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Hetch Hetchy reservoir

California

Yosemite National Park: 5 Hidden Gems to Explore from Tuolumne, California

By: Idoia Gkikas

Steve Brooks
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  • States:
    California

You’ll really get to savor this incomparable landscape when you venture off the beaten path and check out these less well-known places in Yosemite National Park.

Here’s an insider’s tip: If you’re planning to visit Yosemite National Park, stay in Tuolumne County (pronounced “too-ALL-oh-mee”), which encompasses more than half of the park’s territory. Tuolumne provides the most direct access from all of Northern California and San Francisco via Highway 120, stays open all year ‘round, and offers many types of affordable lodging just outside the park. Want to focus on sightseeing and avoid driving entirely? Just book a motorcoach tour from Tuolumne County or take a Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) bus, and leave the driving and parking to the pros.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Created by the 130-meter O'Shaughnessy Dam at the Tuolumne River, the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is a pristine body of water flanked by steep, granite rock faces. Walk the length of the dam to marvel at this impressive structure, then hit the trails to Wapama Falls or Rancheria Falls. Interesting fact: The reservoir provides much of the drinking water supply for the San Francisco Bay area, said to be among the cleanest in the U.S. Water released from Hetch Hetchy provides for a thrilling 29-kilometer rafting adventure on the Tuolumne River, downstream from the park.

Rancheria Falls

A moderate, 21-kilometer roundtrip hike takes visitors from the O'Shaughnessy Dam, around the northern rim of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to Rancheria Falls. A series of waterfalls drops more than 300 meters into the rippling reservoir below. A spring hike will reward you with roaring falls, blooming wildflowers and stunning views of snow-covered mountain peaks in the distance.

Rather than one vertical drop – Rancheria Falls is a series of cascades sure to take your breath away.

Rather than one vertical drop – Rancheria Falls is a series of cascades sure to take your breath away.
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John DeGrazio

Wapama Falls

Wapama Falls is an awesome day hike with a big pay-off. From the trailhead at the O’Shaughnessy Dam, it’s an 8-kilometer round-trip hike to the 425-meter falls. In spring, the winter snowmelt makes for a thrilling experience. You’ll be misted (or even soaked, depending on water levels) with crisp mountain water as you cross the Falls Creek Bridge. Later in the season, when the water flow is lighter, hikers wander underneath the bridge to explore natural pools carved in the granite by the waterfall.

Ready to get wet? The heavy spray at Wapama Falls can be a welcome refreshment after a long hike.

Ready to get wet? The heavy spray at Wapama Falls can be a welcome refreshment after a long hike.
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Paul Bell

Tuolumne Meadows

The Tuolumne River winds gently through this large subalpine meadow, surrounded by stately pines, craggy mountain peaks and impressive rock domes. During the warm months, a shuttle travels along Tioga Road for easy access to the meadow, and camping is available. People of all fitness levels will enjoy excellent hikes here.

Gorgeous mountain scenery, open expanses and picture-perfect vistas are in abundance at Tuolumne Meadows.

Gorgeous mountain scenery, open expanses and picture-perfect vistas are in abundance at Tuolumne Meadows.
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Tracy Barbutes
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Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias

The two dozen giant sequoias in this grove are so old and tall that their canopies create their own ecosystems. Due to the closure of Mariposa Grove for renovation, this is currently one of two open groves where you can see these majestic trees. Make sure to have your photo taken standing inside the tunnel through the trunk of an old sequoia.

Giant Sequoia Trees, like those found in the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, are some of the tallest trees in the world.

Giant Sequoia Trees, like those found in the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias, are some of the tallest trees in the world.
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Kim Carroll

Getting There

Tuolumne is less than four hours from international airports in San Francisco and Oakland and the most direct route to Yosemite from the San Francisco Bay Area. From Sacramento, the area is 90 minutes south. Private charter services can help you get around the county, and the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) can provide transportation into the park.