Jul132011

Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Road across the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Tioga Pass at 9,945 ft. is the highest highway pass in California and located on the eastern boundary of Yosemite National Park. The road is labeled Highway 120 outside of Yosemite. This seasonal highway road through Yosemite National Park opened June 18 this year and provides the most direct route from my home in Monterey, California to Mammoth Lakes, California on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range.

Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite National Park, California

Mammoth Lakes is known as a ski resort town, but also provides plenty of summer outdoors activities. The Westin Monache Resort is a lodging option that brought me to Mammoth Lakes. The Westin hotel review will come later, but suffice to say that I am writing this post at the dining table in a one room suite looking out to 11,059 ft. Mammoth Mountain.

Tioga Road high Sierra Nevada view

I wasn’t really sure what to expect for Tioga Pass Road driving conditions. Two months ago in May I drove winding Highway 41 from Fresno to Yosemite National Park hugging the mountain ridges at 5,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation.

Highway 120 climbs several thousand feet above Yosemite Valley. The fragrance of wildflowers was so intense while driving with our windows open that the outdoors seemed to be a floral shop.

Tioga Road passes through high alpine country with much of the road between 8,000 and 10,000 feet in elevation. My impression was this road is relatively easy driving except for the steep grade at the eastern end that is a rapid descent (or slow ascent) on the edge of cliffs dropping 3,000 feet in just a few miles.

Clouds Rest seen from Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite National Park

 

The views are something to behold on this route. Tuolumne Meadows is the highest large alpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada at about 8,600 feet. The meadow is approximately two miles long and a good place for hiking and observing wildlife. This is flat land hiking, but still a bit challenging due to the elevation (and mosquitoes). I did not get decent photos, so I searched the web and I really like these 360-degree panoramic photos of Tuolumne Meadows from virtualguidebooks.com for various locations in Yosemite.

Half Dome from Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite National Park

Olmstead Point is a must-see stop for a panoramic vista of Yosemite. VirtualGuidebooks.com has panoramic images from Olmsted Point.

Half Dome closeup from Olmsted Point, Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite

Olmsted Point, Tioga Pass Road, Yosemite eastern view

Driving this road for a couple of hours at 8,000 to 10,000 feet elevation can be tiring. The temperature rapidly cooled in the summer evening between 5pm and 7pm dropping from low 80s in Yosemite Valley to upper 50s with a cold wind at the high elevations.

I wanted to stop and take so many more photos, but the deer were active on the road with two near misses and I wanted to reach Mammoth Lakes before dark.

Tioga Pass Road eastern view

There are many mental impressions I took away from this scenic road drive. I give Tioga Pass Road two thumbs up for being one of the great road drives in America.

Tioga Lake 9,657 ft. just outside the eastern boundary of Yosemite National Park

12 miles east of Tioga Pass Road Yosemite entrance is Highway 395, a major north-south route along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range. Mono Lake can be viewed from here, but I have to say I was underwhelmed by the view. Perhaps I needed a better vantage point.

Mammoth Lakes is about a 30 minute drive south. Kelley stopped to pick up pine cones at a Highway 395 rest area and saw this colorful bird.

Bird among the pine cones

The long drive across California and ascending from sea level to 10,000 feet left us exhausted by evening. A good night’s sleep at the Westin Monache Resort in a one-bedroom suite with a kitchen was a welcome relief from the car seats.

And waking up to this view convinced me I made a good lodging choice for the night.

Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth Lakes CA view of Mammoth Mountain

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About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. This was basically an opportunity to visit the Westin Monache and check out the hotel. I liked the location and there are plenty of places to see in this area.

    The scenic gondola ride up Mammoth Mountain is the must-see attraction. $23 for an adult or $29 including lunch at the summit cafe.

    Hopefully I will get back in September before the snow and spend more time exploring the area and regional lakes.

  2. When are you writing your review of the Westin Monache? It seems like an interesting property.

    Have you ever written reviews of the Marriott, Hilton and SPG properties that are within a couple hours drive of Yosemite? That way you can use points and still get a decent hotel. The Springhills Suites in Madera seems nice and new and reasonable on the points balance.

    Brandon

  3. Been thinking about that Westin Monache review a lot the past two days, since seeing a documentary of Steve Fossett crashing his plane near Mammoth Lakes a couple years ago. Perhaps I’ll write the review today.

    My work life revolves around a school schedule. My wife Kelley starts back to school next week.

    My writing productivity rises significantly when wife is not on school vacation.

    Summer days coming to an end.

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