What if the Tioga Pass is closed?

The Tioga Pass. It’s a name my dad and I will forever remember for the trouble it has caused us.

The Tioga Pass (State Route 120) is the mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains which is usually crucial for roadtrippers. It’s the shortest route from Mammoth Lakes area to the entrance of Yosemite National Park or vica versa.

Historically we had a very big chance that at the time we would be there, the pass would be open already. It had been open the last few years around that date. But in 2016, there had been a lot of snow fall, which resulted in the pass still being closed for the season. So unfortunately we had to look for an alternative.


Before departure we had already been following the updates of the Tioga Pass on the official website of the mountain pass. And it didn’t look good. There was a lot of snow to be cleared and it looked like there was only a tiny chance the pass would be open.

So we started looking up what alternatives we had. Each alternative would definitely be a detour as we would have to drive further up north to another mountain pass.

The first option was the Sonora Pass (State Route 108). This was the mountain pass closest to the Tioga Pass. It’s still pretty elevated so it’s also often closed until late Spring as well. While the Tioga Pass route would take you two hours to cross, this route takes about three hours.

The second option is the Ebbett’s Pass (Highway 4). This pass is usually open until the actual winter starts but it can also be mid-may by the time it is open again. It’s the pass that is least frequently used even though it is a scenic route and goes past the Calaveras Big Tree State Park. The route takes little over four hours.

The last option we considered was one with a detour to Lake Tahoe. This way we would indeed have to drive a big detour, but at least we would have been able to see Lake Tahoe. This route is always open.


On D-Day, we checked once more, and no, the Tioga Pass still miraculously hadn’t opened. So we had to decide what other option we would take. Our choice fell to the Ebbett’s Pass as we were very interested in visiting Calaveras Big Tree State Park. With the Maripose Grove closed in Yosemite National Park, that would be our only option to see the Grand Sequoia trees.

After departure from Mono Lake we also discovered that the Sonora Pass was still closed as well, so that option wasn’t even an option after all. And while I would have loved to see Lake Tahoe, it was simply too big of a detour. We had already driven many miles on this trip and we were just eager to get to Yosemite as soon as possible.

The Ebbett’s Pass gave us many beautiful views also because there was still quite a lot of snow. It’s indeed a very calm road even though at that time it was the closest alternative for the Tioga Pass.


And then we arrived at the reason why we chose this route; Calaveras Big Tree State Park. This State Park is in my opinion a great alternative for the Sequoia National Park. It also has the beautiful big Sequoia trees, and it’s has a little less tourists. On top of that, this park actually has the first Sierra redwood tree; the ‘Discovery Tree’. So many reason for a quick stop.

Since this detour already made us lose two hours, we didn’t really want to lose too much time in this park. We decided to do the North Grove Trail. This 1,7 mile loop would take us through the historic grove which was discovered in 1852. Unfortunatelly it didn’t include the largest trees of the park which are located in the South Grove. Although I must say I was already very much blown away by the trees we did see.


I’m very happy we were able to include this park in our trip. One can’t really get the largeness of these trees until you’re right in front of them. It’s very impressive. Calaveras Big Tree State Park is open from sunrise to sunset and entrance is $10 per car.

And then it was time to drive the last of the Highway 4 and on to the entrance of Yosmite National Park. Although I don’t know what the Tioga Pass has to offer, I was very pleased with the alternative we chose!

Fun fact; The Tioga Pass opened only a few days after our visit. If I wouldn’t have had such a great day, that would have left me so frustrated. But I wouldn’t have wanted to miss Calaveras Big Tree State Park, so all is well.



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