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Tuolumne Campgrounds other than the Meadows

Original Post
Alex Rogers · · Sydney, Australia · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 40

Hi guys - we are planning a trip from Australia to climb in Tuolumne and Yosemite, 21 Sep to 8 Oct. Had planned to spend a week or more in Tuolumne Meadows first, then head down to the Valley for the rest. While prepping for the reservation window to open, I just noticed that NPS estimate that they will be closing the Meadows campground on 25th Sep, which really throws a spanner in the works. We have booked our flights, and can't move them. I'd like to ask some advice from some locals as to the options, which I see as being

1) Book for 4 nights at Meadows, then move to unreserved site at Porcupine Flat for 4-5 days (as base for Tuolumne area climbing)  then down to a reserved site in the Valley. This sounds like a good option, but have no idea how nice the Porcupine Flat sites are, and how likely we are to get an unreserved site at this time of year. 

2) Base ourselves outside the Park for the Tuolumne section (Saddlebag, Tioga lakes or other Lee Vining area campgrounds) and only book the Valley campground for the second half. We plan to do Conness and Cathedral etc so this is quite convenient. 

3) Book 4 days in TM, and the rest in the Valley campgrounds, and commute up to Tuolumne for the first week or 10 days. 

I'd love to have reserved sites for the whole time, but the only way I can do that is 3) and it means driving from the Valley up to Tuolumne - it sounds like this is about an hour each way, which is a pain but not a train smash. Any thoughts on Porcupine Flat (how nice is it? how likely are we to get a campsite around 26 Sep?) and recommendations? 

Thanks :-) 

Clint Cummins · · Palo Alto, CA · Joined Jan 2007 · Points: 725

For climbing in Tuolumne Meadows, the simplest thing is to drive 20 minutes over Tioga Pass (out of the park).

Then camp in one of the US Forest Service campgrounds, or the many free and legal spots off the road, down to the 9000' elevation level.

You can eat dinner and breakfast at the picnic tables at the Lembert Dome Picnic area.

George Wu · · Newport Beach, CA · Joined Jul 2015 · Points: 76

The drive up from the Valley to Tuolumne Meadows is pretty long, two hours even.  (That's from memory.  I'd look it up on Google Maps, but because Highway 120 is closed right now, Google won't map a route!)  Its got some pretty vistas, but in my opinion, Tioga Pass down to Lee Vining is even more scenic, some of the prettiest driving views I know of.

Lots of folks "dirtbag bivy" along 120 outside the park as Clint suggests, which is one answer.  If you prefer the assurance of knowing you have a reserved site, there are a bunch of campgrounds along Highway 395 in that area.  One is right in Lee Vining, which is a quaint little town, if a bit touristy.  It sits near Mono Lake, which is pretty unique and draws visitors from all over.  But there are campgrounds just up many side roads off 395 south all the way down to Mammoth and beyond, most of them near lakes.  That's probably true to the north too, but I haven't traveled that way much.

If you're hardcore and your trip objective is the maximum amount of climbing, or if you're on a budget, a nearby ivy just outside the park will fit your needs.  If you'd also like to play international tourist a bit, find a campground along one of the roads leading away from 395.

FrankPS · · Atascadero, CA · Joined Nov 2009 · Points: 275

There are multiple campgrounds along Tioga Pass road, just east of the park, which do not accept reservations. There campgrounds are only about twenty minutes from the park, as Clint stated above:

C Brooks · · Fresno, CA · Joined Feb 2015 · Points: 551

There are several excellent bivy spots just outside of the park, as Clint mentioned. These are excellent places to camp if you cannot get a place to stay. They are also very close to the famous  eating place --

Highly recommend for any meal of the day ~

I can send you google map links to the bivy spots if you send me a PM

Alex Rogers · · Sydney, Australia · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 40

Thanks all of you, that is really helpful. Great to know that the camping options on the Lee Vining side are good. So I'll take what dates I can get at TM, then either a week at Porcupine Flats or outside the Park along the Tioga Pass Rd, then down to the Valley for the last week. 

Clint - thanks, good to get authoritative advice from someone who is an expert in the area

George, cheers for that - I couldn't work out the travel time from Valley to TM, so that was really useful. We'll be in a little campervan with roof top tent, so moving is easy anough. I'll check the possibilities with reserved campsites along 395, but sounds like the Forestry sites on 120 are good, and we might just take our chances, particularly if we have good info on possible informal sites too

Frank, thanks for those, I'll check those out, and then put them on a custom map in case we need them. 

C Brooks, cheers, will PM you. Yes, have heard of this gas station deli, we might be spending a bit of time there :-) 

Much appreciated all :-) 

King Tut · · Citrus Heights · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 435

Keep in mind that late in the year is also generally easy to get spots in the campgrounds just outside the park and other free locations. Much less stress than in the middle of the summer.

J Sundstrom · · San Diego, CA · Joined Jan 2014 · Points: 135
JaredG · · Tucson, AZ · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 0

You might also consider backcountry/wilderness camping.  You'll need to get permits, but they should be a bit easier to get late in the season (there are reservations but also walk-ins).  This is a pretty good way to do the west ridge of Conness or the Mathes Crest traverse.

Alex Rogers · · Sydney, Australia · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 40

Thanks guys. J Sundstrom, I checked that website, and had all those details from the national Forests site, but great to see those photos, that really helps, cheers. I've spent a couple of hours on Google maps etc, and have all those options plotted now, plus some informal ones, so I think at that time of the year we should find somewhere both convenient and picturesque. Jared, I don't think we will bring back-country camping gear, just too much weight / hassle on this trip, especially since we are flying in from Aus. We'll just have to suck up the long approaches / returns, including Conness and Snake Dike. We are getting towards being climbing fit - but I really must start my hiking training soon :-) 

Thanks all

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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