Gorgeous and green, Tuolumne Meadows offers a place of rest and solitude for adventurers looking to get away from the crowds and the roads.
The meadows rest at 8,600 feet, making them one of the highest elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. A single road, Tioga Pass Road (closed December through May), makes them accessible by car. This roadway crosses the meadows on their southern edge. No other roads cross the High Sierra between this point and Mount Whitney, making it the northern end of the biggest contiguous wilderness area without roads in the continental United States.
The Tuolumne River winds its way quietly through the meadows, running rapidly over its granite river bottom. Originating in the high country near the east side of the park, the river sources its water from the Dana and Lyell Forks, as well as Budd, Delaney and Unicorn Creeks. Snowmelt and hillslope aquifers give the river a bit more bulk. It’s common for the river to overflow in the spring due to snowmelt, flooding large expanses of meadow.
Tuolumne River is among those protected by Congress for its status as a Wild and Scenic River. It eventually makes its way to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and becomes drinking water for San Francisco. It’s so clean that it requires only minimal treatment.
The area’s plant life falls into one of six different categories, depending on landscapes, landforms and water-table levels. According to NPS.gov/yose, “Areas with seasonal flooding and deep-standing water support the inflated sedge-Sierra willow (Carex vesicaria-Salix eastwoodiae) community. The main herbaceous wet-meadow communities are alpine aster-nearly-black sedge (Aster alpigenus-Carex subnigricans), King’s ricegrass-western bistort (Ptilagrostis kingii-Polygonum bistortoides), and Breweri’s reed grass-dwarf bilberry (Calamagrostis breweri-Vaccinium caespitosum) communities. Finally, found in drier uplands within or on the edge of the meadow are the thread-leaved sedge-meadow pussy-toes (Carex filifolia-Antennaria corymbosa) and Sierra lodgepole pine-Ross sedge (Pinus contorta-Carex rossii) communities.”