The Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park is said to be the most beautiful road in America. When is Tioga Pass open and what are the best stops? Keep on reading!
What is the Tioga Pass?
The Tioga Pass (also called the Tioga Road or State Route 120) is a mountain pass in California. It lies between Big Oak Flat (on the west side, near San Francisco) and Lee Vining (on the east side, near the Nevada border). The pass runs right through Yosemite National Park and is at an elevation of 3031 meters (2,031 feet). This makes it the highest mountain pass in the United States of America.
Tioga Pass is also considered one of the most beautiful roads in the USA. Along the way, you’ll encounter many spectacular viewpoints. You’ll see steep granite cliffs, green meadows, giant sequoias, and turquoise mountain lakes. As you can imagine, the views are stunning. Driving over Tioga Pass is therefore a must if you’re road tripping in Southwest USA.
In this article, you will read all about the accessibility of Tioga Road, the most beautiful sights, and alternatives.
When is Tioga Pass open?
Due to its high elevation, there is a lot of snowfall and, as a result, Tioga Road is open only a few months of the year. Usually, Tioga Pass is open from late May/early June through October/November. The exact dates vary from year to year, it just depends on how much snow there is.
On this page, you can see what the opening and closing times were in past years.
8 Tioga Pass sights
Tioga Pass is not a road you’ll drive over quickly. There are an awful lot of beautiful sights along the road, so it is highly recommended to stop occasionally (there are plenty of parking lots) and enjoy the beautiful views. These are some wonderful Tioga Pass sights.
It is recommended to drive the Tioga Pass from east to west, then you will have the best views. One of the first beautiful places you encounter is mountain lake Ellery Lake. Get out of your car and enjoy the view and the fresh mountain air. Yes, it’s already considerably cooler.
Once you pass the entrance to Yosemite National Park, Tioga Road passes one of the most beautiful places in Yosemite: Tuolumne Meadows. This is a place you absolutely have to stop.
Here you will find vast meadows of grass, forest, and steep granite rocks. It’s an incredible sight. You also have a chance to spot some wildlife when you’re here, like mountain marmots, deer, and maybe even bears (but keep your distance!). The greatest chance of seeing wildlife in Tuolumne Meadows is early in the morning.
Interesting fact: the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) runs right through Tuolumne Meadows. The PCT is one of the most famous long-distance hiking trails in the world.
From Tuolumne Meadows you can hike to Soda Springs, this is an easy 2.4-kilometer hike. You end up at the Soda Springs, where (cold) bubble water comes out of the ground. Just like soda, you can even taste it if you like.
There are countless trailheads and hiking trails along Tioga Pass. One of the most fun trails is the hike to Pothole Dome. It is a short four-kilometer hike to reach the top of the Pothole Dome.
It is not very a difficult hike, you only ascend 75 meters. From the summit, you have a beautiful view of green meadows, forests, and the surrounding mountains.
Tenaya Lake is the next big mountain lake along the pass and is also a must-see. The clear blue water and steep cliffs make it very photogenic.
Not much further, you need to stop again to check out one of the most spectacular viewpoints in Yosemite: Olmsted Point. Here you can take a short walk on the rocks and have an insanely beautiful view of the famous Half Dome rock.
Fancy a short hike among giant trees? Then be sure to check out Tuolumne Grove. In fact, here you hike among the giant sequoias. Very impressive!
Just after Tuolumne Grove follows the turnoff to Yosemite Valley. Here is a village with several restaurants, lodges, and campgrounds. In addition, many hiking trails start here.
Tioga Pass alternatives
Tioga Pass is one of the fastest routes if you want to cross California’s Sierra Mountains. What if the Tioga Pass is closed on the day you want to visit Yosemite National Park or cross the Sierra Mountain range? Then there are some alternatives.
The Sonora Pass (State Route 108) is just north of Tioga Road, and there are beautiful views from here as well. This road is also closed part of the year due to snow but has slightly longer “opening hours” than Tioga Pass.
Sonora Pass is usually open from April/May through November/December.
Via California State Route 88
Even further north than Sonora Pass is State Route 88 (also called Carson Pass Highway). This road is basically open all year, it is only closed during very heavy snowstorms.
If all the mountain passes are closed, you will have to detour quite a bit if you want to go from east to west (or vice versa) in California. The quickest way is through the city of Bakersfield. From here you can go to Yosemite via Fresno.
Where to stay near Tioga Pass
It is best to take your time for exploring the Tioga Pass. There is so much to see! What are the finest places to spend the night when driving over Tioga Pass?
- Yosemite Valley – The very best place to spend the night when you’re exploring Yosemite and the Tioga Pass is Yosemite Valley. Here you are close to all the beautiful sights. The Yosemite Valley Lodge has nice rooms with balconies or verandas. Looking for something more affordable? Then the furnished tents in Curry Village are also highly recommended.
- Yosemite Westgate Lodge (3⭐) – Just outside Yosemite National Park, you can often find slightly more affordable accommodations than in Yosemite Valley. One of the nicest places near the park is the Yosemite Westgate Lodge in Buck Meadows.
- Inn at Sugar Pine Ranch (Highly rated 📈) – Beautifully decorated rooms in a cozy white wooden house and some cabins.
Check Booking.com for more options, availability, and prices.
Book a trip to California
After reading this article, are you totally in the mood for a trip to California? Then it’s time to book! These websites are useful for booking a trip to California.
🛩️ Find the cheapest flights to California with WayAway. This is a flight aggregator that provides travelers with the best rates on airline tickets.
🚘 Having a rental car is an absolute must if you want to visit the most beautiful sights in California. Check Rental Cars and Discover Cars for the best rates.
💊 As for me, travel insurance is a necessary component of any trip, if you want to stay calm in every unexpected event during your journey. Check out Insubuy, this is currently the largest provider of visitor insurance. I’m sure you’ll find the best plan that fits your needs.
🎡 Check Get Your Guide to find the best tours and activities.
Would you like to read more about a trip to California or Southwest USA?
Are you in need of more travel tips for your trip to California and Southwest USA? Check out these travel guides:
California Road and Recreation Atlas
I myself traveled to the USA from Europe no less than seven times, mostly to California. That’s why you can read a lot about traveling to the USA on this website. You might like to read these articles as well:
- Your first trip to Yosemite National Park: the ultimate guide
- 33 Fun Activities for your San Francisco Bucket List
- West Coast USA road trip: a spectacular itinerary
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