Tuolumne Falls is the first major waterfall we encountered as we made our way from Tuolumne Meadows towards the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. Of all the waterfalls that we encountered on the Tuolumne River, this one probably had the most vertical drop. Therefore, we thought it was one of the more photogenic ones as well.
I’ve seen literature claiming it falls 100ft, but I’m more inclined to think that’s true only if you count some of the cascading sections above and below the main tier. As a matter of fact, the white water starts well above this waterfall at some footbridges and continues to cascade below the White Cascade. So who knows where this waterfall technically begins and ends?
Starting from Tuolumne Meadows, we encountered this waterfall at roughly 5.4 miles after a loss of 500ft in elevation (Tuolumne Meadows is around 7000ft high). Thus, if we were to do only this waterfall as an out-and-back hike, then it’s about 10.8 miles round trip, which makes for a pretty long day hike. Of course, for that much effort, we were better off extending this hike a little more to see more waterfalls, and that was pretty much what we did.
Our hike began near Lembert Dome at the far eastern side of Tuolumne Meadows. From there, we hiked on the obvious trail that led us through the extensive alpine meadow towards Parson’s Lodge via Soda Springs. Throughout this stretch of the hike, we saw impressive peaks in the distance such as Unicorn Peak, Cathedral Peak, and Fairview Dome.
The trail then entered a forested area where the trail moved closer to the Tuolumne River. Eventually, the trail reached a footbridge where we crossed the river and granite terrain started to dominate. The trail descended steeply down granite steps alongside Tuolumne Falls offering various angles to see the waterfall.
We could’ve turned back from the base of the waterfall if it was our destination, but we continued on the trail eventually reaching Glen Aulin Falls (described on a separate page).
The Glen Aulin trailhead is about 7 miles west of Tioga Pass (where the Summer only Eastern Entrance is) along Route 120. You can find parking along the side of the spur road leaving Route 120 near Lembert Dome (near signpost T32). Or, if you don’t mind walking an additional mile, you can park at the official backpacker’s permit station further east along Route 120 where there seems to be plenty of parking space. Day trippers may also consider parking in one of the pullouts near Tuolumne Meadows (signpost T29).
To give you some context, this hike is accessible when the Tioga Road has been mostly snow free, which also means we would be able to access the trailhead from Mammoth Lakes (roughly an hours drive; Hwy 120 turnoff from Hwy 395 is just south of Lee Vining). Mammoth Lakes is roughly 5 hours drive from Los Angeles via the Hwy 14 and Hwy 395.
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