Experiencing Tuolumne Meadows – A Trail Review

We lucked into volunteer hiking jobs at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park and spent the summer hiking four days a week! We learned a lot while we were there. Yosemite is a huge park that is broken into sections:

There are many miles to explore between each section of the park!

Tuolumne Meadows has a store, a grill, a post office and the Campground. The store, grill and post office are located in one building that also happens to be a kind of tent building. Pretty cool!

Tuolumne Meadows does not have a set opening day. It opens depending entirely on when the snow melts. We arrived in June and had the privilege of being in the campground for almost a week before it officially opened. We needed much of that first week to acclimate to the 8600’ elevation. Altitude sickness is very real and happens more often than you would think. Drink lots of water in the weeks before heading this way as it really helps!

We needed much of that first week to acclimate to the 8600’ elevation.

Cell service is an iffy thing up there. Depending on the season, there may or may not be a tiny bit of Verizon and the possibility of an even smaller bit of AT&T. We have a boosted Verizon hot-spot and once the tower was turned on we got a whopping 5 bars of 1X service. We were essentially cut off from the world … once we got accustomed to it, it sure was nice!

We quickly realized that although we had left Texas, we had not left the mosquitos! They were bad and stayed bad for every bit of a month while snow melted and puddles evaporated. The biters were bad enough near water that we wore netting over our heads as they laughed at our mosquito spray! If mosquitos are a real problem for you, come later in the year. If flowing water and waterfalls are important, come early and come prepared.

Bears frequent the campground in search of high-calorie food. Let’s face it, almost anything humans eat will fatten up a bear far faster than grass! They will eat anything that smells good … including sunscreen, candles, soap and your food. Bear boxes are provided in the campground and at every trailhead to keep food and “smelly” items safe from bears. Please use them as a fed bear is a dead bear.

Purple 49, AKA Bandit


The drive through Tuolumne is beautiful. However, the really spectacular views are seen while hiking trails. There are even “social” trails which are not listed on the official map, but these trails are not necessarily maintained by the park. Let’s go through the park-maintained trails from our perspective. How is our perspective different?

We knew right away that paper maps weren’t our thing and while apps on a phone aren’t ideal for those who are staying out many nights, they are perfect for day-hikes!

Our Favorite Trail Map Apps



Tracks where you went, time on the trail, time spent moving, pace and elevation gain. Pictures can be added and data downloaded in a shareable format. Be sure to download the trails you intend to hike before getting to the park as you will need data/service to download. Maps sometimes have trouble loading even after downloading, so check before you head out.

Avenza Maps

Shows your exact position on the trail with GPS coordinates. Can also record your tracks, time and elevation gain. Pins can be dropped; pictures and information can be added to the pins. Best thing is you can see everywhere you have been on one map. Maps for this app have to be purchased. Pricing starts at free and goes up from there! No data or service is needed after the map is downloaded!

Avenza hiking tracks

The maps we used

  1. 308: Yosemite NE: Tuolumne Meadows and Hoover Wilderness (South Side) – National Geographic Trails Illustrated
  2. Tuolumne Meadows and High Sierra Camps – Tom Harrison

If We Only Had a Week

The Trails: Ratings & Information

Soda Springs

Difficulty: 1
Wildlife Sightings: Deer and marmot

This is an easy trail, most of which is on an old gravel road and very slightly uphill. The spring is bubbling out of the ground within a partial log cabin surrounding it. The water has an unusual taste and warnings tell you to drink at your own risk. Many people do drink this water and one couple makes an annual trip to get water from the spring to mix up a drink with Tequila and Tang! There are views of the river, meadow and surrounding mountains from the spring. If you like, extend the hike by continuing up to Parsons Lodge and then down the hill to cross the bridge into the meadow.

Lembert Dome and Dog Lake

Difficulty: 3
Wildlife Sightings: Deer and frogs

The first part of this trail is steep and we had to stop to rest a lot! The first time we hiked this trail we passed up the Lembert Dome trail as we thought it would be too hard … it’s not! Do both! The lake is pretty and if its early in the year there may be dragonfly’s emerging … it’s quite a sight! Lembert Dome has a bird’s eye view of the meadow and surrounding mountains and it is truly amazing.

Lyell Canyon

Difficulty: 1
Wildlife Sightings: An occasional deer and lots of marmots

Easy trail with very little elevation gain. Early in the season, the trail is quite busy due to PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and JMT (John Muir Trail) hikers. It’s a pretty hike with nice river views.

Glen Aulin

Difficulty: 2-3
Wildlife Sightings: Deer, coyote, bear and marmot

This is a fantastic, but deceiving trail. Leaving the trailhead, it is mostly all downhill which makes it really easy to go much farther than intended. Tuolumne Falls are about 6 miles down the trail and the beauty of the falls as well as the changing scenery make this hike fantastic. Coming back can be fairly strenuous, but it’s absolutely worth it.

May Lake

Difficulty: 2
Wildlife Sightings: Deer, marmot

This is a steep trail that takes you to May Lake and the May Lake High Sierra Camp. Note: High Sierra Camps have lodging and food but must be reserved in advance – possibly the year before. The views are great on the climb up and the lake is gorgeous. Upon arriving at the lake stay on the trail to the right, keeping the lake to your left. For a nice scenic view, continue past the lake always staying to the right and climb the rocks just before the switchbacks that lead down into a valley.

Murphy Creek

Difficulty: 1-2
Wildlife Sightings: Coyote, deer and bear (during one hike we actually had two bear sightings!)

Pond near trail

This pretty trail doesn’t have many mountain views but its rocky terrain is different from other trails. There’s plenty to look at and it’s a peaceful trail.

Elizabeth Lake

Difficulty: 3.5
Wildlife Sightings: Deer, snake

Steep but shorter hike leading to a pretty lake. Early in the season, there will still be snow, a number of water crossings as well as many mosquitos. Later in the summer the marshy/boggy waterlogged areas will dry up and you can take a trail all the way around the lake.

Lower Cathedral Lake

Difficulty: 4
Wildlife Sightings: Deer

This large and beautiful lake is worth every uphill step! The hike is steep and mostly wooded with a couple of stops along the way that should make the climb more interesting. We always fill our spare water bottle when we pass by the natural spring. Drink at your own risk.

Upper Cathedral Lake

Difficulty: 4
Wildlife Sightings: Deer

Smaller lake that is just off the John Muir trail and high above the lower lake. This lake isn’t as popular but is well worth the extra climb. We were unable to walk around the whole lake as part of it is unpassable unless you wade/swim or maybe climb up and around some rocks.

Mono/Parker Pass and Spillway Lake

Difficulty: Mono–4, Parker–4, Spillway–2.5
Wildlife Sightings: Deer, coyote

Spectacular views await from either of the passes. The trail up is through a forest with a number of creek crossings and a pretty good climb. As you get higher the trees will thin out and all but disappear. The wind will also pick up, so secure that hat! If your timing is good, you will see abundant wildflowers. There are a couple of old log cabins along the trail to the passes and more along a trail that “y’s” off of the main trail near Mono Pass. They are worth checking out. Spillway Lake starts at the same trailhead but veers off before you get to the really steep stuff.

Gaylor Lakes, the Mine and Granite Lakes

Difficulty: 5
Wildlife Sightings: Deer, weasel (there are Pika, but we never saw them)

This is my favorite trail, but it starts hard! Just take your time and stop to rest … it’s worth it. Trails to the lakes and mine are well defined, but there are no defined trails to Granite Lakes. Cross-country hiking is required. Use AllTrails and/or Avenza apps to navigate to the lakes and back.

Lower Gaylor Lake

Difficulty: 3
Wildlife Sightings: Deer

Nice uphill hike that leads to an alpine meadow. The meadow is amazing and the views from the far side (if you can get there) of the lake are astounding. Early in the season, there is so much water that’s it’s nearly impossible to walk around the lake without getting wet.

This is not an all-inclusive trail list! There are other trails that we either did not hike or that could not be done in a day hike. Social trails are not included.

Lessons Learned

Photo bombed!

All tucked into our summer home

Headed out of the park

Feeling small … Can you spot Gertie?


We Signed up for a New Life

We did it. We signed on the line and put our house up for sale. Emotions were real. Real loud (at least for Jimmy). I was just plain excited. All I could see was the next step in our journey to full-time living and I just couldn’t wait to get it on the market to see what people thought. You see, we remodelled just about every square inch of this little house and we made it spectacular. We made it smart. We made it the house that people stopped to look at as they drove by. We loved it and I wanted to know if others felt the same.

Then reality set in. Showings come with hurdles; they are a big pain. It means someone else is going to be living in our house. Showings mean we couldn’t finish getting rid of all our things as a furnished house sells better than an empty one. Showings mean that we had to keep our house spotless all of the time. Showings mean we are displaced every time they show the house. But they get the job done and are a vital part of the whole process.

Our biggest hurdle?  We sold our second vehicle months earlier as we downsized, so we only had one vehicle. This would have meant that one of us was always going to have to figure out what to do with themselves, two dogs and a cat during every show. But luckily, we already had our LTV and it was conveniently parked in our driveway!

Little home parked next to big home = WIN.

Spending hours out in the LTV was as good as being in the big house! It was way better than sitting at a McDonald’s or looping around the block for hours. Or walking if one of us happened to be at work. We also could peek out the window and see who was looking at the house (don’t tell on us). We also got to spend time in the LTV organizing, installing interesting stuff and in Jimmy’s case, sleeping after working graveyard shifts.

The remaining hurdles had to be dealt with one at a time. Some were mental, some were physical and some were just plain logistical.

The Mental

Well yeah, the whole selling the house you thought you would retire in is hard. We just had to get over this one as there’s a bright and scenic-filled life waiting down the road.

The Physical

I had an emergency appendectomy right after we signed. It wasn’t fun, but I’m ok. I was limited to only picking up 10 pounds or less for a while and this left a lot to Jimmy (sorry babe).

The Logistical

Oh man! It’s not like we were moving to another house or had plans to later. When we closed, the house was supposed to be empty and we had a lot to sell or get rid of. But the realtor wanted us to keep the house furnished until we got a “clear to close” status from the buyer’s financing. We weren’t sure how we were supposed to sell it all when that status doesn’t usually happen until a week prior to closing! We considered moving everything to storage and selling later but decided to offer it all up to the potential buyers and see what happened. Fingers were crossed!

We received a contract from the very first showing which was less than 24 hours after we listed! This was when things became very real for me. We were selling our house. Holy cow! Wait, I’m not sure I want to! But, I did. That was hard. The showings continued for a week while we waited to see if any other contracts came about but it seemed like we would be living in the LTV much sooner than expected.

Those reactions to the house I was wondering about? Yeah, they were all great. The best one was “OMG, this house is FABULOUS!” One week after our listing was published, we had shown the house 17 times and had received 9 contract offers!

Life is good.

Fast forward 2 months and you will find that we closed just over a month after listing the house and have officially been living full time in the LTV for a month. The situation has not been ideal as we are both working different schedules. This means someone is always stranded or having to find something to do while the other one sleeps. It hasn’t been nearly as hard as we expected, but not particularly easy either. Luckily the RV Park we chose is quiet and not terribly far from work.We stayed in this first ‘resort’ park for 1 month. For our purposes, it was great. Even if it was a concrete jungle. We didn’t use many of the facility perks – only their WiFi and popcorn. We were spurred to move on when they switched us to a daily rate at the end of the month. Jimmy really had a hard time giving up the popcorn.

We moved out to a County Park on the beach and LOVED it! Wildflowers were blooming, walks on the beach were relaxing and migrating birds singing outside lulled us to sleep…. It was hard to leave!

April 17 was Jimmy’s last day of work. April 18th marked our first true day of freedom and the beginning of Full-Time RV Life. Will we miss family members that live locally? Yes! Do we miss the house? Surprisingly, no! And the furniture crisis was averted when the buyers asked for most of our furniture. We actually only had to sell a few things and donated just one carload. Waiting and the minimalist game paid off.

Are we still scared to embark on this new way of living? Sure, but we are ready!

Did everything we need fit in the motorhome? Gosh, we hope so. Honestly, I feel we have too much and plan to reevaluate monthly. Do we miss our “hometown” or jobs? Nope, but we sure do miss the people!

Let the adventures begin!

Lessons we learned:

Note: Full-time RVing (in any type or make of RV) may have implications on policies including, but not limited to, warranty and insurance policies. Please do your own research before making the decision to live in an RV on a full-time basis.