Longstreet Highroad Guide to the California Sierra Nevada
By Mark Grossi
While the John Muir Trail offers majestic high country views and one of the most primitive stretches in the Sierra, the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail adds volcanic rocks and a little more lush vegetation to the panoramic views. The 186-mile trail stretches between Meeks Bay at Lake Tahoe and Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, and such volcanic mountains as Dardanelles Cone and Relief Peak stand out along the trail on the granite of the Sierra.
The Tahoe-Yosemite Trail does not have the same type of pedigree as the Muir Trail, which was publicly established and constructed early in the twentieth century. The Sierra Club and the U.S. Forest Service discussed the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail around 1916 and worked on the trail around Meeks Bay and around Echo Lake, but they did not formally establish it. The Tahoe-Yosemite Trail evolved informally and unofficially in hiking and conservation circles. Outdoor author Thomas Winnett eventually brought the trail before the public in 1970 after he and others personally walked, measured, and researched the route. His guidebook contains maps, measurements, history, and advice, so backpackers and hikers can enjoy the trail.
The trail is not part of the Pacific Crest Trail, which certainly can be traversed from the Desolation Wilderness beside Tahoe to the high country of Yosemite. But the two trails do not coincide for about half of the Tahoe-Yosemite route.
The Tahoe-Yosemite Trail touches parts of Yosemite, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and Tahoe, Eldorado, and Stanislaus national forests. Elevations range from about 5,200 feet to more than 10,000 feet. There are many high-elevation lakes and vistas, similar to those along the Muir Trail. But the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail does not consistently reach the high elevations of the Muir Trail. Because it is north of Yosemite, however, the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail passes through areas that average more annual precipitation, giving it more abundant vegetation than the Muir Trail.
Look for the whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis), which survives in harsh conditions at high elevations. Other typical Sierra conifers can be seen as wellthe sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana), lodgepole pine (Pinus murrayana), and mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana). Other Sierra vegetation, wildflowers especially, can be seen along many parts of the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail. A good example is the colorful shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi).
As with any long-distance Sierra trail, it is always a good idea to plan many months in advance of a backpack on the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail. The rigors of daily hiking at high elevation require backpackers to get into good physical condition before the trip. It is also wise to carry a topographic map and a compass.
Hikers should also plan to encounter thunderstorms, which come up very quickly in July, August, and September in the Sierra. Carry a radio and be alert to weather forecasts. Keep an eye on the horizon for storm clouds.
There are several Tahoe-Yosemite trailheads on the northern end of the route near Lake Tahoe, but there are long stretches without such accommodations in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite. Generally speaking, there are towns closer to the Tahoe-Yosemite than there are to the Muir Trail, so bailing out of a long trek may be easier on the Tahoe-Yosemite.
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