Backpack Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne

White Wolf Road

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne is a 46.7 mile backpacking loop in Yosemite National Park. The route features many waterfalls and swimming holes, best trafficked from late spring to early fall. The landscape is truly jaw-dropping, as it quickly changes from a granite rock trail to a sequoia forest, to an aspen grove, and to a dry desert trail in a just a few miles.

This is a rugged overnight backpack into the North country of Yosemite dropping in from Tuolumne Meadows into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. The trail begins at an elevation just under 9,000' and drops to a low elevation of 4,500' almost 19 miles later at Pate Valley. Coming up out of Pate Valley heading towards Harden Lake is an elevation gain of almost 4,550' in just under 8 or so miles, be prepared. During the hike you'll pass a series of waterfalls starting with White Cascade Falls followed by Tuolumne Falls, California Falls, Le Conte Falls and finally the geological wonder, Waterwhell Falls, where the water flows down over a series of grooves in the rocks that can propel the water close to 20' into the air in a counter clock wise wheel, really spectacular. There are lots of natural pools to take a dip in as the temperatures rise throughout the day.

It is highly recommended to start from White Wolf campground, as if you are heading from Glen Aulin. Check water levels and snow levels with Yosemite's wilderness office before heading out. This backpacking route is best done in late spring / summer to ensure the waterfalls are still flowing at max capacity. The trail can be overgrown, especially earlier in the season, so it is recommended to bring a GPS or to know what you are doing with a compass and a map. 

The trail can be rewarding for those looking for solitude - not fully immersed (you'll still see 10-15 people while on your route). The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne is best hiked in 3-4 days. Recommended campsites include Water Wheel Falls and Pate Valley. 

Photos: EthanMatt Hoffman and Neko

Pack List

  • Backpack
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Permits
  • Food
  • Water filter
  • Non-cotton layers
  • Wool socks
  • Hiking boots
  • Trekking poles
  • Headlamp
  • Bowl, mug, spork
  • Jetboil or Whisperlite 
  • First Aid Kit
Show More
RT Distance 46.7 Miles
Elevation Gain 10610 Feet
Activities Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking, Fitness
Skill Level Expert
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Easy Parking
Groups
Lake
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife
Swimming Hole

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

It Was Tough, But Awesome!

We hiked “backwards”, from White a Wolf to Tuolumne Meadows in September 2017. The hike down to Pate Valley was tough on the knees and devoid of water until you hit the river at the bottom. Bridges were washed out from the heavy winter that year. The climb up and out of the valley had some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever experienced. Waterfall after waterfall after waterfall... absolutely wonderful. 31 miles in total and my feet felt them all. It can be done in three days, but I recommend four or five to enjoy the scenery.


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