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?


The first two weeks of going full time

Our first two weeks of freedom weren’t really free. We had quite a lot scheduled and had a tight schedule to meet. We were excited to leave on our adventure and ready to start our 1300 mile journey.

Observation Tower – Hot Springs NP

DeGrey Lake – Arkansas

First up The day after Jimmy retired we headed from Texas up to Arkansas for an LTV Rally. This would be our second rally to attend as Texoma Travelers members and we were really looking forward to it. This rally was held at DeGrey Lake Resort State Park and it was just amazing to see so many LTV’s in one spot! We filled an entire loop and actually overflowed into another. We made new friends, toured other coaches and enjoyed great food too. Our free time was spent Geocaching and exploring Hot Springs National Park. We just had a day at the park so we plan to go back and spend a little more time there… I’ve got to soak! While in Hot Springs, we climbed to the top of the Observation Tower… if you ever overhear someone say you can take the stairs to the second floor, DON’T fall for it! The second floor is actually all the way up at the top!! We climbed it and while the climb itself wasn’t bad, the swaying was a bit scary! We did get some great pictures though. The last day of the rally was cut a bit short due to bad weather so we headed out early for the next leg of our journey.

Next up – Table Rock State Park near Branson Missouri

The plan was to get set up and relax a bit before an early appointment with RV SunScreen, but the weather was again not cooperating and our appointment was moved to the late afternoon. We were quite surprised when we got to the park and found out that our site had no hook-ups. Looks like when we booked, we booked a basic site which is a primitive site… who knew! We were excited to try out our solar as we had not had much opportunity to use it and plan to be off the grid as much as we can. This spot would be a great way to practice. We learned a lot in those two days, but we sure haven’t gotten it all figured out. Turns out our spot wasn’t so good for practice… darn beautiful trees, LOL. After spending the early morning hours with no power, we understand that we have a lot to learn and we will need MUCH more practice.

Sewing the edges

Cutting the final shape

RV SunScreen showed up at our site as scheduled in a pick-up truck. They opened up the back, pulled out tables, a sewing machine and screen fabric then proceeded to custom-make the windshield and side window covers while we watched! It was neat to watch them work. You could tell they had done this a few times!

Drilling hole for snap… GULP!

Sizing the screen

Our screens turned out great! They snap in place, darken the windows, prevent people from seeing in during the day, but still allow us to see out. We love that we still have a view, but don’t have to worry so much about everybody seeing what we are doing. Bonus points for also cutting down on the heat coming in! Installing and removing them has been interesting. We are not tall people and have found it is a bit hard to attach/un-attach the top snaps. We could use a stepstool to get it done, but our way is way more fun!

Can’t reach!!

Got it… With a little help!

Our next appointment was a week and 650 miles away, so we drove about halfway and spent a few days at Sangchris State Park. We randomly chose this park as it was generally on our way and at about the halfway mark but driving in sure made us question our decision! We drove through miles and miles of fields with no oasis in sight… then suddenly, there it was with a huge lake too!

It was a pretty place and we were the only ones there besides the camp host. Weekday camping score! This was our first experience with a central water system… we had no idea there was such a thing, but we later found that it is very common!

We were all alone here!

It was also the first place we have been able to gather firewood and we could see why! Branches were constantly falling and they needed us to help keep the area clean! We enjoyed our stay and were ready for the final appointment. Levellers install!

Final stop: Elkhart Indiana. We got up bright and early to prep for the day’s journey and headed out. We have since learned to do most of the prep the night before. Pre-work sure makes morning departures easier.

We arrived at Equalizer Systems shop after dark, parked and went to bed. It was hard to sleep as we were excited about this upgrade! The installer knocked on our door around 6:30 am to start the install. We waited in their “lounge” area. Our cat, Max, was quite happy with the accommodations. By the early afternoon, they were done and we were on our way again.

One relaxed cat!

Overview of Controls

Equalizer Control Panel

Wait! Where are we going next?? Who knows! We’ll take it day by day and go wherever the road leads us… after all, home is wherever we park. Hello freedom, we are so glad to meet you.

Lessons 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.