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Tioga Road Has Reopened: A Beautiful Drive Across and Up to Saddlebag Lake

It was that magical day when Tioga Road reopened and I wandered across to say hello to some of my old friends: Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, Tioga Lake and Saddlebag Lake. I never know how much snow or ice I will see until I make the trek. Please join me on my wandering.

Where: Hoover Wilderness, Inyo National Forest
Elevation Range: 3,000′ – 10,100′
Date: May 27, 2021
CALTOPO: Tioga Road Opener Road Trip 2022
Dog Hike? Depends (See Below)

The official opening day of Tioga Road is a really big deal for me and May 27 was the big day this year. BTW, this is the same date that it reopened last year. The road across the high country of Yosemite National Park is not an all weather road and it closes during the winter. When it reopens, I am usually lined up when the gate opens but this year was a little different because of the new rules in place at Yosemite National Park. One of those new rules included the implementation of a Peak Hour Reservation (PHR) system. Peak hours are 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. PT. Only visitors with peak hour reservations may enter the park between 6 am PT through 4 pm PT. You get them through Recreation.gov. If you are a local resident you can “pass through” without a PHR but they will give you a pass with a time you need to get to the other side. I am sure some of you have questions about those exceptions or changes and you can also check out Yosemite’s Yosemite Peak Hour Reservation System Information. or Yosemite Frequently Asked Questions. I had already printed out my pass and went through the El Portal Entrance Station early, before it was staffed.

This year, they said Tioga Road would open at 9am and I decided to get there early, just in case it opened early. I drove up Hwy 140 through the Arch Rock Entrance above El Portal a little before 7 am and it was staffed. There were a couple of cars in front of me and a man guided me to one of the lanes that turned out to be the slowest moving lane of the two. They scanned my Peak Hour Reservation Pass and checked my Park Pass and ID, which I had out and ready. They then printed out a yellow slip with the last 3 identifiers of my license plate (which I have removed) to tape to the lower left side of my front windshield and off I went. The sign on the booth said Tioga Road was closed. I didn’t ask any questions though.

When I turned onto Tioga Road at Crane Flat at 7:20, the sign said Tioga Road Open. Whoohooo! And a few miles after I passed the Aspen Valley Trailhead, a half grown bear decided to cross the road. I was going plenty slow enough and it was going plenty fast enough. But, that is a good reminder that the animals may not be used to this human traffic and may not be a wary on the road crossings.

I made a few stops as I drove across. The first stop was at a very small lake called Siesta Lake (7,987′ elevation) along the south side of Tioga Road. I like to stop to see beautiful morning reflections.

And I made a stop at Olmsted Point (8,360′ elevation) with views of Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest, photobombed by a marmot!

At the end of that parking lot, I caught my first glimpse of Tenaya Lake and the Tioga Crest.

When I arrived at the west end of Tenaya Lake (8,312′ elevation), light cloud cover had started blocking the sun and there were a few skeeters. Those beautiful reflections were definitely there!

The next stop was Tuolumne Meadows, about 8,600′. There is a log of construction going on in this stretch this summer but none was going on today. They say to be prepared to waits due to that construction and there is a 2 mile stretch coned off with no parking along the road. The Cathedral Lakes Trailhead parking along the road is still allowed at this writing.

When I stopped at the west side of Tioga Lake (9,647′ elevation), a breeze was up so I didn’t get those pretty reflections, but it was still darn nice.

Saddlebag Lake Road was open so I drove up to the parking lot of Saddlebag Lake Resort. The lake is at 10,066′ elevation. I decided to wander down toward the lake but the easiest path I saw through the snow climbed a bit up the hill with a dandy view of Mount Dana in front of me.

Then I followed rock islands and snow toward the lake. The snow was a little soft with a few postholes but not bad.

I pleasant surprise was that I saw no visable construction going on this day and most importantly, no construction delays. When I headed back in the east gate, there was a sign warning of construction delays Monday through Thursday. I say be prepared and bring your patience because you never know. Here is a great site to check out for the latest Yosemite Road Work, with specifics on Tioga Road.

As I left, I noticed that Junction Campground had opened so I swung down to Ellery Lake and sure enough the campground had opened up there also. Tioga Lake Campground had also opened since I drove through in the morning. But Sawmill and Saddlebag Campgrounds are not open yet. You can check Inyo National Forest’s Campground Camping page for Updates here.

In addition to being cautious about animals on the road, there were quite a few small rocks on the road so I needed to be careful as I drove to not hit one of them.

I traveled early for a few reasons. This was the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend and I was trying to beat traffic the best I could. Winds were forecasted for the afternoon and I hoped to hit the lakes early for reflections before that wind came up. And probably the most important reason was because I couldn’t wait to get to the high country and see what if those lakes were still iced over!

Dog Hike?

Dogs are not allowed on trails in this area in Yosemite National Park but they are allowed on leash in the bordering Inyo National Forest where Tioga and Saddlebag Lakes are located.

Map:

CALTOPO has some free options for mapping and here is a link to my hike this week:  CALTOPO: Tioga Road Opener Road Trip 2022

Tioga Road Opener Road Trip Map 2022

Sources:

Yosemite Conditions

Yosemite National Park How will COVID-19 affect my visit?

Tioga Road Opening and Closing Dates

Tioga Pass Resort

Saddlebag Lake Campground

Hoover Wilderness

Inyo National Forest Policies and Rules

Inyo National Forest Hiking and Camping with Dogs

Prior Blogs in the Area:

Tioga Road Has Reopened: Hiking to Gaylor, Granite Lakes & the Old Mining Town of Dana City May 22, 2021

Hiking From Tioga Road to Lower, Middle Gaylor and Granite Lakes September 25, 2020

First Day Tioga Road Reopened: Heading Across With Fannie and Sally, Hiking From Saddlebag To Lake Greenstone Lake June 15, 2020

Sneak Peek of Tioga Pass Frozen Lakes June 9, 2019

Tioga Pass is Open and the High Country is Breathtaking!! May 24, 2018

Camping and Fishing with Sally at Saddlebag Lake and Beyond June 26, 2018

Camping and Fishing with Sally at Saddlebag Lake August 17, 2017

Hiking with Sally from Saddlebag Lake through Twenty Lakes Basin August 15, 2017

Hiking with Sally in the 20 Lakes Basin July 12, 2016

Hiking with Sally up to the Hess Mine in the Tioga Pass Area October 26 2016

Hiking with Sally on the 20 Lakes Basin Loop August 22, 2013

 

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