Driving / Traffic, Yosemite National Park
Getting to and from Yosemite is a long drive from most places, and drivers tend to get ansty and want to drive fast by the time they're at the park (or readying to leave). Most of the time, in the valley, there are only two lanes, and lots of people and ANIMALS walking near or on the road.
Please try to be patient, not speed and keep an eye out for "scamperoffs" (the creatures that jump on the road and dash off quickly).
Yosemite's roads are filled with debris such as tree limbs and the occasional falling rock. I'm not exactly sure what ripped a hole in this tire, but it surely put and end to sightseeing that day.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, please note that there are no full service gas stations or other facilities within 30 miles of Yosemite. The closest place to get a new tire is Oakhurst, south of Yosemite, no matter what the rangers may tell you. Yosemite Village has a gas station and can change a tire, but if its a serious repair, you're out of luck.
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.
You may want to check the National Park Service website for road construction and/or closures. When visiting in late May, early June the asphalt roads in Yosemite Valley were being slurry sealed and it was common for one lane to be closed off. Delays were from 5 to 30 minutes and a few times I turned off my engine if it appeared to be a long wait. Not sure if they were trying to complete the roads before the height of the summer season or if construction is on-going.
If you're frustrated by the 35 mph signs on roads in the park and would like to go faster, remember that the speed limit is to protect wildlife, not you; national parks don't just preserve scenery, but the everything natural within its borders. Deer and other animals react with bad judgement when they see cars coming, and speeding will not give them enough time to escape. If you hit a deer, not only will the animal die, your car will be heavily damaged. Also, on Tioga Road, slow down for bears! Every red bear sign you see on the roadside signifies that a bear was hit and killed by a car there. Remember that this is their home and not yours.
such a madness!!!! this is a proper word to identify how so many people drive their cars, vans o RV. I guess that max speed is 40 or 45 miles per hour because there are some risk of bear crossing...actually main cause of bears death is for drivers who run over them. So almost nobody respect that speed .. no paying attention laws and wildlife.. its a pitty and I shame on them
You can't help but feel tiny when visiting Yosemite. The surrounding rock faces and sheer size of the park account for that meager feeling. The vastness will certainly be an amazing feeling but a few problems arise from it.
1. With everything so far away (30-40 miles from park entrance) it will take you a long time to travel from place to place. The trip to Glacier Point from the valley floor for an example is an hour each way. The idea here is to give yourself a lot of time.
2. Unless you have a very fuel efficient car you will use more than half a tank of gas in the park. The main problem here is that their were only two gas stations in the park. Both near entrances and the gas at them was priced about a dollar higher than the current gas prices elsewhere, so try to fill up before you enter.
Their are a lot of very long stretches of downgrades In Yosemite. The worst of which would have to be the road down from Glacier Point. When you are traveling down that and other long hills you may want to downshift. The continual use of your brakes could very easily render them useless.
Each winter, the Sierra Nevada recieves a large amount of snowfall (150+ inches), which will usually shut down many roads and trails in Yosemite National Park. This means that visitors in winter will not be able to reach places like Glacier Point, Mariposa Grove, and Tuolumne Meadows. Here is a bit of information about what's closed and what's not in winter:
Yosemite Valley: Open year round, roads are plowed in winter though chains may become necessary. The Mist Trail from it's first junction with the John Muir Trail to the top of Vernal Fall and the John Muir Trail from Clark Point to the top of Nevada Fall are closed in winter, and the cables ascending Half Dome are down.
Hetch Hetchy: Open year round, though a major snowstorm may cause the road to close temporarily; reduced hours in winter.
Glacier Point: The Glacier Point Road is usually closed from late October-early November to May. In 2006, the Glacier Point Road was opened on May 24. The Glacier Point Road is kept open to Badger Pass during winter.
Mariposa Grove: The Mariposa Grove Road is closed November to April. Plowing starts after snow stops.
Tuolumne Meadows: Tioga Rd is closed from Crane Flat to Lee Vining from late October to May. This is not definite; sometimes snow doesn't come until late in the season (one year, the road wasn't closed until January 1st the next year), and sometimes it snows alot (another year Tioga Rd wasn't open until July 1). In 2005, Tioga Rd was open on June 23, in 2006, on June 17; plowing usually begins on April 15, but on years of heavy snowfall this will be delayed to May 1. Plowing the road takes about 45 days, if there are no major avalanches.
Note that Yosemite's High Sierra Camps usually won't be open before July 1, and that on years of particularly heavy snowfall (like 2005), they were closed for the season.
Be careful when you drive to Yosemite. It is curve after curve for miles. Especially going South from Yosemite Valley.
A lot of drivers become impatient so you can use the pull outs. Reduce you speed when pulling over so you don't go over the edge of a cliff.
Tioga Pass, the main entrance into Yosemite National Park from the east, is at a high altitude (over 9000 feet). As a result, it is often closed until late May or even June due to heavy snows that take a while to melt or get cleared.
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!
UPDATE: August 25, 2006, Hwy 140 is now partially open in daylight hours, but CLOSED at night.
This is a temporary warning, mainly aimed at any traveler entering Yosemite National Park in 2006 (and possibly 2007): HWY 140 BETWEEN MARIPOSA AND EL PORTAL (meaning the Arch Rock Entrance) IS CLOSED. There has been a major rock slide that, as of late June 2006, is still active. This closure will probably last the rest of 2006 and may continue into 2007, since a large part of the road will have to be completely rebuilt. El Portal, however, is still open, as is Mariposa. If you are entering the park, use either Hwy 120 (Big Oak Flat Road) or Hwy 41 (Wawona Road).
We did not know about the tire chain requirement when we were here in December 2003. There was a big snowstorm a day before and we were trying to enter the park via California Highway 41 from Oakhurst. As we drove the mountainous, winding roads, the elevation increased and heavy, deep snow started to appear on the side of the roads. Near Fish Camp, the traffic had stopped and apparently there was a ranger who was checking each vehicle for tire chains and each vehicle was required to put them on. We did not even have tire chains so we had to turn back and since we are from the Midwest and hate driving in snow, we decided not to visit the park. I'm not saying that you shouldn't visit Yosemite during the winter; it's probably very beautiful. Just be prepared to encounter winter weather and do have tire chains in your vehicle!