Sunrise light on a grove of tufa towers emerging from the water of Mono Lake with soft green and dusty-red wild grasses in the foreground, Canada geese in the shallow water with reflections of the rocky towers, and desert hills in the distance.

Tioga Pass watch: Current conditions

Dana Meadows, at the top of Tioga Pass, looking northeast towards Tioga Peak. Photo by Nora Livingston.

On Saturday, May 18, I tagged along with a researcher studying sparrows up Tioga Pass. We drove all the way to the Yosemite National Park entrance station to check out the current conditions and set up a weather station for her study plot. It is still a winter wonderland up there!

An icy pond below Mount Dana. Photo by Nora Livingston.

The road is plowed up to the entrance station, but hazards exist in the road like small boulders and ice from snowmelt. This portion of the road is open to intrepid bicyclists and pedestrians (?) only. Once you get to the top of the pass, there are eight-foot walls of snow on either side of the road.

Highway 120 West at the entrance station to Yosemite National Park, looking west. Photo by Nora Livingston.
The boarded up toll booth, still shrouded with snow. Photo by Nora Livingston.
The entrance station cabin still has snow up to the roof. Photo by Nora Livingston.

Beyond the entrance station, snow is drifting across the half-plowed road for about half a mile, before you come to the end of the plowed portion, and the road is buried under ten feet of sparkling white snow for 15 miles. For once, all trace of human engineering has been covered; it looks like a pristine mountain meadow and forest edge, untraveled, unpaved.

Snow drifts reaching ten feet or higher and an ominous storm coming—more snow on the way! Photo by Nora Livingston.
The clear gap between the trees is the path of Highway 120 West through Yosemite National Park. It is currently under 8–10 feet of snow. Photo by Nora Livingston.

Visitors in Lee Vining will often inquire in the bookstore about the state of the pass and whether they can drive around the gate closure and make it over. Though it’s dry down at 6,500′, driving over high mountain passes is no joke when it is snowy or in inclement weather. Tioga Pass likely won’t open for a few more weeks at least, so check road conditions before you travel and frequently during your travel if there is weather in the forecast. Caltrans and Yosemite National Park crews are working both west and east towards each other as the weather allows. We will keep you updated on opening news!

At the entrance station, looking east. Photo by Nora Livingston.
Very few birds can brave the cold up at 10,000 feet this time of year. This Common Raven had a tough time landing on this tree top in the high winds, but it was determined. Photo by Nora Livingston.