Road Trips

Lake Tahoe to Yosemite Road Trip

Written by Town & Tourist

Lake Tahoe to Yosemite Road Trip – Lake Tahoe is one of the largest freshwater lakes in California. With its shimmering cobalt blue waters, its a magical place to visit. Whereas Yosemite offers roaring waterfalls and breath taking vistas which overlook pure mother nature at her best!

A road trip between the two allows you to loop around easily and experience both magnificent places from all angles. So dive Right into our Bucket-list Road trip Itinerary below!

How far is Yosemite from Lake Tahoe?

Yosemite is 124 miles from Lake Tahoe via US-395 S it takes approximately 2 hours 34 mins.

How long does it take to Drive around Lake Tahoe?

It takes around 3 hours to drive around Lake Tahoe.

When is the best time to visit Lake Tahoe?

The best time of year to visit Lake Tahoe is between March and May or from September to November. However,  the area attracts visitors throughout the year thanks to the wide variety of attractions/activities.

Map of Lake Tahoe to Yosemite Road Trip

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Lake Tahoe to Yosemite Road Trip Loop:

  1. Lake Tahoe 
  2. Carson City, NV
  3. Topaz Lake
  4. Fales Hot Springs
  5. Mono Lake
  6. Tuolumne Meadows
  7. Tioga Pass
  8. Yosemite Valley
  9. Yosemite National Park 

In our road trip Itinerary shown above we started in Lake Tahoe then headed down US-395 S with a quick stop at Topaz Lake, we took a dip in the warm Fales Hot Springs before heading to the mars like Mono Lake and then through Tuolumne Meadows, to the big daddy Yosemite National Park.

After 3 days at Yosemite, you can also loop around through the cowboy town of Oakdale before heading up to Sacramento, it’s then pretty easy to head to San Francisco if you are catching an international flight.

1. Lake Tahoe 

Spanning an area of 496.2 km², Lake Tahoe is one of the largest and most scenic Lakes in California/Nevada. At 1,645 feet deep Lake Tahoe is the 2nd deepest lake & never Freezes over and it is also the clearest Lake in the United States of America.

Emerald Bay State Park is the most enchanting part of Lake Tahoe. Close to the southern end of the lake there are many viewpoints offering breath taking views along highway 89.

Here you can also find the famous 1929 Nordic-style mansion Vikingsholm. If you drive to the north east side you will be greeted with Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park which includes Sand Harbor, where the crystal clear waters are most prominent.

lake-tahoe-yosemite-road-trip

lake Tahoe to Yosemite Road Trip

Insider Tip: 

Sand Harbor is one of the best beaches in the Lake Tahoe area and the best place to go swimming.

Here the water is shallow near the beach and gets deeper as you go further in which makes it ideal for families with small children. There are also many granite boulders nearby where you can practice jumps!

Also in the Northeast you will find Spooner Lake, a popular gateway to the long-distance Tahoe Rim Trail.

Highlights of Lake Tahoe:

  • Emerald Bay State Park 
  • Inspiration Point – Stunning 360′ views great for a photo.
  • Tallac Historic Site

With pine groves and a wide, sandy beach, this national historic site was a former swish vacation retreat for San Francisco’s upper class society in the 20th century.

  • Donner Memorial State Park – Hiking, Picnics and gruesome history!
  • DL Bliss State Park 

The nicest beaches on the western shore can be found at Lester Beach and Calawee Cove. Follow the short nature trail to the Balancing Rock, a giant granite rock perched precariously.

Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe

Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe

  • Sugar Pine Point State Park

Here you will find a mix of pine, aspen and fir. The area is popular with swimming, biking hiking and fishing at General creek!  There is also 20km of cross country ski trails during the winter

  • Heavenly Gondala 

Head to the top of the world as you ride the gondola, which take you from Heavenly Village 2.4 miles up the mountain in just over 10 minutes! Head to the observation deck at 9123ft, for breath taking views of Tahoe Basin and Carson Valley.

  • Kings Beach State Recreational Area

A hub of action during the summer time! Kings Beach State Recreational area offers a 700ft long beach which is popular with barbecues, kayaking, jet skiing, Paddle boarding and there is even a kids play area.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe. Source: visitinglaketahoe.com

Activities at Lake Tahoe:

Popular activities at Lake Tahoe include:

  • Boating
  • Kayaking
  • Windsurfing,
  • Stand up paddle boarding (SUP)
  • Boat cruises
  • Camping 
  • Pack rafting 
  • Hiking – Just make sure you have the correct Hiking Gear

Want to capture some Instagrammble photos of Lake Tahoe?

Check out our recommended Travel Photography Gear

When is the best time to Ski at Lake Tahoe?

During the winter you will find plenty of resorts to go skiing at Lake Tahoe. The last week of January or the first week of February are ideal times. Avoid mid-January and February if you want to miss the busy school holidays.

For more info see: 23 Awesome Cross Country Skiing Resorts|U.S.A

Lake Tahoe in the winter

Lake Tahoe in the winter

Fun Fact: Some famous people which live near Lake Tahoe include Charles Bronson, Sammy Davis Jr and Cher!

2. Carson city, Nevada

Carson City is the capital of Nevada and known for it authentic wild west history! You can discover this at the Nevada State Railroad Museum and the Nevada State Museum.  At the Nevada State Museum you can find an underground mine, a mammoth skeleton and an 1800s coin press!
Other popular landmarks in Carson city include the Bowers Mansion Regional Park.  Former home to millionaires Eilley and Sandy Bowers who made there money from the Comstock mining boom. Theses days you can have a picnic, swim and explore these historic grounds which are open seasonally between Memorial Day through Nevada Day weekend.
Another historic Mansion in Carson city is the “Governors Mansion” a  Neoclassical 1909 mansion is located in the heart of Carson City’s historic district. A prestigious house to drive by!
Carson city, Nevada

Carson city, Nevada. For more on Hot Air Balloon Festivals check out: 30 Most Extravagant Hot Air Balloon Festivals in the World!

Best places to eat in Carson City?

You would never think to find some of the best Thai cuisine outside Asia in downtown Carson City! Try the green papaya salads and the spicy aromatic meats.
Address: 311 N Carson St, Carson City, NV 89701, United States
Cozy, old-school throwback which has been operating since the 1980s preparing homestyle American standards for breakfast & brunch.
Address: 402 E William St, Carson City, NV 89701, United States.
Funky venue with an inventive menu of unique, globally inspired dishes, plus draft brews, cocktails & live music.
Address: 1500 Old Hot Springs Rd, Carson City, NV 89706, United States
Fun Fact: Carson City is also nearby to the mining ghost town of Virginia City

3. Topaz Lake

As you are driving down Highway 395, Topaz Lake offers a tempting place to stop. Here you will find a peaceful area where you can have a picnic overlooking the lake and breath taking mountain views! Enjoy the peace & quiet as all the tourists are at Lake Tahoe!

There are also some beaches where you can  sun bathe and take a swim. Boat launching is available at Topaz Marina or Douglas County Park. You can also try hiking and mountain bike riding.

Camping at Topaz Lake:

Topaz Lake offers full RV hook ups, partial hook ups and over 40 dry campsites. For reservations, call 775-266-3343 or 775-782-9828.

topaz_lake

topaz_lake

Fishing at Topaz Lake:

Topaz  Lake covers 2,500 acres. Which makes fishing from a boat the best option. Trolling is usually a great way to hook into the of Topaz Lake’s trophy brown and rainbow trout!

4. Fales Hot Springs 

 Fales Hot Springs is part of Stanislaus National Forest in California.  Here you will find a geothermal stream which flows from a pipe under highway 395 and into a man made rocky spring. The perfect place to take a quick dip to warm those muscles after a long drive.
Fales Hot Springs​ is easily accessible as its alongside highway 395, you can park up on the gravel shoulder on the east side of the highway.

Fun Facts about Fales Hot Springs:

  • The pool averages 95’F (35’C)
  • Its FREE.
  • Clothing is optional
  • Dogs are ok in the area but should NOT go into the spring
Fales Hot Springs 

Fales Hot Springs. Source: calphotos.berkeley.edu

5. Mono Lake

Mono Lake is a saline soda lake, which was formed at least 760,000 years ago! Unique rock formations look like something from the terrains of Mars and offer some of the strangest scenery known to man!

Insider Tip:

Sunrise or Sunset are the best time to visit Mono Lake.

MONOLAKE-STATE-PARKI

MONOLAKE-STATE-PARKI

After visiting Mono Lake, you can also take the short June Lake loop and then drive to Mammoth Lakes. 

Mono Lake was included in our list: 15 BEST California State Parks! Camping Tips!

6. Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows is a tranquil, picturesque sub-alpine meadow area along the Tuolumne River in the eastern section of Yosemite National Park.  Overshadowed by the Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows is perhaps Yosemites best kept secret!

Best Time to Visit to Tuolumne Meadows?

Tuolumne Meadows is beautiful in the summer/spring when the Meadow is a deep green and dotted with wildflowers. The Tuolumne Meadows visitor center is open during the summer only and offers some useful info on the area. During the winter the road entering can sometimes be closed.

Highlights of Tuolumne Meadows:

  • Olmstead Point: Just a few miles west, this area offers one of the best Yosemite vistas in the world.
  • Tenaya Lake: A incredible alpine lake close to the road a few miles before you reach Tuolumne Meadows.
  • Soda Springs: A quick half-mile trail to Soda Springs, which is famed for its naturally carbonated waters.
  • Hiking: Take a hike through Tuolumne Meadows, they are short and pretty easy.
Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows. Source: trover.com

Where to park?

There is parking around the length of the Meadow in small parking lots or on the road shoulder.

Where to eat?

There is a grill & convenience store for snacks near the east end of the meadow

Insider Tip:

In wet, marshy areas yo need mosquito repellent during the evenings. See our: Travel Accessories

Where to stay?

Head to Tuolumne Meadows Lodge if you want a off the grid digital detox. Here you will find 69 cabins, and a rustic experience, there is no electricity but they provide candles & a wood burning stove.

7. Tioga Pass

Tioga Pass is 9,941 feet above sea level on CA Hwy 120 which leads you to the eastern entrance of Yosemite. It is the highest automobile pass in the Sierra moutains. So be sure your vehicle is up to it, with a full tank or a fully charged battery. If you fancy rented a reliable car, check out: Ultimate Car Rental Travel Hacks!

 

Insider Tip:
As CA HWY 120 passes through Yosemite National Park, you’ll have to pay an admission fee to use it. If you’re not stopping inside the park and just want to get across the mountains without paying to pass, try Sonora Pass on CA Hwy 108 instead.
Lake tahoe to Yosemite Road Trip

Lake tahoe to Yosemite Road Trip

8. Yosemite National Park

How much does it cost to enter Yosemite? 

Yosemite costs approximately $35 per car valid for seven days

How many days should I spend in Yosemite?

Yosemite covers 3,027 km² of sequoia forests, granite cliffs, lakes and waterfalls. So seeing it all in one day is a challenge. I would recommended giving yourself 2-3+ days to see the highlights.

Insider Tip:

If you just have one day in Yosemite I recommended bookings one of these one day guided tours or even take a bucket list plane/helicopter tour over the mountains! 

Yosemite Valley 

Yosemite Valley is what most visitors think of when Yosemite comes to mind. Seven miles long and one mile wide at its widest, its glacier-carved granite walls are near vertical, with mile-high cliffs.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Day 1: Hiking Cooks Meadow to Glacier Point

Cooks Meadow Loop hike  spans 2.25 miles and take you around the Yosemite Valley. This is the ideal introduction to Yosemite and is fairly easy, flat and offers breath taking views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Afterwards we took the drive to the base of El Captain.

Insider Tip: 

You should check out Yosemite Village, where you can pick up a useful hiking map and visit the Ansel Adams gallery. There’s also a shop and some restaurants where you can grab lunch…or alternatively bring a packed lunch like we did!

Drive up Glacier Point Road:

From the valley you can take the 1 hour drive Glacier Point which offers panoramic views of Yosemite. On the way you will find some nice hikes so it’s well worth stopping of.

Glacier Point:

Glacier Point is one of the most popular viewpoints of Yosemite National Park. From the top you will be able to enjoy incredible views of high country, Half Dome, Nevada Falls to the forests in the valley below! This is a must see for any trip to Yosemite!

Yosemite-National-Park-camping

Yosemite-National-Park-

Insider Tip: 

There are now restrictions on driving on Glacier Point Rd from Mid-May to September between 10 am and 4.30 pm.

If the Glacier Point parking lot is full, you will have to park at Badger Pass and then take the shuttle bus to Glacier Point, this shuttle also stops at the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead. See the NPS website for the latest updates.

Sentinel Done and Taft Point Hikes

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point hikes are both short but I would budget at least an hour for each to really enjoy the spectacular views along the way. The Taft Point Hikes (2.2miles) offers a forested hike with epic views of the valley and deer which can get really close!

Insider Tip: 

There is a Sentinel Done and Taft Point combo hike which takes around 4 hours. However, we chose to return to the trailhead after each to grab water and use the toilet.

Day 2: Mist trail & Vernal Falls

Mist Trail is a 7 mile hike which is really popular during the summer months. The steep trail, which has rock stairs for some parts which take you past the spectacular Vernal and Nevada Falls. These both offer fantastic flows even during the summer!

Insider Tip:

Hike down Muir Trail on the way back rather then retrace your steps this routes offers some unique views of the Nevada falls.

Yosemite National Park vernal Falls

Yosemite National Park vernal Falls . Source: Trail Run Project

Hungry? 

Afterwards head to Curry Village for lunch, where they have everything from Pizza to Ice cream and some tasty coffee.

Where to stay in Yosemite National Park?

The best accommodation is inside the park and better still Yosemite valley. A few favourites we stayed at included, the Tenaya Lodge which is a luxurious hotel in the park and the Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite which is in an ideal location.

Insider Tip:

Be sure to book far in advance as the best rooms sell out a year ahead.

Road Trip Tips:

How to get the unreal car rental Deals??

Check out: Ultimate Car Rental Travel Hacks!

To find out the secret of getting great hotel deals, check out: How to find the Best Hotel Deals??

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Death Valley National Park west coast road trip

Death Valley National Park west coast road trip. Source: nps

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Town & Tourist

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