Signature Day Hikes in Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14176A, Base Camp


  • Understand firsthand why Tuolumne Meadows served as the Sierra Club’s first National Outing
  • Enjoy moderate day hikes through forested limestone canyons to pristine lakes and sweeping views
  • Revive your senses after full-day hikes in a picturesque, cool lake or warm showers near our campsite


  • All meals from dinner Sunday through breakfast Saturday
  • Use permits, camping fees, park entrance permits, Mono Lake parking fees
  • Group cooking gear, stoves, food, snacks, and fuel


DatesJul 13–19, 2014
StaffMarty Wynne

Trip Overview

The Trip

Recharge your senses amid the rugged splendor of the Tuolumne Meadows (High Sierra) portion of Yosemite National Park. Trade lunch on the go for lunch with a panoramic view of glaciated granite peaks and pristine alpine lakes. Sip hot beverages around a campfire and fall asleep beneath a star-studded sky. Challenge yourself on a variety of day hikes, returning to base camp each day to enjoy the fellowship of similarly emancipated city slickers.

Tuolumne Meadows is not a single meadow but a series of meadows formed from the shallow lakes left by the Tuolumne Glacier when it receded three million years ago. The great glacier filled these meadows to a depth of 2,000 feet, cutting deep cirques into the sides of the highest peaks and leaving the sharp crests we'll see on our trip. Other peaks were completely covered with ice, then rounded and polished by the glacier as it moved. When the ice retreated, it left these massive domes in its wake.

Parts of Tuolumne Meadows were trading grounds of the eastern Paiute and western Miwok Indians for almost a thousand years. Their last meeting here was held before 1900, but you can sometimes find chips of obsidian left by an arrow maker or discover a grinding hole at the base of a dome or in a meadow boulder.

From our base at 7,600 feet elevation, we'll revisit the area chosen by William Colby for the first Sierra Club outing in 1901. Through our daily excursions and evening fellowship, we'll experience the excitement and enchantment felt by those first campers in this beautiful area. Everyone helps with the chores and brings along his or her talents and interests to share. Nights are free to enjoy group fellowship, run up the road for a concert, or stargaze by the wide-open expanses of Mono Lake.


Day 1: Our adventure kicks off at 5:00 p.m. Sunday in our campground south of Lee Vining, California (east entrance of Yosemite). We'll prepare our first dinner together, start connecting names and faces, talk through the week's activities, and turn in early to rest our bodies for our week's adventure together.

Day 2: We’ll take a guided tour of Mono Lake, a fascinating lesson on conservation and restoration. Afterward, we'll hike a relatively easy hike or two aimed at acclimating ourselves to the altitude (8,300 feet) and the area. Weather and time permitting, we can relax in a beautiful public lake near our campground or buy an ice cream bar at the corner store.

Days 3-6: Each day we'll go on a classic hike in the Tuolumne Meadows, chosen for the smorgasbord of terrain, flora, and fauna they offer. Rest breaks and lunches may find us beside a glacier-carved lake set against a backdrop of rugged limestone peaks. We'll hike past tundra-like meadows dotted with clumps of lodgepole pines. White bark pines and scruffy junipers will populate our higher altitude hikes, from which we'll take in spectacular views of the Tuolumne Meadows high country. We'll hike an ancient Indian trail that winds through the sharply contrasted, glaciated granite domes that are juxtaposed with un-glaciated peaks.

Most hikes will be four to nine miles, with as much as 1,800 feet of elevation change. A moderate pace with ample time for photography and rest breaks will rule the day. Some days will provide an opportunity for fishing, swimming, and/or sketching.

Evening activities will range from taking optional trips to hear music or stargaze to sharing among ourselves conservation issues back home. Our final night we will have a talent show of sorts for those wanting to share with the group a favorite song, poem, or something they have written or made during our trip.

Day 7: Over our final breakfast together, we'll swap tales and bid farewell to our newest friends, then pack up, and break camp. If you didn't take in the valley before our trip, you might consider capping off your trip with a visit there,  or to Hetch Hetchy or other places in the western side of Yosemite National Park. Your leaders can suggest hikes in each area.



Getting There

We will meet at our reserved campsites south of Lee Vining, California at 5 p.m. on Sunday, July 13th. The closest airport is Reno, Nevada, 151 miles (3.25 hours) north. Other airport possibilities are Sacramento (240 miles, 4.75 hours) and the Bay Area and Los Angeles airports (both 6 hours to the east). Travel to and from our campsite is the responsibility of each participant. Sierra Club leaders are not allowed to make carpool arrangements for participants, but a participant list will be provided in advance.

Accommodations and Food

We will maintain the same base camp for the entirety of our week together. The group will share four campsites, each with potable water. Public showers are a short walk/drive away. All food and commissary equipment will be provided from dinner on day one through breakfast on the final trip day, but you will need to bring your own eating utensils, plate/bowl, and cup/mug. We'll divide into teams to prepare our wholesome and hearty meals. Even though we'll be in a campground with other people, we will still run the trip in the spirit of a backcountry base camp. Mealtimes and meal preparation are always social occasions on these trips, nourishing both the body and the spirit, and the more we keep things simple for the cooks, the better.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated moderate, but don't underestimate the importance of getting and staying in good physical shape. We will be camping at 7,600 feet and hiking above 10,000 feet on several days. Strenuous and sustained exercise, such as hiking in the thin air of high altitudes, requires extensive conditioning well before our trip starts. Once accepted on the trip, you should ramp up your aerobic and endurance training to increasingly long sustained aerobic activity. This is your vacation and you are under no pressure to do every hike. The better the condition you are in when our trip starts, the better the time you'll have without needing to be concerned about holding up the group or not fully enjoying the amazing beauty we will pass through.

Equipment and Clothing

Since you can drive to our campsite, you do not have weight/size limitations on what you bring other than those imposed by the airlines. We heartily recommend that you take this week to unplug from our connected world. You will receive a basic equipment list once you are accepted on the trip. You will need to furnish your own day pack, sleeping bag, pad/mattress, tent, first-aid kit, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, flashlight with extra batteries, and personal gear. Pay particular attention to your boots. They should be broken-in but not broken down. They should be waterproof, adequately sturdy to withstand rocky trails, and have good quality lug soles. Walking sticks or trekking poles can help on steep or rocky sections of trails and stream crossings. A swimsuit and fishing pole are optional. A fishing license is required for those wishing to fish. Your sleeping bag should be comfortable to 30 degrees. Your personal first-aid kit should include small bandages, antiseptic, a full roll of one-inch adhesive tape, medication for minor digestive upsets, allergies and headaches, and any prescribed medications you may need. The leaders' first-aid kit will be used for serious problems only.

The weather in the Sierra during the summer is usually delightful, with cool mornings/evenings and warm, sunny days. Afternoon thunderstorms can occur with little notice. Temperatures routinely range from the 80s during the day to the 40s at night, with little humidity. Each day we'll carry a day pack with our lunch, rain gear, two one-quart water bottles, personal first-aid kit, flashlight, and whistle. A bowl, a cup/mug, sturdy eating utensils, and plastic container for your sandwich are the only utensils you will need.


  • O'Neill, Elizabeth Stone, Meadow in the Sky. Panorama West Books. An excellent book on the history of Tuolumne Meadows. 


Sierra Club founder, John Muir, wrote about the wilderness: "For going out, I found I was really going in." and "This grand show is eternal."

The Sierra Club's history is steeped in efforts to preserve habitat and wilderness in its most natural form. The Club was instrumental in passing the Wilderness Act of 1964, establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System, and affording the High Sierra the highest level of protection possible. As Sierra Club members, we have reason to be proud of this accomplishment as we hike through the region.

This area, however, has been heavily impacted by recreational use. On our trip we'll talk about wilderness preservation and restoration of the Yosemite National Park region. We'll also have a more general discussion of the impact of man on the fragile wilderness environment and we hope each participant will share a conservation issue important to him/her on either a local, national, or international front.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from Yosemite National Park and Inyo National Forest.



A native Texan, Marty Wynne cherishes being outdoors, particularly hiking, camping, and gardening. A financial adviser to companies for over 20 years, Marty has hiked Zion, Bryce, Grand Tetons, Rocky Mountain and Big Bend national parks and backpacked New Mexico's Pecos Wilderness with Sierra Club groups. She has also hiked Grand Canyon, the Porcupines, and Pictured Rocks national parks and been on staff of Sierra Club Outings at Clair Tappaan Lodge, Colorado's San Juan Mountains, and California's Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Assistant Leader:

Holly Wenger is a native Californian whose first trip to Yosemite was camping with her family as a child. She has been hooked on the Sierra and on outdoors exploration ever since. Holly is looking forward to joining you on this splendid discovery of some of the high country trails in the Tuolumne Meadows region.


Pat Stevens

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