There is lots of debate on the toughest part of the John Muir Trail, but most thru-hikers agree that one of the easiest stretches is the trek up Lyell Canyon. The surface is compacted dirt – about as forgiving as you can get – and the climb is so gentle that many don’t even realize they are ascending. It’s also one of the most picturesque parts of the hike since, for much of the way, you parallel the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River.
Ever wonder where the water you see flowing the opposite direction is going?
The tributary that is keeping you company as you head toward Donohue Pass is one of two that begin in the high country of Yosemite, before combining with the Dana Fork in Tuolumne Meadows to form the Tuolumne River. From there the course heads west, below California 120, over Tuolumne Falls, through Glen Aulin, and enters the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.
Much of the stretch between Tuolumne Meadow and the canyon is rough, fast, and violent. Not long after leaving the canyon the water pours into placid Hetch Hetchy, an artificial reservoir built within the borders of Yosemite National Park and created by the O’Shaughnessy Dam.
Once the river leaves Yosemite it must negotiate at least two more obstacles: the New Don Pedro and the La Grange Dams.
About fifty slow-moving miles later it joins the San Joaquin River, which takes it all the way to San Francisco Bay (via Suisun Bay).
The Tuolumne River is no Mississippi, but it can definitely put out some water, especially in big snow years. The discharge at the mouth, in Suisun Bay, has been recorded to be more than 5,000 cubic feet of water per second.
That is after it acts as the primary water source for the City and County of San Francisco. The river provides 80% of the water for the city and county. (In case you are wondering, the Tuolumne River provides nearly 31 million cubic feet of water per day.)
Last, if you are so inclined, the trout fishing in the Lyell Fork is reportedly pretty good. The scenery certainly is.
Good hiking, Ray