Tuolumne Wild & Scenic River

Fact Sheet: Tuolumne Wild & Scenic River

Congress designated the Tuolumne a Wild & Scenic River in 1984, with the passage of the California Wilderness Act, which also protected more than 3 million acres of wilderness.

The Dana and Lyell Forks of the Tuolumne River flow west from the Sierra Nevada crest in Yosemite National Park and meet at Tuolumne Meadows, forming the Tuolumne River. From there, the river flows through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and into Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir. Downstream of O’Shaughnessy Dam, the wild and scenic Tuolumne begins again as it flows through a deep canyon in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The designated river ends at New Don Pedro Reservoir.

The Tuolumne possesses outstandingly remarkable values include scenic, recreational, fish, wildlife, geological, and historical/cultural values. The river flows through lush alpine meadows framed by dramatic granite peaks. Tuolumne, Dana, and Lyell Meadows comprise one of the most extensive sub-alpine meadows complexes in the Sierra Nevada, with riparian habitats of relatively high biotic integrity. The Parsons Memorial Lodge at Tuolumne Meadows commemorates the significance of this free-flowing river in inspiring conservation activism and protection of the natural world on a national scale. The river continues downstream through the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, defined by its precipitous granite escarpments, where Tuolumne tributaries cascade over high waterfalls into the canyon below. The deep foothill canyon of the Tuolumne is clothed in pine, oak woodlands, chaparral, and grasslands. Here, the major tributaries of the South Fork, North Fork, and Clavey Rivers add to the river’s flow and create cataracts and rapids that attract expert whitewater boaters from around the world. Native Americans used the river for thousands of years as a trade route to the eastern Sierra.

The flooding of the beautiful Hetch-Hetchy Valley behind O’Shaughnessy Dam in 1923 broke John Muir’s heart and underscored the fact that even rivers in National Parks were not safe from the nation’s dam building craze. Designation of the Tuolumne in 1984 as a wild and scenic river stopped a proposed hydroelectric development further downstream in the National Forest that would have destroyed one of the most popular whitewater rivers in California.

Quick Facts

  • Designated Segment 83 miles (including the main stem, Dana Fork, Lyell Fork, and South Fork)
  • Management Agency: National Park Service, Yosemite National Park; U.S. Forest Service, Stanislaus National Forest; Bureau of Land Management, Mother Lode Field Office