Lee Vining Canyon and Tioga Pass

Going north from the June Lake Loop, follow California State Route 120 westbound toward Yosemite National Park.  It is about fifteen minutes to Lee Vining Canyon.  It is said that Leroy Vining established a ranch in this canyon, as he and others were prospecting for gold nearby, circa 1852.  The town which also bears his name was founded quite a few years later, and he did not ever reside there.  In 1924 a high-head hydroelectrc project was constructed, and  the Tioga Road, which traverses the northern canyon wall to reach the Yosemite National Park gate at its summit, was then built and opened to the public.  The opening of the Tioga Road was a key factor in the early success of the June Lake Loop, as many Southern Californians and others made June Lake a waypoint along their automobile tours through Yosemite.

Today, Lee Vining Canyon is host to a number of lovely campgrounds, and a tour up the Big Bend road along Lee Vining Creek to the Power Station is an enjoyable scenic jaunt.  Lee Vining Creek provides good fishing, there are many nice picnic spots, and the dramatic canyon scenery can provide many photographic opportunities.  In wintertime there are several world-famous ice climbing routes adjacent to the canyon floor.

Back on Route 120, as you travel the Tioga Road toward the summit you will cross the Warren Fork of Lee Vining Creek which crosses the highway adjacent to Blue Slide.  At Dodge Point there is a turnout where you may enjoy a commanding view of the canyon and a historical plaque commemorating the construction of the Tioga Road.  When you reach the site of Ellery Lake, you will be in the vicinity of some old mining camps which in their day were accessible by road only from the western side of the mountains.  A side road will lead you to Saddlebag Lake, another reservoir on the hydorelectric project, and the gateway to hiking the twenty-lakes basin: the resort at Saddlebag Lake runs a ferry/taxi by boat across the lake evey hour.  From here you can also hike back down into the Mono Basin via Lundy Canyon.

The iconic and historic Tioga Pass Resort is on the Tioga Road just past the Saddlebag junction, a unique high-altitude spot where you can stop for supplies or souvenirs or enjoy a bite to eat at the Restaurant.  Continuing past Tioga Lake will lead you to the Tioga Pass sunmmit at 9,943 feet above sea level, the highest point on any California roadway and the eastern entrance gate to Yosemite National Park.