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Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Hike
The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne was unbelievable. This was a long discussed backpacking trip for 3 friends who hadn’t really seen each other for over 20 years. None of us had visited Yosemite and we were finally able to make it happen! We got to experience many amazing waterfalls, classic Yosemite views, and saw so few other people. We almost always had this impressive trail to ourselves, and I feel lucky to have had this initial Yosemite experience.
I picked up my friends in Las Vegas and we headed to Mammoth Lakes to stay for the night. We stayed with an old friend from Crested Butte, it was great to catch up and chill in this cool place.
Sunday morning we got up early and headed into Yosemite National Park to start our adventure. We picked up our permit at the wilderness center and strolled to the YARTS bus pick up spot for the ride to the starting trailhead and camp for the night. The White Wolf Campground was nice, and wasn’t too crowded considering it’s summertime in Yosemite.
Day 1: The next morning we loaded up the packs and headed into the backcountry for a 4 day trip. The first day we descended almost 4000ft to the bottom of the canyon. While the miles of steep downhill were a bit rough on the knees, we were super stoked to have the packs on and start our hike.
The hike starts out in the forest as you leave the trailhead and climbs a bit to the edge of the canyon and then it’s time to descend!
This was the only day we experienced any smoke issues from the wildfires, fortunately it didn’t seem to effect our breathing. After a final cruise along the river we made it to Pate Valley and found a nice campsite. We had easy river access and a quick swim in the river to cool us off and rinse off the dirt was most excellent.
The Day 2 hike starts to follow the Tuolumne River, so we started to see small waterfalls and pools. After a bit we got to the good size climb up the Muir Gorge. We got really lucky with the weather, as we started this tough climb we got great cloud cover and little bit of rain to keep things cool. We saw 0 people all day on the trail.
That night’s campsite was almost certainly the best one I’ve ever had, with a waterfall and great swimming hole. After a quick set up in the rain and a little tent time while it down-poured, we dried out and went for a swim!
We got to relax on some big granite above camp to watch the sunset and then again to stare at the stars for a bit!
Day 3 was the day of so many waterfalls! There was more climbing than I thought, but it was totally worth it. Around almost every bend of the trail is a waterfall, pool or beautiful river view. We couldn’t help but stop to take so many pictures!
Waterwheel and Le Conte Falls were huge and it was so cool to be able to walk out into the rock right next to the rushing waters! We definitely spent a good amount of time with the packs off exploring these amazing features.
The afternoon of day three we finally started to see a few other people as we approached Glen Aulin, it was an almost weird experience after 2 1/2 days of seeing no one. We found a nice sheltered campsite and relaxed for our last night on the trail.
Day 4 was a great day of hiking. The climbs weren’t as tough, both White Cascade and Tuolumne Falls were awesome (and we had a great swim).
The last few miles are a great ending, as you walk into Tuolumne Meadows with it’s iconic granite domes and peaks. We stopped by the Parson’s Memorial Lodge, talked with a couple other backpackers and headed to the Tuolumne store for some ice cream!
After hiking out we headed to Independence for some me food, and hit up the Onion Valley campground for the night.
After a nice night in the tents at 9,200′ we headed towards Vegas so my friends could fly out the next day. After stops at the Möbius Arch, Star Wars Canyon, and Badwater Basin we cruised to our hotel. We relaxed for a bit in our rooms, went out for an excellent dinner, played a little gambling, and then crashed out!
Everything on the trip worked out so well, great friends, awesome scenery and hiking, and pretty much perfect weather. We only dealt with smoke from the wildfires on the first day, after that it was clear skies. I’ve never seen so many waterfalls, Yosemite is an amazing place and I feel so lucky to have such great long term friends.