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.
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.
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.
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!
It is time to leave the park. I planned to go over the Sierra Nevada by taken the Tioga Pass. Unfortunately the Tioga Pass was still closed. I had to make a big detour to get over the Sierra Nevada. I had to go a long way to the north to Lake Tahoe, it was the first available pass I could cross. But I had to hurry, that pass could be closed at any time because it was snowing a lot in the mountains.
As soon as I got out of the park the sun started shining. I had a lot of miles to go, but who cares in this kind of weather :-)
Okay, in California, the best way to get around is in a convertible! Pictured here is my Volkswagon Cabrio. The location of the photo is in front of the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, not far from where I live. The car was 4 days old, and just about to go on its first road trip, to Yosemite! For the entire trip, the only time the top was closed was when the car was parked for the evening.
Make sure to keep sunscreen, towels and bottles of water with you when you go on a long, convertible road-trip!
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.
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.
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.
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