Carlon Meadow is a fun wildflower area just a few miles west of the Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite Park. There is a nice stream that is popular for fishing, a small meadow, and a picnic area. This was a fun stop on the way into Yosemite Park, as you can find some flowers that you won’t see in the higher elevations. This isn’t a hike, as the meadow and stream are right next to the parking lot, but it is a good example of how you sometimes have to look around to find some surprises.
Looking for Hidden Gems
Carlon Meadow is just a 100 feet or so upstream from the parking lot, with the south fork of the Tuolumne River on one side and the forest on the other. By the time we got to visit this year the meadow was starting to dry out, but there were many flowers along the riverside. When you walk in from the parking lot you come to a fence with a gate and stile to pass through. This actually is the edge of Yosemite National Park. There are many trails through the grass tramped in by people looking for good fishing spots on the river. The trail continues up along the riverbank for a ways.
You would think that the best flowers would be along the river, but we found many surprises on the side of the trail that was opposite of the stream. If you poke around in the underbrush you can find many different flowers. We found Crimson Columbine, Alpine Lily and a variety of others. You just have to snoop in through the undergrowth.
Back at the fence there was a small rivulet coming down the hill. When we followed that uphill a short ways we found more Columbine, Monkeyflower and Lemmon’s Wild Ginger. I would have missed the Ginger, but my friend Ron Wolf told me that I needed to look under the broad leaves of the plants here. The Ginger flowers are small and inconspicuous, hidden under the leaves. The picture on the left shows the leaves, what you would see just walking along. The picture on the right below shows the small brown Ginger flower if you pull the leaves aside. We never would have thought to look there. Thanks, Ron!
Timing is Everything
This area is lower than the prime areas on Tioga Road, so you either have to go earlier in the year or you can stop here and see later blooming flowers while looking for early flowers up higher. We hit this in early August, and we missed some early flowers, but I’ll also note that this year all of the Sierra wildflower sites were at their peak several weeks later than normal.
This is an area just off of Highway 120 about two miles west of the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite. Take Evergreen Road north, which is a road that leads towards Camp Mather and Hetch Hetchy. Go about one mile to the Carlon picnic area. If you cross a bridge you have gone too far. Turn right into the picnic area – not left into the day use area.
There is a parking area with a restroom and picnic tables. The meadow is further in past the parking area.
Common names are tough to pin down sometimes. I list this as the Sierra Bog Orchid, but it is also referred to as the White Rein Orchid (thank you, Sandy Steinman). This is a delicate flower and the first time we’ve come across it. We found quite a few of these at higher elevations.
The Alpine Lily flower doesn’t seem to last long, and you need to get them earlier in the day for best pictures. This one was in the forest undergrowth, but they really stand out. Much smaller than the Tiger Lily that I’m used to in coastal areas.