hop or wade across) and then comes to the Young Lakes
junction. Stay to the left and you'll get some great views of the Cathedral Range off to the left side of the trail after about a mile.
At 3.5 miles, you come across two bridges that cross the Tuolume River as it begins cascading down into the canyon. Numerous cascades follow the trail before seeing Tuolumne Falls and then White Cascade at the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp and backpacker camp. If you started late and have a permit, this is a great place to spend your first night. Over the next two miles, you are treated to wonderful views of California Falls, LeConte Falls, and the Waterwheels.
There are numerous campsites in this area that are great places to stay and enjoy the waterfalls in the mornings and evenings. After passing the Waterwheels, the trail climbs up the hillside and then starts descending steeply down into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne
. The trail crosses Return Creek at 9.6 miles and then crosses over a shoulder to get around Muir Gorge.
The trail moves along the river for long periods of time, so feel free to fill up with water as needed. At 14.7, you cross Register Creek and then emerge into an oak forest. You quickly approach Pate Valley where there is a great backcountry site where you can enjoy the evening along the Tuolumne River
. There are two bridges that cross the creek and there are some great swimming holes in this area. Beyond here, there are a couple of sites, but they aren't as good as these because these provide easy access to the water, and are on nice, level ground.
From here, the trail meanders through the woods for a mile or two before the climb up to White Wolf starts in earnest. From here, the trail climbs up switchbacks as the trail gains 3600 feet in about 4 miles. There are areas that are exposed, and some shade. Make sure to get an early start in order to avoid the heat of the day. Be on the lookout on the right side of the trail as a couple wonderful views of Hetch Hetchy come into view and provide a great place to rest on the climb up.
You'll pass a couple of side trails that offer alternative climbs up to Harden Lake, but they are steeper than moving straight ahead. The trail flattens out as it approaches Harden Lake, where if there is enough water, you can enjoy a swim to cool off in the heat of the day. The trail enters the forest and meanders toward the road.
The final couple of miles is along the road and climbs gently up to White Wolf. If you parked at White Wolf, your hike is finished. If the gate is still closed, you have another mile of road hiking to get to the gate along Tioga Road where your car is parked. While you might be able to do this hike in 2 days, it is a very pleasant hike if you make it a 3-day hike staying around Glen Aulin the first night, Pate Valley the second night, and then climbing out on the final day.