Driving / Traffic, Yosemite National Park
Many roads could be closed in winter, or if not, you're at least required to have tire chains in your car. Some people may not be used to driving on narrow, winding roads with the combination of snow -- especially for hours and hours. We made a bad choice for using California Highway 41 because it's the most mountainous I believe. California Highway 140 from Merced via the town of Mariposa is supposed to be the least mountainous and therefore, least likely to have the tire chain requirement. But all the major roads (41, 140, and 120) into the park are winding and can be stressful for the driver. So be prepared for that! Tire chains can be purchased or rented in the towns near Yosemite. Also, if you are a slow driver and are annoyed with impatient drivers following closely behind you, there are areas on the shoulder of the roads where you can stop and let them pass.
For many years, we have driven our 4WD all over the Sierras in the worst winter conditions and have never needed or been required to put on chains. However, it is a different story when you get to Yosemite after a snowstorm.
As we approached the Park, we noticed a very long backup of traffic. It was all due to the chain control. I have the deepest respect for our Park Rangers, but they were under some weird mandate. The signs approaching the Park said "4 wheel drive ok", but the sign was apparently meaningless, because the Ranger said we could not go into the park without chains. We were told we could purchase chains from the chain installer in the parking lot for $60 and he would install them for another $25. If we didn't do this, we would have to drive back to Mariposa (1 hour) or possibly Merced (1-1/2 hours) to look for chains. Then we would have to wait in the long line again to get into the park.
Well, Murphy's law. As soon as it was our turn to buy chains, the guy was all out. At this point, driving to Mariposa or Merced was not attractive. So, instead we slunk out of the parking lot and drove on to our hotel in the Park. Miracle of miracles, the roads were completely plowed and sanded, the weather was sunny, the roads are flat and we never slid once.
Next time, however, we will bring chains. We didn't particularly like setting the example of scofflaws in front of our young impressionable teenagers, who no doubt will turn to a life of crime because of this experience.
Yosemite is absolutely gorgeous in winter and I highly recommend visiting during the off season of January and February but be aware of road conditions. Yosemite can pick up a lot of snow in the winter and whenever there is snow on the road, chain requirements are in effect. There are three levels of chain control:
R1 - Snow tires or chains required. Your vehicle must be equipped with one of these.
R2 - Chains required on all vehicles except 4-wheel-drive vehicles with snow tires.
R3 - Chains required on all vehicles, no exceptions.
When chain control is in effect, rangers generally monitor the roads to make sure people obey. Failing to obey will result in hefty fines. In fact, if you choose to drive without chains and are in an accident or slide off the road, you are responsible for any damages to property or resources. All visits are required to carry chains in their cars if in Yosemite National Park between November 1 and March 31, no exceptions. Chains may be required at any time. Chains can be rented in the park but it's expensive. Rent chains in Mariposa or Oakhurst, it's much cheaper.
Going up to the High Sierra - no matter from which direction - involves a change in air pressure for you´ll get up to 3000 metres high. So be prepared for surprises. We had a few bags of blue corn chips (yum!) in the boot of the car, and up on the sierra, in the middle of nowhere, I could hear loud BANGs. Stopped the car, wandered around - no puncture. So what...???? It was the bags of chips which had exploded!
Fill up your tanks around 50 miles out. We forgot and paid close to 75 cents more than normal. Gas in the park is expensive and not the easiest to find.
Yosemite roads can be very congested at times. There are more cars than the road was built to handle. If there are too many cars in one area, the rangers will close it off.
On my 1st ever visit to Yosemite in May of 2003..big ol blizzard at the 6000 foot level...made the RV trip alittle more interesting just go slow ...let faster idiots pass and enjoy the ride!!