July 2, 2009

Glen Aulin trail in Yosemite National Park

Difficult to spell but beautiful to track, the Tuolumne River is one of California's treasures.

And what better way to do that than to make the hike to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp in Yosemite National Park?

The 11.5-mile round trip along the trail to Glen Aulin and back - rated moderate in difficulty - is one that will please hikers' senses of sight and sound, as the river churns its way into white water and falls.

Every river in the Sierra plays its own tune. Listen closely, and you can hear the melody.

Few, if any, California waterways can match the Tuolumne River when it comes to pure scenery. But the sounds it produces - sometimes soothing, other times thundering - are just as striking along the classic hike to Glen Aulin in the Yosemite National Park high country.

The first few miles are nearly flat as the trail skirts Tuolumne Meadows, passing historic Soda Springs before veering right into a sparse forest. Soon you re-enter the meadow closer to the river where Echo Peak and Cathedral Peak loom in the distance.

Until now the river has been wide and flat, but that's all about to change. At 4.5 miles, you cross the river on a sturdy footbridge with your first view of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, not to mention Matterhorn Peak and Mount Conness. The river drops into a series of pools and rapids before spilling over Tuolumne Falls, which almost always produces an afternoon rainbow.

The trail never meanders far from the river as it descends deeper into the canyon. Before long you're at the base of roaring White Cascade, which plunges into the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp. This is a great place to find a boulder, eat lunch and contemplate the beauty of nature.

Strong hikers who haven't gotten their fill of white water should continue further down the canyon toward California Falls, Le Conte Falls and Waterwheel Falls, which are spectacular at high volume (through late July).

Just keep in mind that the farther you hike means having to make up the extra distance (3.3 miles to Waterwheel Falls) and elevation (1,100 feet) on the way back.

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