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.
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.
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.
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.
Olmstead Point is a must-see stop for a panoramic vista of Yosemite. VirtualGuidebooks.com has panoramic images from Olmsted Point.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brokeass Mountain Road Trip, July 2011
Monterey, California – Denver, Colorado
- Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Road across the Sierra Nevada Mountains
- Westin Monache Resort Mammoth for year round vacations
- Even Lonelier than the Loneliest Road in America
- Earth’s Oldest Trees in Great Basin National Park Nevada
- Less extreme than 127 Hours in Utah
- Brokeass Mountain Tour eastbound – Hotel Value at High Elevation
- Brokeass Mountain Tour visits Starwood in Denver
- Driving by the 14ers South Park to Aspen, Colorado
- Top of the Rockies on the High Road to Aspen – Independence Pass 12,095 feet.
- St. Regis Aspen – Too Late to Cancel
- Aspen, Colorado to Park City, Utah: Ghost lands of Buffalo Soldiers, Utes and Dinosaurs
- The California Trail across Nevada
- Homeward Bound – Carson Pass Highway 88 over the Sierra Nevada to Monterey