Hwy 120 over Tioga Pass

Revised May 2011 - please send updates to the webmaster

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See Oakdale and Tracy Bypass for ways to get around towns like Tracy, Manteca, and Oakdale in bad traffic.

This file describes, from west to east, trailheads accessed from Hwy 120. The GPS waypoints go from the junction of Hwy 120 and Hwy 108 east of Oakdale (waypoint 120108) through the Priest Grade shortcut to Groveland, and then through the Yosemite National Park high country and down to the junction of Hwy 120 and Hwy 395 near Lee Vining (waypoint LEEVIN).

Hwy 120 is closed in winter from the Tuolumne Grove parking area (waypoint TGROVE) north of the filling station at Crane Flat to a gate near Lee Vining (waypoint LEEGAT) where the power station road leaves Hwy 120 in Lee Vining Canyon. The ranger station near Lee Vining (waypoint LVRANG) no longer serves the public, and the Mono Basin Visitor Center (waypoint MONOBV) seems to be closed some or all of the winter.

Park entrances on the west (waypoint YOSEMW) and east (waypoint YOSEME) collect fees, but only the western entrance has facilities (permits, restrooms, vending machines). Similar facilities on the eastern end are at the Tuolumne Meadows parking lot (waypoint TUOLUM, 6 or 7 miles west of YOSEME) near Lembert Dome.

Tioga Pass is not particularly steep or narrow, but the speed limits are low and there are lots of pedestrian and animal obstacles not to mention slow drivers in rented motorhomes. Speed limits are enforced by radar, particularly near congested areas.

Click on any black map label or scroll down to details for these trailheads:
Sonora Pass Lee Vining Gate and Ranger Station Old Priest Grade (shortcut) Warren Fork and Camp 9 Dana Meadows and Mono Pass Saddlebag Lake Tuolumne Meadows Porcupine Flat and Porcupine Creek White Wolf, Yosemite Creek, Ten Lakes Snow Flat, Olmsted Point, May Lake, and Tenaya Lake Curry Village Yosemite Valley Crane Flat Roughly west to east:


Old Priest Grade (see also Hwy 120 Overview Map)

This isn't a trailhead, it's a shortcut! East of the four-lane section around the Don Pedro Reservoir, there is a very steep and narrow shortcut called Old Priest Grade (between waypoints PRESTW and PRESTE). The new road (in purple) is almost 5 miles, while the old road (in red) is under 2 miles. The new road is less steep and wider, but there is no place to pass and it's very winding:


Crane Flat (see also Hwy 120 Overview Map)

The speed limit from the fire station (waypoint FIREST) past the Tuolumne Grove is only 25mph, which always seems like a speed trap to me since there is no congestion and the road is great.

Crane Flat (waypoint CRANEF) is the junction where Hwy 41 (the purple line from Fresno, via Yosemite Valley) ends at Hwy 120 (the red line). The filling station here is open more often than the one in Tuolumne Meadows.

There is a tourist trailhead for the Tuolumne Grove (waypoint TGROVE) immediately south of the environmental education campus at Crane Flat. In the summer this is big trees and big crowds. In the winter, this is a quiet cross country trailhead parking area where you can snowshoe or ski down to the same big trees without the big crowds. It can be a slog back up to the parking area.

Hwy 120 is gated here (waypoint TGROVE) for the winter, and there is free legal overnight parking, so you can also ski up the road.


White Wolf, Yosemite Creek, Ten Lakes Trailhead (see also Hwy 120 Overview Map)

The White Wolf campground (leave Hwy 120 at waypoint WOLFCG) can serve as a trailhead to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. I've never been to either of them, but I know the hike has a huge uphill slog on the way out!

Yosemite Creek crosses Hwy 120 at the Ten Lakes Trailhead (waypoint YOSTEN). Looks like a nice place, but I've never hiked here.


Porcupine Flat and Porcupine Creek (see also Hwy 120 Overview Map)

The Porcupine Flat trailhead (waypoint PORCUF) is roughly 7 miles west of Tenaya Lake on Hwy 120, across the highway from the Porcupine Flat Campground.

The Porcupine Creek trailhead (waypoint PORCUC) is roughly 6 miles west of Tenaya Lake on Hwy 120.


Snow Flat, Olmsted Point, May Lake, and Tenaya Lake (see also Hwy 120 Overview Map)

The Snow Flat parking area (waypoint SNOWFP) is the best way to reach the May Lake High Sierra Camp and Mt Hoffman. In summer, leave Hwy 120 at waypoint SNOWFJ to drive to the trailhead. In winter, or when hiking from Yosemite Valley, use the trail which crosses Hwy 120 in the middle of the hairpin turn just south of the side road to Snow Flat.

Olmstead Point (waypoint OLMSTD) is a great lookout for Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and Tenaya Lake. There's a pack trail near this parking lot, but no one starts here.

Sunrise Creek, at the west end of Tenaya Lake (waypoint TENAYA) sometimes serves as a trailhead for the May Lake and Sunrise High Sierra Camps. Nearby peaks include Mt Hoffmann (with a great view but also a great radio antenna array), Tenaya Peak (the best day hike in the area), and Clouds Rest.


Tuolumne Meadows (see also Hwy 120 Overview Map)

There are lots of trailheads in and near Tuolumne Meadows! This is often referred to as the Yosemite High Country.

The Cathedral Lake trailhead (waypoint CATHED) leads you south of Hwy 120 to short and stunning climbs of Cathedral Peak, Unicorn Peak, Echo Peaks, etc.

The Lembert Dome Trailhead (waypoint LEMBRT), aside from the obvious dome next to it, gives you access to the Pacific Crest Trail north, Soda Springs, the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, etc.

The Tuolumne Meadows Permit Kiosk parking lot (waypoint TUOLUM) is where you pick up backcountry permits. You can park your car here, but there's probably another lot that's closer to wherever you happen to be going. Don't park at the nearby lodge, which has an attractive parking lot that looks like it's for the general public but which is technically for their guests only. The lot is where the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail cross Hwy 120.

The Dog Lake Trail Backpacker Lot (waypoint DOGLAK) is EAST OF the wilderness permit kiosk lot. This is where you park for hiking to southeast to Vogelsang, Lyell, etc, or north to Dog Lake via the trail east of Lembert Dome.


Dana Meadows, Parker Pass, Mono Pass (see also Hwy 120 Overview Map)

The Mono Pass trailhead (waypoint MONPTH) leads from Dana Meadows south to Parker Pass and Mono Pass. It is the place to start for Koip Peak, Mount Gibbs, etc.

Parking is strictly limited, and tickets for parking outside the striped lot are very expensive.

DO NOT CONFUSE this trailhead with Mono Meadows south of Yosemite Valley or the other Mono Pass near Rock Creek


Saddlebag Lake (see also Hwy 120 Overview Map)

Saddlebag Lake (near waypoint SADLAK) is a short drive north of Hwy 120 (turn at waypoint SADJCT), and gives you access for dayhikes to North Peak and Mount Conness. It's outside Yosemite National Park, so you get permits from the Forest Service. Taking the ferry across the lake and hiking over a ridge allows you legal access to northern Yosemite without the limits and hassles of getting a permit from the park!


Warren Fork / Camp 9 (see also Hwy 120 Overview Map)

The Warren Fork of Lee Vining Creek is the common route for climbing Mt Warren (which has the best view possible of Mono Lake). From waypoint WARNFK you can walk north up the canyon to a free walk-in campground then hike cross-country to the peak.

The hairpin turn on Hwy 120 is right at 9000 feet elevation, and is sometimes called 'Camp 9' because the inside of the hairpin has some gravel roads (probably an old construction site) that people have been known to car camp on. For a while there were 'no camping' signs posted, but recently the level of use seems to have dropped and so has enforcement.


Lee Vining Gate (winter road closure) and Ranger Station (see also Hwy 120 Overview Map)

Hwy 120 is gated for the winter (waypoint LEEGAT) 3.5 miles from Hwy 395 (waypoint LEEVIN), just beyond the turnoff to the power plant. There is minimal road-side parking here and it's not clear if overnight parking is legal. The Tioga Pass Lodge has exclusive road of Hwy 120 above this gate in the winter, and they run regular vehicles and snow cats... so be sure not to block the gate!
The Lee Vining Ranger station (waypoint LVRANG) no longer has any services, but their parking lot still has signs for visitor parking and rangers told me (Feb 2011) that my car wouldn't be towed if I parked there. Right across Hwy 120 is the signed junction for Log Cabin Mine Road (waypoint LOGCMR) to the Boy Scout camp, providing winter access to Mono Dome, Lee Vining Peak, and Mt Warren.

The Mono Basin Visitor Center (waypoint MONOBV) is open some days for part of the winter, but the lot had not been plowed and the facility was closed in Fed 2011. This is where you should go to get permits, at least if it's open.


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