Driving / Roads, Yosemite National Park
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.
Glacier Point Road is a 4 mile spur road that ascends 3000 plus feet above Yosemite Valley. From the top, the entire valley is visible along with Half Dome and numerous other peaks. A short paved trail leads to the overlook from the parking lot.
With the exception of the congestion that becomes a bottleneck of traffic around the village, driving around certain portions of Yosemite valley can be a pleasant experience. The main road splits into one way roads which lead to "stop and gawk" sights such as El Capitan meadow or the slippery path up to Bridal Veil Falls, both of which are definite places to stop and check out the scenery.
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.
If you have the opportunity, use all three major entrances into or leaving Yosemite National Park
1) South Entrance (Highway 41 from Fresno)
2) Arch Rock Entrance (Highway 140 from Merced)
3) Big Oak Flat Entrance (Highway 120)
Note that Tioga Pass is closed in winter.
For road and weather condition: 209-372-0200
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.
I have traveled in and around Yosemite Valley for years, since I grew up in the central valley less than two hours from the park entrance and patrolled the county as a deputy sheriff. The majority of people approach the park from the west, via Hwy 120, which lends itself to much congestion. If you are coming from the east don’t bother reading any further as you will find your way. However, if you are coming from the west and want to see some great spots and maybe miss some traffic, read on. No matter where you start from get yourself to Hwy 99, which runs directly up the middle of the State and find your way to Stockton (just south of Sacramento). In Stockton take the exit off Hwy 99 onto eastbound Hwy 88 (Waterloo Road) or near Lodi (just north of Stockton) take Hwy 12 (east, not west) over to Hwy 88. Stay on Hwy 88 for about 70 miles and see some of the best scenery of the high Sierra mountains in California. If you want to go to Lake Tahoe you can take the cut off at Hwy 89 (north) or for Yosemite take Hwy 89 south (little further on Hwy 88) toward Markleville. Stay on Hwy 89 until you hit Hwy 395 and then head south. You can stay on Hwy 395 to the town of Lee Vinning where Hwy 120 comes over from the Yosemite Valley. This is the east entrance to the park and not as heavily traveled. Before heading into the park you will probably want to spend the night on the Hwy 395 side somewhere. The best spots are in the town of Bishop. The Holiday Inn Express is good and the Whiskey Creek Grill has some really great food. Bad news is Bishop is about 60 miles south of the Hwy 120 turn off to the park entrance so you have to double back in the morning. If you are coming from Los Angeles you can hit Hwy 395 (north) by cutting over from Interstate Highway 5 by heading toward Lancaster and Palmdale.
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.
When driving around the roads of Yosemite - you will invariably see lots of turn-outs - often with loads of cars and people lookng off into the distance. The natural respone is to look out your window and see what all the fuss is about. And when you do, you'll usually be floored - so much so that you may forget for a moment that you are actually driving a car! Often people will gaze up at the awesome face of El Capitan, and, after gasping for a moment, will decide they have to stop, and will come to their senses either heading straight towards the edge of the road or into the back of another motorist going throught this same process!
The solution: when you see a turnout - especially if there are people there - STOP - get out, and THEN see what they're looking at. It is Yosemite after all, so no doubt it will be awesome! Plus, this way you won't miss anything!
The roads leading into and through Yosemite are extemely steep and winding. While some people treat the park roads as if they were a race track, it can be dangerous to take these curves too fast. Be careful driving and make sure to put your car in lower gear when heading downhill.
I drove to Yosemite on Hwy 41 from Fresno. It was a beautiful drive through the narrow road, but my rental car was a little too small for the trip. I had many SUV's come right up behind me, and they wanted me out of their way-now! Thankfully, the turnouts are there so no harm was done, but it got a little hairy at times. It definitely marred the trip a bit.
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.
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.
We chose to drive to Yosemite, entering the park by the south near Wawona, although there are also entrances to the east and the west. Entrance to the park costs $20.00 per car (including passengers) and hikers/cyclists are charged $10.00 each. These passes are valid for 7 days. Bus passengers may enter free of charge.
There are day-use car parks in the park. Although we had no difficutly finding spaces they may fill up early in the day during the peak season.
Unbelievable how quickly the weather conditions can change. One moment the skies are blue and the sun is shining. The next moment.... SNOW!
I was nearly in Lake Tahoe, but I still had to cross the pass. The radio was warning that the pass could close any moment for everyone that didn't have snowchains. And of course I didn't... it was my summer holiday! I didn't expect to need snow chains! I was in luck, I passed the checkpoint just in time. A lot of cars drove into the ditch because of the slippery conditions, but I got through in one piece... I could continue my trip!