Tioga Road reopens weeks earlier than average

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (KFSN) -- A major corridor through Yosemite is now open because there's not enough snow to keep it closed. Tioga Road reopened to traffic Monday morning -- two days later than last year but still weeks earlier than the average.

The signs are up, and traffic is now flowing along Tioga Road for the first time since last November.

"This is the pass that is the highest pass over the Sierra Nevada. It's Highway 120 that goes across to the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada," said Yosemite spokesperson Scott Gediman.

It's also known as the gateway to Yosemite's backcountry, offering great hikes and stunning sights.

"Up in Tuolumne Meadows is beautiful, it's the beautiful high country, so you've got Olmsted Point which is a great view, you can see the back side of Half Dome, you've got a great viewpoint up there. You go across Tenaya Lake," said Gediman.

Some motorcycle riders from Seattle were among the first to take the route Monday morning.

"As we came in the gate there at Tioga Pass, we finally pulled over and put on our rain gear because it started snowing on us, which was kind of fun," said Stuart Blocher.

But the light snowpack is why crews were able to clear the road so early. In wet years it's stayed closed through late June. Park rangers say the good news is the waterfalls are still flowing and the mild conditions contributed to a 20-percent increase in visitors in March.

"We've definitely been in a drought cycle, so we're trying to take the glass half-full approach in terms of getting these places open," said Gediman.

Now that the gate is open for Tioga Road, the next step will be opening more of the services along this route. It will be a gradual process to get campgrounds, shops and other facilities ready over the next several weeks, and drivers will also face some delays due to road work through the fall. But these friends say it's worth the wait.

"The construction is just about finished, and it's going to be just like this this, beautiful ride," said Jack Chamberlain.

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