Backpacking

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Backpacking Guide

Yosemite Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

Overview

The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne (To All o’ Me) is a deep canyon formed by the Tuolumne River and is located in Yosemite National Park. The canyon bottom provides ample views of towering granite cliffs that surround it. The canyon’s breathtaking scenery is punctuated by impressive waterfalls as the Tuolumne River loses elevation.

The area receives relatively few visitors, especially when compared to Yosemite Valley. If you have the opportunity to visit, you are sure to be rewarded by the pristine beauty of the Grand Canyon of Tuolumne. There are several routes to choose from, but for this post I will cover a 57-mile loop that begins at White Wolf Trailhead.

Note: Hike statistics were recorded with Gaia GPS app.

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 57.3 miles
  • Hike Time: 5 days
  • Elevation Gain: 10685 feet
  • Fee: Backcountry permit is required.
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Hard

Description

Day 1

  • Distance: 11.3 miles
  • Ascent: 1255 feet
  • Descent: 4763 feet

The Grand Canyon of Tuolumne loop starts at White Wolf Trailhead, at the end of White Wolf Road, off of California State Route 120. After the first fifteen minutes of hiking, there is a junction. Our group chose to bear left here, which makes for a lot of downhill on the first day and a somewhat gradual climb throughout the remaining four.

As you descend switchbacks to the canyon floor, there are tremendous views of the Grand Canyon of Tuolumne. Be sure to take photo ops and snack breaks to enjoy. Not far from the bottom, a creek meets the trail. This is a great place to refill your water bottle. All through the canyon the water is clear, pristine, and great tasting.

Grand Canyon of Tuolumne
Nightfall on The Tuolumne River

Day 2

  • Distance: 10.5 miles
  • Ascent: 1896 feet
  • Descent: 993 feet

The ascent statistics for this day are slightly skewed, because within ten minutes of setting out from camp, our group took a wrong turn. After crossing a bridge over the Tuolumne River, make sure to bear right at the junction. You will know you went the wrong way if you begin to ascend switchbacks up the Piute Creek drainage. At the time of our hike in late September 2017, the bridge here was damaged, but crossable.

Other than that, day two remains pretty straightforward. There is one section that leaves the river to bypass some narrows, but otherwise you follow it the whole day. As you hike, take note of the countless swimming holes along the way. If you have the courage to brave cold water, take a break and jump in! I promise you won’t regret it.

Grand Canyon of Tuolumne Dead Bear
We encountered a dead bear in the middle of the trail

Day 3

  • Distance: 10.4 miles
  • Ascent: 2694 feet
  • Descent: 250 feet

The river drops dramatically in this section and since you are hiking upriver, you will ascend quite a bit on day three. This is a gorgeous portion of the canyon. It seems around every bend you are greeted by another enchanting waterfall. Our group was so spellbound, that we stopped over and over again to take photos and revel in the beauty we encountered.

As you approach Glen Aulin, foot traffic ramps up a bit. Glen Aulin is one of five Yosemite High Sierra Camps. These camps provide food, lodging, and other amenities for hikers looking to see the backcountry without hauling as much gear. Read more about High Sierra Camps here.

Once you have arrived to the junction found at Glen Aulin, bear right and continue on to McGee Lake. There are lots of campsites here, but if there is daylight, press on further as much as you can. Any miles you can get in now are miles you won’t have to hike later.

Grand Canyon of Tuolumne Waterfalls
Jason next to some waterfalls on the Tuolumne River

Day 4

  • Distance: 14.6 miles
  • Ascent: 3369 feet
  • Descent: 2271 feet

Day four proved to be the toughest stretch for our group. Assuming you follow the same itinerary, it is the furthest distance, most elevation gained, and highest elevation you will reach on any day of the trip. That being said, it is also filled with magnificent views of the High Sierras and the Grand Canyon of Tuolumne below.

At its highest point, the trail climbs to 9,800 feet only to drop back to 8,450 feet then climb back up to 9,600 feet. If you live at sea level, you are sure to feel the effects of high altitude. Make sure to pace yourself and don’t push too hard too early. Drink plenty of fluids and eat frequently to avoid blood sugar spikes or depletion.

There are some excellent campsites to be found at Ten Lakes. If you are lucky enough to catch sunset here, head down to the lake and watch the reflections shimmer on the water’s glassy surface.

Grand Canyon of Tuolumne Andromeda Galaxy
The Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy (lower right)

Day 5

  • Distance: 10.6 miles
  • Ascent: 1470 feet
  • Descent: 2618 feet

By far, day five is the easiest. It begins with a quick 650 foot ascent out of the valley at Ten Lakes. From there, outside of one more minor ascent, it is all downhill to the White Wolf Trailhead.

This section boasts some of the most interesting and diverse mushroom growths I have seen. We were kicking ourselves for not bringing our favorite mushroom book along. If you can get your hands on that or someone knowledgeable on mushrooms, this area is a great place to see a huge variety and learn about ’em.

Glen Aulin
Rock formations near Glen Aulin

Location

The hike begins at White Wolf Trailhead at the end of White Wolf Road, off of California State Route 120. It is situated within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park in California.

Get Directions

Map


Download GPX File

Resources

Guidebooks

Topographic Map

Tips

  • Water: During normal conditions, water is abundant both in the canyon and above it. I carried just one liter on our trip and filled up when needed. Even so, make sure to check with the rangers before you go.
  • Bears: There is a significant population of black bears in the area. Never leave food unattended. Also, keep all food and scented items (e.g. toothpaste, toiletries) locked in a bear canister at night, away from your tent.
  • Best Time to Travel: July through September.
  • Safety: During early season, high water can be dangerous. Watch for rattlesnakes at canyon bottom. We encountered one on the trail.

Photos

Waterfall Grand Canyon of Tuolumne
Another waterfall in the Grand Canyon of Tuolumne
The White Cascade (Glen Aulin Falls)
The White Cascade (Glen Aulin Falls)
Grand Canyon of Tuolumne View
Jason and Justin checking out the view in the Grand Canyon of Tuolumne
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One comment

  1. […] of the High Country. If you don’t want to deal with shuttles or staging cars, you might consider making it a loop hike. This adds more than 20 miles though, so you’ll likely need additional […]

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