The scenic highway 140 route to Yosemite starts at the junction of freeway 99 in Merced and proceeds through the Mother Lode mining town of Mariposa and enters just past tiny El Portal at the Arch Rock Entrance. This route from Mariposa to El Portal, the highway snakes along the Merced River near the bottom of a steep and narrow canyon of mostly barren, brittle and eroded shale formations, a geological strata quite apart from the glacier eroded granite of Yosemite itself. Hwy 140 was originally designated as an "all-year" access route and main entrance to Yosemite, perhaps in part because it does follow the Merced river and so enters the valley directly, rather than crossing over from another Sierra Nevada river valley. Caltrans has often proposed widening the highway so that trucks and tour buses could more quickly get to Yosemite, but because of the unstable shale and frequent rock slides, Caltrans has often been preoccupied with simply keeping the route open. Most of the time, rock slides close the route for only hours or days, but in June 2006 a huge slide predicted possible closure during the entire summer peak of tourism. In addition to destruction of the highway, major PG&E electrical power towers were destroyed. Caltrans proposed at one point that the slide be tunneled through to recreate the highway, but currently there is a detour that includes two temporary bridges spanning the Merced River. The bridges are single lane, with stop lights at both ends of the detour route to manage directional traffic. Vehicles longer than 28 feet are not permitted, probably because there are steep turns entering and exiting both bridges. In general though the Hwy 140 route remains quite satisfactory for ordinary vehicular traffic. Lighted signs provide warning 24 hours a day.
As the URL below notes, the carrying and use of chains by all vehicles, including rentals and those with all-weather tires, can be required at any time there is snow or ice. This can occur both on the road to the Park and within the Park -- decisions on use of tires are made independently. In other words, you may be allowed to drive to the entrance of the Park without chains, but not be allowed to enter.
Two things to realize: the word "required" means "required," and the words "No exceptions" means "No exceptions." Neither the California Highway Patrol nor the National Park Rangers will allow you to violate their decisions on the use of chains, so don't waste your breathe disputing them!
Weather in the Sierras can change very drastically, very quickly, very unexpectedly -- driving conditions can go from perfectly clear to blinding, icy snow in a matter of hours, and without any warning. If going to Yosemite during the winter, you should carry chains even if the forecast is for no precipitation.
If you arrive at a chains checkpoint without the mandatory devices, there will inevitably be dealers who will "help" you by renting you chains at an exorbitant price. Why do they do this? Because they can!
I earlier suggested buying chains and then returning them for a refund if you don't need them. I have since found out that this may not be possible, as auto supply stores have caught on to people doing so! If you buy chains, they are yours to keep. What you would use them for, even if you don't use them? I have no idea!!
Buying chains as you leave the airport may or may not be more than the price to rent them as you get to Yosemite. Just remember: the closer you get to being absolutely required to have chains, the more likely you are to suffer extortion prices.
If your not staying in Yosemite Park itself, which we weren't, then be prepared for a reasonably long drive both getting in and therefore also leaving. The roads are good but the speed limit is set at 35mph.
The road back from Glacier Point is very winding so give yourself enough time to get there for a great sunset.
Tioga Road is only open at certain times due to the snow. We drove through in June and even though the road was not a problem there was still plenty of snow on the higher meadow stretches.
Yosemite National Park is located 200 miles and 3.5 hours from San Francisco and 300 miles and 5 hours from Los Angeles. There are no buses directly to the park to my knowledge.
There is a free park shuttle that covers the Valley Loop Road and some fee shuttles to Tioga and Glacier Point Roads. The Valley shuttle is quite useful as parking is can be time consuming and takes away from your enjoyment. But much of the park is more easily explored with your own vehicle though its best to do this early in the morning to avoid crowds.
The entrance fee is $20 per car load or $10 per person without a car, both good for a seven day period. They also accept the America The Beautiful Pass which is good for all National Parks and Federally Administered Lands for a period of 1 year and costs $80.
i got into Yosemite from Mono Lake.. and what a feeling driving up the huge mountain before to reach the top and pass the park entrance. Amazing bending road with huge mountains at both sides, snow, forest.. wonderfull experience.
In April you should be faily safe regarding snowless driivng Highway 140 to Yosemite, it is the lower elevation route.
The valley floor and sites are also clear unless a freak storm. Coming up highway 41 from the south goes of chinquipin pass which can have snow sometimes. If you are there during precipitation, the glacier point road also may be snowy/icy.
The Tioga Pass road is beautiful, but does not open until May (Labor day) most years.
The shuttle bus in the valley is free and very good. It gets you within walking distance of the main valley features. Check with the hotel about getting their transport to the valley floor.
I drove a lot in Yosemite. At some point the National Park might not let anyone drive in certain areas, just like Zion doesn't allow cars during the Summer.
Just remember the roads are one curve after another.
I would recommend driving to Glacier Point. Stop at the trailhead and do the Taft Point and Sentinel Dome hike. It is only 1.1 miles one way to each destination.
You also have the option of hiking one way to Glacier Point and taking the Hiker's Bus back for around $25.00.
State Route 120 is the only route through Yosemite National Park. From the west it provides the northern entrance from Manteca through a few small towns includign Goodland. This route is scenic and relatively fast except for one section just west of Groveland where the road has a mess of switchbacks, hairpin turns, and bad drivers. Get behind a camper or two, and this section of road would be treacherous. Just before entering the park from the west, you can turn off to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and the northern edge of Yosemite. After entering the park via 120 at Big Oak Flat, you can continue on to White Wolf, Yosemite Creek, and Tuolumne Meadows. Your other option from the west is to take Big Oak Flat Road into the Yosemite Valley.
From the east Hwy 120 enters Yosemite from Nevada through the Tioga Pass Entrance. Many facilities along this route are open only during the summer, so winter visitors continue on to Yosemite Valley.
The main entrance to the park from the west is via Highway 140. This route runs through the Sierra National Forest form Mariposa and is open all year. Along this route there was a massive rock slide in May 2006, completely blocking the road to the park. Two temporary one-lane bridges have been constructed around this area, allowing one lane of traffic to enter the park. Unfortunately, this one or two mile detour can cause delays of up to 15 minutes.
Talk is just beginning on the permanent solution to reopen the road around the rock slide.
Highway 49 provides access to the south entrance of the park from Fresno and Oakhurst. Highway 140 allows access to the Arch Rock entrance from the west in Merced and Mariposa. Highway 120 enters the park from the northwest at the Big Oak Flat entrance and provides access from Manteca. Highway 120 provides the only access to the park from the east. It hits U.S. 395 in Lee Vining about 9 miles east of Tioga Pass. The highway is closed between Tioga pass and Crane Flats during the winter.
NOTE: (Updated 9/4/06) Highway 140 between Mariposa and the Arch Rock entrance of Yosemite is now open 24 hours a day. The actual roadbed is still buried under rock from the massive rockslide that continues to be active, but two temporary bridges now allow for passage around the slide. Only one way traffic is allowed through the detour, alternating between westbound and eastbound in ten minute intervals. Thus expect some delays. Vehicles over 28 feet in length are not allowed.
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