Classic Roads: CA HWY 120 Tioga Pass Road

Classic Roads: CA HWY 120 Tioga Pass Road

This California state highway navigates over the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains and, in the process, bisects Yosemite National Park from west to east. The surrounding landscape features pristine glacial lakes, alpine meadows, glacially carved valleys, granite mountain peaks, spectacular waterfalls, and an abundance of native fauna and flora. There are limited services along the route, so gas up and take some snacks before heading out.

This route boasts breathtaking glacier-carved scenery throughout Yosemite National Park. Frequent curves and elevation changes demand a prudent rate of speed. This route is appropriate for seasoned motorcyclists with previous mountain riding experience.

There are several trailheads into the Yosemite backcountry which begin at Tioga Pass, including the trail to the Gaylor Lakes to the west/northwest, and the trail to the summit of Mount Dana. Dana Meadows is immediately south of the pass alongside the highway, as the pass itself is roughly angled north–south as opposed to east–west. Dana Meadows contains several small lakes.

Points of Interest

Big Oak Flat Road

Depart Route 120 at this location if you’re heading for Yosemite Valley.

Siesta Lake

Blink and you may miss it, but a serene location for taking a break.

Olmsted Point

This must-see location has an iconic vista of the northern side of Half Dome, Tenaya Canyon and Tenaya Lake. It was named after the famous landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

Tenaya Lake

This arrestingly beautiful lake is a feast for the eyes. It’s a popular destination for kayakers and other watersport enthusiasts.

Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center

Stop here for restrooms, gas, and information about Tuolumne Meadows.

Tioga Peak

Ride through a gorge around the base of 11,526-foot Tioga Peak.

Facts & Information

Distance: Approximately 96 miles

At the other side of Tioga Pass, in Groveland, CA, the Groveland Hotel sits quietly, awaiting your arrival. Each individually decorated room is unique and cozy, offering a well deserved nights rest. Some of the rooms even feature spa baths and fireplaces, the perfect way to unwind after a day on the road.

Best Time to Travel

Due to elevations of up to 9,000 ft, the road accumulates substantial snow-pack in the colder months. In mountain riding environments, the air is colder and thinner as you ascend, so dress accordingly. The road also can be closed for reasons other than weather so check National Park Service website before going. Riding progress may be slowed in some areas during the peak summer tourist months. The best times to go are late spring and early fall.