Yosemite travel. Yosemite is one of my favorite places in the world to travel too. With so much to do in Yosemite and the surrounding area, the idea of planning can be a daunting task. Don’t let it be and enjoy what you can while you can. If you need help planning a trip or just getting a better lay of the land, keep reading and drop a comment for some advice.
Yosemite Travel Overview
Where is Yosemite?
Yosemite is located about 4 hours from San Francisco. It’s located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and provides some of the most spectacular natural scenery known to man.
Getting to Yosemite/Entrances
The options of Getting to Yosemite are as follows:
- Train + Bus combo – Amtrak Bus Route
- Fly to Lee Vining (private plane) – Tioga Pass entrance is roughly 15 minutes away
- Fly to Mammoth Airport (about 30 minutes away)
- Drive Yourself
- Any other adventure type – Walk, Bike, Etc
- Hetch Hetchy – This sees little action compared to the rest of the park. This will only lead you to the Hetch Hetchy area but its another amazing part of Yosemite
- Big Oak Flat – Coming from the Bay Area, this is the most direct route to the park. Stop or stay in Groveland if you want to strategically position yourself outside of the park
- Arch Rock – Coming from San Francisco? This is a popular entrance that will lead you directly into Yosemite Valley
- South – Visitors from the south or those taking Highway 41 will most likely take this route as their way into the park
- Lee Vining – This is the Eastern Yosemite entrance on the Tioga Pass (120). Visitors coming from Las Vegas, Tahoe, or areas in that region, will use this to cut directly through the park. Arguably the most scenic stops are on the Tioga Pass. CLOSED IN WINTER!!!!
Yosemite Travel - Understanding Yosemite (geography)
Yosemite is big. I mean HUGE. Planning a trip is crucial as you don’t want to waste precious time trying to figure out where to go and what to do once you’re there. With it’s great size, comes it different sections. These are the different sections of Yosemite:
- The Valley – The scenic and touristic area
- Tioga Pass – Highway 120 that runs to Lee Vining
- West Yosemite – Hetch Hetchy
- East Yosemite – Lee Vining and the Lovely Eastern Sierras
The Valley is the typical first stop for any new visitor to the park. It is home to most of the famous landmarks and photos you constantly see inundating your social media feeds. The valley is a must but just remember that there is a lot more to the park than just here. Here are some of the must sees when in the Valley:
- Tunnel View
- Glacier Point
- Half Dome
- El Capitan
- Bridalveil Falls
- Lower Yosemite Falls (Bus Stop #6) – This easy & paved, .5 mile trail, leads you to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. Check this off your list if you’re in need of a very easy hike in the Valley
- Mist Trail to Vernal Falls and Nevada Fall (Bus Stop #16) – The Mist trail is one of the must do hikes when in the valley. Challenging yes, but more than worthwhile. If you have enough energy and oxygen make your way all the way to Nevada Falls
Tioga Pass (Highway 120)
Tioga Pass – The Tioga Pass or Highway 120 is my favorite part of Yosemite. This road cuts directly through the park, and gives visitors a break from the madness (crowds) of the valley. The pass is open seasonally as snow wipes it out for the winter. Plan accordingly and check weather updates to know when it will be open/closed. (2020 update : Reservations are required to travel across the Tioga Pass as of now!)
Some of the Best things to experience on the Tioga Pass
- Tuolumne Grove – Easy scenic walking amongst Giant Sequoias. Very easy and very rewarding
- Tenaya Lake – Popular stopping point to enjoy a beautiful alpine lake.
- Lemberts Dome
- Clouds Rest – One of the best/most challenging hikes that begins on the Tioga Pass
- Mt. Dana – California’s 2nd highest peak. Challenge yourself on this demanding hike
West Yos – The Western Yosemite entrance has numerous and lightly visited options that visitors regularly cruise by. Hetch Hetchy is one of those spots to not miss and Groveland is a solid spot for a bite/base camp for a night
Yosemite Hikes: MY Recs
For the Beginners/Families – The valley is a great spot for those who want a look into some incredible scenery and some of the most popular viewing platforms of the park. There are an abundance of flat trails, streams, meadows, and open spaces to enjoy to yourself. Take an easy hike to LOWER YOSEMITE FALLS
For the thrill Seekers – One of my favorites and those who have had the chance, CLOUDS REST. Clouds Rest is an intense 13 mile hike that will challenge all who partake. The hike is very weather dependent because if you reach the summit and its clouded out, there was no worth in doing it. HALF DOME is the obvious winner at YOSEMITE too but it’s much trickier because you NEED A PERMIT to attempt it.
Where can I stay in Yosemite?
This one is really weather and season dependent. When i venture to Yosemite, I almost always camp just outside the park for FREE. In the Lee Vining area, there are some excellent free campsites that you should take advantage of. Another gorgeous and lightly populated area for FREE camping is the Hetch Hetchy and Groveland areas.
Camping in Yosemite
Spots are very limited and can be tough to come by. PLAN early especially with Covid 19 pandemic because 80% of the camp sites are available to book one month out and the remaining 20% become available two days prior to your hopeful stay. Wilderness permits are also available for back country camping
- Upper Pines Campground and Wawona Horse Camp are the campsites in the Valley
Hotels in Yosemite Valley
There are TWO HOTELS in Yosemite Valley. The Yosemite Village Lodge will cost about $250/night whereas the Ahwanee will cost close to $500/night! Curry Village also offers tented cabins for around $150 and up.
Accommodation near Yosemite
There are a number of hotels just outside of the valley and will be significantly cheaper than staying in the valley.
For the Yosemite area and areas worldwide, try this website for Free Camping
Yosemite Travel Tips and Things to Remember
Like anywhere else, expectations for a new place are always unexpected. When venturing to Yosemite there a list of things to keep in mind:
- Crowds – Yosemite is one of the most visited National Parks in America. If you are traveling to Yosemite during the peak seasons (Spring/Summer), there will be HUGE crowds. Plan accordingly.
- Traffic – Traffic can get very congested in the Valley during peak seasons. Drive slow and expect their to be delays along the road. Take this as a chance to slow down and embrace Yosemite’s beauty.
- Shuttle – Take the free shuttle! The shuttle is free and will take you to most of the popular places in the valley. Not only are you decreasing your footprint, but you will surely find exactly where you want to go.
- Cell Service – Cell Service is limited especially on the Tioga pass (highway 120) . Surprisingly I’ve had excellent connection with Verizon in the valley
- Gas – There is no Gasoline in the park. Stations are just outside of the valley and in Lee Vining. Be cognizant of your gas situation. I recommend filling up before as prices skyrocket just outside the park
- Wildlife – Wildlife is abundant throughout the park and is unexpected. Remember to not speed throughout the park because of animal fatalities.
Outside the Park – Close and Worthwhile Spots to Check Out
Lee Vining – Lee Vining is the first major city outside of the Parks East Entrance. If you are passing the Tioga Pass (May-October) make sure you visit Mono Lake and the Mono Lake TUFAS!
June Lake – June Lake is around the bend from Lee Vining and has some notable lakes to check out. Besides Lakes, pop into JUNE LAKE BREWING for a beer and gear.
Hot Springs – The area has a few spots to soak in natural hot springs in the beauty of the Eastern Sierras.
More of the Eastern Sierras – Mammoth, Bishop, Alabama Hills