Plan Your Trip
Yosemite is about a 200-mile drive east from San Francisco and 300 miles northeast from Los Angeles. Some visitors arrive via airports at Sacramento (175 miles southeast) and Reno (150 miles south).
Access Yosemite from four entrances. The northwest Big Oak Flat Entrance on CA-120 (via Groveland), the western Arch Rock Entrance on CA-140 (via Mariposa), the South Entrance on Route 41 (via Oakhurst and Fish Camp) and the eastern Tioga Entrance on CA-120 via Lee Vining (closed from approximately mid-November through late May). Entry fee is $35 per vehicle (annual Seniors Pass, $20).
Most visitors focus on central Yosemite Valley, which has most of the lodging and facilities, as well as scenic roadside viewpoints of iconic landmarks, including El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Because of this, it can get crowded during the summer high season, with excessive traffic, limited parking and lodging, and packed paths and viewpoints. Consider visiting in the off-seasons to avoid crowds and to get a different perspective of the park. Spring in Yosemite brings the largest waterfall volume and river flows, while fall boasts vibrant, colorful foliage in the valley, and winter provides a wonderland of silent, snow-covered meadows and mountain peaks. “The best time to visit the park, in my opinion, is mid-September through October. There are still long days, good weather, great leaf-peeping and none of the summer crowds,” says Scott Gediman, Yosemite public affairs officer and 24-year park resident.
A free shuttle bus system within the park travels three routes: the main road loop within Yosemite Valley; between the South Visitor Center and the Mariposa Grove of sequoias; and a link between the Valley and Tuolumne Meadows in the park’s northern section.
Avoid traffic and parking hassles and save money by taking a bus to the park with YARTS. Four YARTS routes access the four entrances with regularly scheduled service from several gateway cities and hotels. Round-trip tickets range from $9 to $34 (with about a 50 percent discount for passengers 62-plus) depending on distance, and include entry to the park.
Cellphone and GPS coverage in the park is limited, so bring a paper map (available at all entrances) to help avoid getting lost without signal. Wi-Fi is available for guests at Yosemite hotels, as well as to the public at Degnan’s Kitchen cafeteria in the Valley, and the park’s two Mariposa County Library branches.
Yosemite has four diverse seasons of weather, and all four can happen in one day, given changing mountain conditions, so dress in layers. Summer temperatures can top 100 degrees at lower elevations in the valley and around Hetch Hetchy reservoir; winter brings lows in the 20s, sometimes with deep snow and road closures.
Where to Stay and Eat
You have plenty of lodging choices in and around the park, but reserve far in advance of the summer season, when accommodations fill quickly.
The Ahwahnee, the park’s iconic property, delivers cozy luxury and awe-inspiring views of Yosemite Falls and the surrounding valley — at a hefty price, with its 97 rooms and 24 cottages renting from $600 a night ($495 in the off-season). For your money, you get a slew of amenities, including a window-lined, chandelier-topped grand dining hall serving classic prime rib dinners and its Great Lounge, with soft couches, a roaring fire and a classical pianist — a fine spot for cognac-sipping after a day outdoors. Its food and wine events in fall and winter are “particularly popular with the older demographic,” says Lisa Cesaro, its regional marketing director.
Take your pick of accommodations at Curry Village, a lodging hub at Half Dome Village with 403 canvas tent cabins (shared bath facilities), 61 cabins and 18 motel rooms. Purchase groceries and essentials at its market and dine at nearby restaurants, including Meadow Grill (breakfast burritos, burgers, rice bowls and salads) and Pizza Patio.
Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, in Yosemite’s central highlands, provides a base camp for hikers during summer with canvas-tented cabins and a tented dining hall serving hearty family-style meals.
Families and groups often favor the sprawling Yosemite Valley Lodge, a 245-room complex near the base of Yosemite Falls, for its affordable prices and larger-sized family and bunk rooms. Feast on steak and seafood and great views of the falls in its Mountain Room, while a food court serves up cafeteria-style cheap eats and a Starbucks.
About five miles beyond Yosemite’s South Gate, “go back in time” says Cesaro, at the 104-room Wawona Hotel (built in 1856), a Victorian-style property with reasonable prices and popular summer weekend barbecues. (Note: closed for upgrades until summer 2021.)
For self-catering and extended stays, Scenic Wonders books more than 100 vacation rentals in and just outside the park — everything from rustic cabins and basic condo units to five-bedroom luxury homes.
Yosemite is a mecca for campers with 1,400 individual campsites at 15 campgrounds in large, sparsely wooded encampments in the valley and more remote high-country creek and lakeside retreats. But don’t procrastinate: Campgrounds typically get booked solid for the summer — reserve at recreation.gov five months in advance — while limited first-come, first-served campgrounds typically fill by noon. The park permits RVs at nine campgrounds, none with hookups. Fees are $18-26 per night at campgrounds with tap water and restrooms, $6-12 at more basic areas. Backcountry camping requires wilderness permits ($5 per reservation plus $5 per person), with reservations taken 24 weeks in advance online, awarded through lottery during peak periods.
Note: Be very aware when camping; always store food securely to avoid encounters with Yosemite’s voracious natives.
In addition to the dining at Yosemite lodging mentioned above, you can stop at Degnan’s Kitchen in Yosemite Village for cafeteria food and snacks, with the BBQ-and-beer Loft above it. Stock up on picnic and camping supplies at the Village Store or at Wawona Store in the south and Tuolumne Meadows Store to the north.