Yosemite Backpacking – Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

Trip Length 5 Days
Group Size 4-9
Activity level
Starting from
$1,349 for REI Members
$1,500 for non-members
Departures Sep 2020-Sep 2021

Hike to gorgeous mountain views and camp beside a rushing river on this five-day backpacking adventure.

Experience spectacular solitude along one of Yosemite’s most beautiful backpacking routes. The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne is a hidden gem among the High Sierras. Its mountainous views are only accessible on foot, which guarantees an off-the-beaten path backpacking adventure. This itinerary offers a unique chance to see the powerful grandeur of Yosemite through the eyes of 20th-century explorers John Muir and Galen Clark.

After meeting our group of fellow adventurers, we don our packs and enjoy the beautiful scenery on the descent into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. Climb up the Muir Gorge bypass for views of Grand Mountain, Colby Mountain and Tuolumne Peak. Enjoy a refreshing swim in the crisp, blue river waters. Pass California Falls en route to dramatic 50-mile views at Glen Aulin. Walk among colorful wildflower blooms in the largest sub-alpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada. Delicious meals accompany each evening camped along the banks of the Tuolumne River, its rushing waters lulling us to sleep after an exhilarating day in the outdoors.

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Trip Highlights

  • Backpack through Yosemite’s remote and awe-inspiring High Country
  • Follow the Tuolumne River past cascading waterfalls and wildflower meadows
  • Camp along the rushing river under a blanket of Sierra stars
  • Exceptional guides lead the way and prepare delicious backcountry meals

Activities

This trip is rated Vigorous [4]. Participants will be carrying their own backpacks weighing 35-40 pounds over daily distances of up to 11 miles and a significant amount of elevation gain/loss.

To maximize your enjoyment of the trip, we strongly encourage participants to be involved in a training regimen at least 3-6 months before the trip. We also recommend that you stay well hydrated prior to departure to assist in mitigating the effects of hiking at moderately high altitude. Most important to your enjoyment of the trip is your overall fitness level.

  • Backpacking

What's Included

Professional guiding; meals as noted on the daily itinerary; tents; group cooking gear; group first aid kit, water filter; campsite and permit fees.

Accommodations

Backpackers' campground, 1 night; backcountry camping, 3 nights

Your Adventure Itinerary

Day 1

Meet at our campground for introductions, gear check and orientation.

This trip begins in Yosemite National Park, California. We meet our guides and traveling companions at 4:30pm at the Tuolumne Meadows Backpackers’ Camp. It's just uphill from the Dana Campfire Circle in the middle of the Tuolumne Meadows Campground. Our guides conduct a full trip orientation and gear check before distributing approximately 7-10 pounds of group gear and food for each of us to add to our packs. Tonight, we have an opportunity to relax and enjoy a welcome dinner together around the campfire. All meals included from dinner on Day 1 through lunch on Day 5.

Day 2

Begin backpacking and descend into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.

After breakfast, drive in your own vehicle to the White Wolf trailhead, about 45 minutes away. Our day starts off on easy dirt trail that winds its way through thick stands of Lodgepole Pines, past small meadows, and eventually over an ancient lateral moraine, as we drop into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. We enjoy sweeping vistas of the canyon and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir as we make our way to the Tuolumne River. This will be our lowest elevation of the trip; from here we continue along the river all the way back to Tuolumne Meadows. After a few miles of hiking through old growth Ponderosa forest, blanketed with lush green ferns, we find ourselves at Pate Valley. Here we make camp under the tall trees and find a place to cool off in the clear blue waters of the Tuolumne.

Backpacking: 11.5 miles; minimal elevation gain; 4,000’ elevation loss.

Day 3

Backpack along the Tuolumne River to Muir Gorge.

Wake up to the sounds of the Tuolumne River and enjoy a hot breakfast prepared by our guides. Today’s trail brings us past giant trees, massive boulder fields and countless cascades. We enjoy lunch at the base of a waterfall, a side creek that feeds into the Tuolumne itself. After lunch, we begin our big climb to bypass the Muir Gorge, a tight granite gorge in the middle of the Grand Canyon. At our high point, we gaze up at the peaks of the Ten Lakes Basin and get a glimpse up canyon. We drop back to the river level and continue along until we reach our campsite for the evening. Our camp offers nearby swimming holes and a great vantage point for sunset. After another spectacular backcountry dinner, we enjoy another tranquil evening under a blanket of Sierra stars before turning in for the night.

Backpacking: 10 miles; 2,500' elevation gain; 1,200’ of loss.

Day 4

Climb the bypass around Muir Gorge to Waterwheel Falls.

Enjoy a hot cup of coffee at the river’s edge and a hot breakfast in camp. We take a dip in another spectacular swimming hole along the river, before beginning our big climb out of the Canyon. The climb is nicely broken up by unbelievably beautiful waterfalls, including Waterwheel, LeConte and California Falls. After climbing past the three falls, we wander through lovely Glen Aulin. This beautiful valley sits at the top of the Grand Canyon of Tuolumne, under massive granite peaks, covered in wildflower meadows, Lodgepole Pines, and Aspen groves. At the far eastern end of the valley, we navigate one more short climb to camp where we enjoy our final backcountry dinner, followed by the best sunset of the trip with views of Mt Conness, Wildcat Point, Glen Aulin and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne itself.

Backpacking: 9.5 miles; 2,500' elevation gain; 400' elevation loss.

Day 5

Hike past waterfalls and granite peaks en route to Tuolumne Meadows.

Our last morning will be bittersweet, as there’s nothing like a delicious hot camping breakfast in the mountains, but after three days of hiking, our adventure is drawing to an end. Our day begins with a last climb from camp alongside White Cascades and Tuolumne Falls, followed by a descent into Tuolumne Meadows. From here, our trail undulates through the woods with spectacular views of the famous granite domes of the Meadows. Our hike finishes at the base of Lembert Dome, where we enjoy one last wilderness picnic together. After lunch, a short walk along Tioga Road brings us to the bus that will shuttle us back to our cars. While we wait for the bus, we have an opportunity to buy postcards and mail them from the Tuolumne General Store. Our 45-minute bus ride delivers us to our vehicles back at White Wolf Trailhead, where we sort gear and say our final goodbyes.

Backpacking: 6.8 miles; 1,100' elevation gain, minimal elevation loss.

Gear List

The key to staying comfortable while on an active trip is layering. To get maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection. Try to bring only what is necessary—this will help you and the field staff.

What to pack

Contact Us

Feel free to give us a call at 800-622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales (800-426-4840) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out REI Expert Advice , which has great information to help you prepare for your trip.