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Getting to Yosemite National Park

How Can We Visit Yosemite from San Francisco? Or Anywhere Else?



This Way to Yosemite

©2011 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Where Is Yosemite National Park Located?

Yosemite is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, about 200 miles east of San Francisco, 300 miles northwest of Los Angeles and a little more than 400 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

More: Yosemite Getaway | Yosemite Lodging | Yosemite Valley

Don't Be Misled: The Answer to "Where Is Yosemite?" Might Be Wrong

Trying to answer the question "where is Yosemite?" using a website or GPS system can be a frustrating and potentially risky thing to do.

Some GPS systems may try to put you on roads that are closed or impassable. This is particularly a problem at Yosemite, where the mountain passes are closed all winter long. The official Yosemite website says they don't recommend using GPS units for directions in and around the park - and neither do we.

Yosemite is a big place that covers 1,200 square miles and doesn't have a single address, but people often ask what the Yosemite address is so they can use it in mapping software or a GPS system.

When we tried entering "Yosemite" at popular map websites in early 2013, results varied. One site showed the Yosemite Valley outside of the park boundaries in El Portal (where the park’s administrative offices are located). Another showed it on the top of a mountain with no highway access (also wrong).

If you need an address to input into your GPS or other mapping aid, try 9031 Village Drive, Yosemite National Park, CA or 1 Ahwahnee Drive (which is the address of the hotel). Once you get close to the park, you’ll find road signs pointing toward it, making the navigation easier.

Your best bet is to engage your common sense before you engage your vehicle’s gears. Think about whatever route your electronic device suggests and see if it makes sense. If you’re trying to get to a popular spot and the roads are getting smaller and less maintained, you’re probably on the wrong route. This is one place where a good, old-fashioned map may be best - and study your route in advance.

Yosemite by Automobile

Yosemite is a three to four hour drive from San Francisco and about six hours from Los Angeles.

The nearest gas pumps to Yosemite Valley are open year-round inside the park at Wawona (45 minutes south on Wawona Road) and Crane Flat (30 minutes northwest on Big Oak Flat Road/CA Hwy 120) - and in summer at ">Tuolumne Meadows on Tioga Road. At those locations, you can pay at the pump 24 hours a day with a credit or debit card. There's also a gas station at El Portal just outside the park entrance on CA Hwy 140. At any of those locations, you'll pay 20 to 30% more than if you fueled up in Mariposa, Oakhurst or Groveland where prices are comparable to what you find in the bigger California cities.

Drivers can enter Yosemite National Park by several routes:

From the West and Most Scenic: CA Hwy 140

This route is by far the most scenic drive into Yosemite National Park and the best way to go if you’re visiting for the first time. It’s open most of the time and passes through the towns of Mariposa and Fish Camp. It’s also a popular route for people driving to Yosemite from the San Jose area

From US Hwy 99 at Merced, Hwy 140 passes through open ranch land, into the wooded foothills. The old mining camp town of Mariposa has an old-fashioned main street and some cute shops and places to eat, making it a good spot to stop and stretch your legs before continuing to the park.

Continuing uphill through Midpines, the road parallels the Merced River for about 30 miles. In spring, redbud trees along its banks sprout magenta-colored flowers and the river rises high enough to accommodate white water rafters, but it’s a pretty drive in any season. The road goes straight into the park, entering through the Arch Rock entrance.

From the West: CA Hwy 120

Open most any time, this route goes through Oakdale and Groveland and is often used by visitors from the San Francisco Bay area and northern California. It passes through fruit and almond orchards, small agricultural towns, fruit stands and ranches in the rolling foothills before ascending sharply up the Priest Grade to Big Oak Flat and the old gold mining town of Groveland.

The road is generally straight or gently curving, except for the 8-mile Priest Grade ascent, which gains over 1,000 feet of elevation in 8.5 miles.

Oakdale is the largest town on this route east of US Hwy 99 and a good place to stop to eat or buy groceries. It’s also a good place to top off the gas tank, the last opportunity to gasoline at lower prices. If you’d rather picnic than eat indoors, the vista point above Lake Don Pedro (east of Oakdale) is a good place to do it.

Although it’s smaller than Oakdale, Groveland has a nice hotel, the state’s oldest saloon and a few other places to stop for a bite to eat or to browse in while you stretch your legs.

Hwy 120 enters Yosemite at the Big Oak Flat entrance.

From the South: CA Hwy 41

From US Hwy 99 at Fresno, Hwy 41 runs north and west toward Yosemite’s South Entrance, which takes you through the towns of Oakhurst and Fish Camp and into the park near the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias and Wawona.

CA Hwy 41 is also your best option if you’re staying at Tenaya Lodge, which is just outside the park boundaries. If you’re thinking of staying there, get more information about Tenaya Lodge.

The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad is also on Hwy 41. If you love old steam trains and want to take a ride, check the guide to the fun Yosemite train.

From the East: CA Hwy 120 and Tioga Pass

To find out more about traveling this route, average opening and closing dates, check the guide to the Tioga Pass. If you just want to find out if the pass is open enter 120 at the CalTrans website.

From the East: Other Mountain Passes

Other mountain passes that can get you across the Sierras near Yosemite include the Sonora Pass (CA Hwy 108), Monitor Pass (CA Hwy 89) and Ebbetts Pass (CA Hwy 4). Snow may also close these routes in winter, but they are sometimes open when Tioga Pass is still snow-clogged. To get the current conditions of any of these routes, enter the highway number at the CalTrans website.

Yosemite by Bus

If you're staying outside the park, Yosemite Area Transportation System (YARTS) offers bus service along CA Hwy 140 between Merced and Yosemite Valley. During the summer when Tioga Pass is open, YARTS also offers one round trip a day between Mammoth Lake and Yosemite Valley. Get more information and check their schedule and prices.

Yosemite by Amtrak Train

Amtrak's San Joaquin train route stops in Merced, where you can catch a bus to Yosemite. Get the schedule at their website.

Getting to Yosemite from San Francisco: Tours

A few bus tour companies offer trips to Yosemite from San Francisco, but the drive is so long that you won't be left with much time to see the place. If you're determined to do it anyway, you can reserve a one-day trip through Kijubi.com. For a more leisurely visit, try a 3-day camping adventure or a 2-day hotel tour. For a custom tour in a comfortable mini-van, try A Friend in Town tours or Blue Heron Tours.

Closest Airport to Yosemite

The nearest commercial airports are in Fresno and Merced, but both are small. For more frequent flight schedules served from more locations, try Sacramento, Oakland or San Francisco. In summer when Tioga Pass is open, Reno, Nevada may also be an option. Closest airports for private pilots include Mariposa (KMPI) or Pine Mountain Lake (E45), but you'll need transportation from either of them to get to Yosemite.

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