Rental car prices at San Francisco and other bay area airports are sometimes double the prices of inland cities. If a single/couple arrives at one of these airports, taking Bart and Ace train to Stockton will provide a significant discount, and the choice of cars, whether one wants a small car or van, will still be good. The information should be available at the airport, but don't look up Stockton. Get help at the info desk or use the internet to figure out the scheduling for local trains and buses. Scheduling is critical. While Bart (Bay Area Rapid Transit) runs all hours until late at night, the ACE (Altamont Commuter Express) train system which runs from Pleasanton to Stockton is a commuter train limited to several times a day, and it doesn't run on Sundays. Early morning or afternoon arrival is idea for getting the ACE train. So, take Bart to Pleasanton, and then catch the shuttle to the Ace train station. At the Ace train station buy a ticket for Stockton. Its a short cab ride or a long walk to a rental car office. See my Stockton pages for more information. The drive from Stockton to Yosemite is about 2-1/2 to 3 hours. The return trip is in reverse. Drop off the car and take the ACE train/BART combination back to the airport, or keep the rental car and visit the rest of the state. A variation on this is to take BART to the same Pleasanton Station, but catch a bus to Modesto, Turlock, or Merced. All these cities are served by regional transit links to this BART station. Merced is particularly useful as it is the "gateway" to Yosemite, being off Hwy 99 at Hwy 140--the "all weather" route into Yosemite. Merced is also home to a new UC Campus, and so has adequate motel accomodations and rental car agencies to make the transition from Bay Area to rental car driving in the foothills and sierras.
Yosemite has a free shuttle service that takes you to most of the major points of interest in Yosemite National Park. However, the best mode of transportation is feet. Everything is walkable, even in the winter, and you can savor beautiful sights such as this one.
You will definitely need a private car while touring Yosemite. In the past few years the park service has implemented a vehicular reservation system. For those staying overnight in the park, this system does not apply. While staying in Yosemite Valley ("the Valley"), leave your car parked and take the shuttle bus, which has windowed roofs to see all the amazing waterfalls and constantly winds through all the stops in "the Valley." Buses run every 10 minutes.
Hiring a car to Yosemite was going to be expensive for me - especially since I had no intension of using it once I got to the valley!
It is possible to get to Yosemite Village via public transport from San Francisco.
I took an early morning bus from the Amtrak station by the piers. It left sometime before 7:00am.
This took me to Emmerydale where I caught a train to Merced. The journey to Merced took sometime but was very pleasant in an airconditioned coach with good views.
Once at Merced a bus picked myself and other travellers up for the final journey into the pack.
I arrived in the park sometime between 12:00pm and 1:00pm.
This was great for me as I was staying in the park for 2 nights before returning to SF, however I did not envy the people who were doing this trip in one day and having to do the return journey back in less than 4 hours!
The transports ran very smoothly and I don't remember the cost being that much.
The only hic-cup was waiting for the return train from Merced to Emmerydale - about 2 hours late, however it was a very pleasant evening as you can see from this sunset next to the rail tracks!
The park's major sites can be viewed by automobile. Some trails and facilities are wheelchair accessible (ask at any visitor center or entrance station for more information. The free Yosemite Valley shuttle system provides convenient access around eastern Yosemite Valley all year. The bus stops at or near all overnight accommodations, stores, and major vistas in eastern Yosemite Valley. Visitors are strongly encouraged to use the shuttle bus instead of driving around eastern Yosemite Valley.
The free Wawona-Mariposa Grove shuttle bus shuttles passengers between Wawona and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias spring through fall. The bus picks up and drops off passengers at the Wawona Store, South Entrance, and at the Mariposa Grove Gift Shop. The Mariposa Grove Road closes several times each day from spring through fall when the parking lot becomes full. Visitors arriving on the shuttle bus are guaranteed access into the Mariposa Grove even when the parking lot is full. Buses leave approximately every 20 to 30 minutes.
Several airlines serve Fresno Yosemite International (off of Hwy 41) and the Merced Air Terminal (off of Hwy 140).
There are a number of entrances into the park: South entrance on Highway 41 north from Fresno; Arch Rock entrance on Highway 140 west from Merced; Big Oak Flat entrance on Highway 120 west from Modesto and Manteca; Hetch Hetchy entrance (to Hetch Hetchy Valley); Tioga Pass entrance on Highway 120 east from Lee Vining and Highway 395. The Tioga Pass entrance is closed from the first major snowstorm in November until late May to June due to snow. All other park entrances are kept open all year, but may require tire chains because of snow anytime between November and April.
Public Transportation - Visitors can ride YARTS buses from gateway communities outside the park into Yosemite Valley. YARTS and VIA buses connect with Amtrak and Greyhound in Merced.
Yosemite in the winter is great. 3.5 million people visit the park yearly, but 65% of those people go during the summer months. Winter is where it's at -- All the best minus the huge crowds. Read an article written by the San Francisco Chronicle about Yosemite in the winter time here:
Incredible Adventures is running day trips to Yosemite from San Francisco through the winter.
I don't know the company that owns this tour bus. I thought it looked comfortable though. Kind of ugly. But, comfortable. Can't say there isn't room for you're luggage.