Road Trips

3 Bucket-List Road Trips to Yosemite National Park

Lake tahoe to Yosemite Road Trip
Written by Town & Tourist

A road trip to Yosemite National Park is a bucket list experience! Yosemite National Park is one of americas greatest National Parks. Yosemite is famous for its gigantic ancient sequoia trees and the majestic granite cliffs of El Captain and Half Dom.

The winding roads will take you over epic vistas and into the wilderness of Yosemite where you will find an Incredible landscape of sequoia forests, canyons, peaks, lakes and waterfalls! I have road tripped to Yosemite multiple times over the past few years and in this post I will reveal my top 3 epic road trip adventures!

When is the best time to visit Yosemite National Park to avoid crowds?

The best time to visit Yosemite to avoid crowds are May and September. At this time of year the park is accessible, but not too crowded. It’s vital to know that many roads and trails in Yosemite are closed for the majority of the year due to snow.

May at Yosemite:

In May, average highs range in the mid-60s. Lows, however, stay in the mid-30s, so remember to bring a coat with you. These temperates make the visit comfortable and its also the best time to see the parks waterfalls as the snow has melted!

Insider Tip:

In May, some roads and trails may still be closed, so you are best visiting towards the end of the month.

Yosemite-National-Park-camping

Yosemite-National-Park-

September at Yosemite:

September, highs are in the mid-70s, while lows are in the mid-40s. This temperature range offers a more comfortable hiking experience. There is also fewer people on the trails and the sun won’t be as intense. However, the waterfalls won’t be as free flowing. NPS has a weather forecast map which can be useful.

Winter at Yosemite: 

Yosemite National Park was named one of our: 20 Incredible Winter Camping Destinations: USA

Gas Stations close to Yosemite?

The gas pumps closest to Yosemite Valley are open year-round inside the park at Wawona (45 mins south of the valley on Wawona Road) and Crane Flat (30 mins northwest on Big Oak Flat Road/CA Hwy 120). In the summer time, you can get gasoline from Tuolumne Meadows on Tioga Road.

There is also a gas station at El Portal, which is just before the park entrance of CA highway 140. However, be aware that any of these gas stations the gas is more expensive you will pay between 20-30% more. For better prices fuel up in Mariposa, Oakhurst, or Groveland.

1. Las Vegas to Yosemite Road Trip

A road trip between Las Vegas & Yosemite National Park offers a diverse experience! The bright lights & built up Las Vegas is Sin city and will seduce you with epic casinos, resorts and a wild nightlife. Then as you hit the open road you will find yourself immersed in Mother nature & all it’s natural beauty.

Which is the best driving route between Las Vegas & Yosemite National Park?

Tioga Pass (US 120), was named one of our 25 Most Epic Driving Roads in the U.S.A. Thus its must drive route to Yosemite National Park from Las Vegas.

Driving down via Tioga Pass is also the shortest route at just 5.7 hours and 334 miles from Las Vegas. It will lead you to the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park.

Las Vegas to Yosemite Road Trip

Las Vegas to Yosemite Road Trip

Insider Tip:

The Tioga Pass route works only in late spring, summer, and early fall). In the winter it closes due to snow. I would recommended taking at least two days for this road trip to really enjoy the journey.

How long is the drive between Las Vegas & Yosemite National Park?

The drive between Las Vegas and Yosemite National Park is between 335 to 564 miles depending upon the route. This takes between 5.7 hours and 10 hours on average.

Las Vegas to Yosemite Road Trip Map:

Dive into our Interactive Map Below! 

(Map: Copyright Town&Tourist via Gmaps)

User Guide: Use the +/- arrows to zoom in an out of the landmarks. Many users choose to share the post on facebook and access the map that way.

Tip: Turn your phone sideways for easier use. Click the directions button top right to be routed to an attraction.

Do you have a website? Feel free to embed our map by clicking the button in the top right hand corner. Just be sure to credit us at: www.townandtourist.com/road-trips/las-vegas-yosemite

Las Vegas Highlights & Tips:

Welcome to Sin City! Las Vegas is the type of place where you can spend a lot of cash, so as we still had a big road trip to go on, we decided to be smarter and more savvy! We did a host of true Las Vegas activities of which many are for free.

The Las Vegas Strip – Free

A drive down the famous Las Vegas Strip should be on everyones bucket list! Here you will see the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign along Las Vegas Boulevard South, before coming to the strip.

This is an astonishing road to take in “Vegas”, landmarks include Bellagio Fountains and the popular landmarks from around the world: The Sphinx, the pyramid, the Eiffel Tower at Paris and of course  The Venetian’s Grand Canal.

Las-Vegas-Lights-Road-Trip-with-Bus

Las-Vegas-Lights Road Trip with Bus

How to explore the Las Vegas strip?

The Las Vegas strip runs from Mandalay Bay in the south to Stratosphere casino in the north. Where you’ll find the Stratosphere tower, towering at 1149 feet tall making it the tallest observation tower in the USA.

Great place to capture an instagrammable Las Vegas photo. Make sure you have some great travel photography gear

Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas is such an instagrammable place to visit! Ideal for vacation snaps.

Can I explore the Las Vegas Strip on foot?

If you didn’t rent a car yet you can take a stroll down the Las Vegas Strip yourself. The whole thing is around 4 miles so be wear comfy shoes and be prepared for a walk!

Las Vegas Highlights:

  • Caesars Palace Casino & Forum Shops – Head back in time to Ancient Rome!
  • Bellagio Casino and Fountains – FREE Activity
  • The Mob Museum 
  • The Venetia Casino & Grand canal 
  • Fremont Street – Free Activity 
  • Mandalay Bay Casino, Aquarium & Beach 
  • Mandalay Bay Beach 
  • Shark Reef: Aquarium 
  • New York & Big Apple Rollercoaster 
  • High Roller Observation Wheel
  • As the tallest observation wheel in the world , high roller stands 550 feet tall and offers breath taking views over las vegas.
Las Vegas High Roller Ferris Wheel

Las Vegas High Roller observation Wheel

Las Vegas to Yosemite Road Trip Itinerary:

On a road trip between Las Vegas and Yosemite you will pass through some unique places:

  1. Las Vegas 
  2. Death valley National Park
  3. Mono Lake
  4. Panamint Springs
  5. Lone Pine 
  6. Mount Whitney – Highest peak in Contiguous USA
  7. Alabama Hills 
  8. Bishop 
  9. Lake Sabrina 
  10. Yosemite National Park

Highlights are of course Death Valley National Park (road trip 3 on our list below)  and Mount Whitney stands 14,505-feet & is the highest point in the USA! (outside Alaska).

Bishop Sierra Nevada mountains

Bishop Sierra Nevada mountains

We spent our first couple of days in Las Vegas which was spectacular and offered a different vibe before we headed out on the open road.

For our full guide, follow the link: Las Vegas to Yosemite Road Trip!

2. San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

A California road trip between San Francisco and Yosemite is one the most epic in the USA. On this road trip you will find winding mountain roads with ancient redwoods guarding the great National Park.

How far is Yosemite from San Francisco?

Yosemite National Park is a 3-4 hour drive which covers approximately 179 miles.

Welcome to San Francisco

Welcome to San Francisco!

How to get to Yosemite from San Francisco?

Of course the easiest & most free flowing way to get from San Francisco to Yosemite is to hire a car and take a road trip between the two! For more info on the best car rental deals check out: Ultimate Car Rental Travel Hacks!

Map of San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip:

Dive into our Interactive map below! 

(Map: Copyright Town&Tourist via Gmaps)

User Guide: Use the +/- arrows to zoom in an out of the landmarks. Many users choose to share the post on facebook and access the map that way.

Tip: Turn your phone sideways for easier use. Click the directions button top right to be routed to an attraction.

Do you have a website? Feel free to embed our map by clicking the button in the top right hand corner. Just be sure to credit us at: Ultimate San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip!

Routes from San Francisco to Yosemite:

  • CA Highway 120 – From San Francisco

CA Highway 120 is susceptible to landslides any time of year! If you wish to travel this route, be sure to check road conditions on the Cal trans website, enter 120 into search.

This driving route is open most of the time and goes through Oakdale and Groveland, and is popular with visitors from the San Francisco Bay area and Northern California! On this driving route you will go through Oakland & Groveland.
You will pass through almond orchards, ranches and small farming towns. From there you will drive up the steep incline Priest Grade to Big Oak Flat and the old gold mining town of Groveland.
Apart from Priest Grade which raises 1,000 feet in 8.5 miles, the rest of the road is mostly straight with gentle curves. Hwy 120enters Yosemite at the Big Oak Flat entrance.
San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

  • CA Highway 140 – From San Jose Area

CA Hwy 140 is the most Scenic Drive into Yosemite and is open for most of the year. It also will take you through the towns of Mariposa and Fish Camp. This route is also popular if your driving from the San Jose area. This road continues uphill through Midpines and parallels with the Merced River before entering Yosemite via the Arch Rock Entrance.

  • CA Highway 41 – South west entrance. 

CA Hwy 41 is a popular route with GPS, however it’s not the most scenic. If you choose to take this route head to Mariposa then continue from there.

From US Hwy 99 at Fresno, CA Hwy 41 runs north and west toward Yosemite’s South Entrance. The drive 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 your best option if you’re staying at Tenaya Lodge, which is just outside the park boundaries.

On highway 41,  you will also find Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Mariposa

Mariposa

By Ride Share – Budget Method

A Public transport road trip is possible but takes such a long time. Many tour companies also offer bus tours. You can also try apps such as Lyft or Uber ride share to hop into cars of other people driving there, this is a real cost effective method.

But does have a risk element as the other people may wish to drive back sooner, or you could fall out with them and then be stranded! In this instance your best method would be to speak to your accommodation provider or get back onto Lyft to look for people driving back to SF.

San Francisco Itinerary & Tips 

The city of San Francisco can be made to feel very small if you know where to go and what to see if you spend a couple of days here. Known for its diverse cultures and incredible food scene you won’t be disappointed on a trip to San Francisco. 

San Francisco China Town

San Francisco China Town. Source: peeterv / Getty Images

How to get from San Francisco Airport?

If your fly into San Francisco you will most like arrive at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) which is in south San Francisco.

However, you may also fly to the smaller Oakland Airport (OAK) which is across from San Francisco Bay.  From the airport you can Rent your car (which I recommended!) you can also take an airport transfer or rideshare. 

Highlights in San Francisco: 

  • Chinatown – Cultural Neighborhood with street markets & mouth watering foods!
  • North Beach – SF “Little Italy” Italian restaurants, Coffee houses and shopping.
  • Fishermans Wharf/Pier 39 – A popular dockside attraction with kitsch Restaurants, family rides & attractions. Keep an eye out for the sunbathing sea lions!
  • Ghirardelli Square – Public Plaza with luxury hotels, restaurants & the tasty Ghirardelli Chocolate Company!
  • Off the Grid – Food Pop up markets popular in the city.
  • Haight Ashbury – Hipster central, a cool neighborhood great for thrift shopping.
  • Castro District – LGBT Area, which offers fun “Sing alongs”
  • Mission District – Mexican Food Heaven
  • Alcatraz Island – The Notorious island prison which once housed Al Capone & many other public enemy #1’s!
  • Golden Gate Bridge – A Classic
  • Golden Gate Park – 1,017 acres with the San Francisco Botanical Garden & Japanese Tea Garden.
  • Union Square – 2.6 acre public plaza with Shopping, hotels & Restaurants.
Pier 39 San Francisco

Pier 39 San Francisco. Source: Pier 39

Where to Stay in San Francisco?

There is a diverse range of accomodation choices in San Francisco, for luxury head to Union Square or Nob Hill, here are some of my favourites: the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, the Fairmont, or the Westin St. Francis are all great choices. 

If your after something more on cost effective check out the area around Fishermans Wharf, see Fishermans Wharf Hotels.

San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip Itinerary:

  1. San Francisco 
  2. Oakland 
  3. San Leandro 
  4. Pleasanton 
  5. Oakdale 
  6. Mariposa 
  7. Yosemite National Park

Highlights are of course San Francisco (Spend a couple of days here), Oakdale a large town on Highway 120 where you can fill up, check out the cowboy Museum and grab some great local foods.

First_national_bank_of_oakdale

First_national_bank_of_oakdale.,Source: Wiki commons

For our full guide, follow the link: Ultimate San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip!

3. Yosemite to Death Valley Road Trip

From the granite cliffs, canyons and sequoia Forests of Yosemite you can take the drive to Death Valley, americas most EXTREME place. Death valley is a desolate land, which looks like something from Mars! Located in Eastern California, in the northern Mojave Desert, Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world!

How long is the drive from Yosemite to Death Valley?

The drive between Yosemite and Death valley takes approximately 4-5 hours and covers between 231 miles and 300 miles depending upon the route.

It can be done in 4 hours amongst the shortest route…but its much better to take your time and experience the breath taking scenery.

san-bernardino-county-Death Valley road trip

san-bernardino-county-Death Valley road trip

Which is the best driving route between Yosemite & Death Valley?

Highway 395, more scenic and faster! 

Highway 395 is the fastest route and spans 231 miles over approximately 4 hours! You may thing this would mean it may be less scenic then highway 95 but you’d be wrong! In fact, highway 395 has much more dramatic scenery as it follows Owens Valley.

On this driving route you will see the Sierra mountains rise dramatically to your west and breath taking vistas over the valley to the east.  You will also have sights of Mt. Whitney, Alabama Hills and Mono Lake.

Yosemite to San Francisco Road Trip

Yosemite to San Francisco Road Trip

If you drive along highway 95 you will find it a longer journey 300 miles (5 hours) and less scenic as the mountains aren’t as high and valleys aren’t as wide. The climate is also dryer with sparse vegetation.

 Along 95 the mountains aren’t as high, the climate is dryer (and the vegetation sparser) and the valleys aren’t as wide. As a result I think you’ll get more impressive shots along 395.

Map of Yosemite to Death Valley Road Trip:

Dive into our map below!

(Map: Copyright Town&Tourist via Gmaps)

User Guide: Use the +/- arrows to zoom in an out of the landmarks. Many users choose to share the post on facebook and access the map that way.

Tip: Turn your phone sideways for easier use. Click the directions button top right to be routed to an attraction.

Do you have a website? Feel free to embed our map by clicking the button in the top right hand corner. Just be sure to credit us at: www.townandtourist.com/road-trips/yosemite-to-death-valley-road-trip/

Yosemite National Park (3 day Itinerary) 

How much does it cost to enter Yosemite? 

Yosemite costs approximately $35 per car valid for seven days

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!

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

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.

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.

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!

glacier-point-1789695_640

glacier-point-1789695_640

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.

Day 3: 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!

MONOLAKE-STATE-PARKI

MONOLAKE-STATE-PARKI

Insider Tip:

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

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!

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.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is arguably the most EXTREME place in the USA! Death Valley holds records such as the hottest place in the USA with recorded temperatures of 130 degrees F (54’C) and the lowest point in the USA at Badwater Basin, which is 279 feet (85 m) below sea level!

These remarkable conditions have formed extremely unique & beautiful landscapes which you have to experience!

When is the best time of year to visit Death Valley? 

Due to death valleys extreme temperatures (122’F) and humidity between (10%-55%) the best time to visit is during the colder months. AVOID Death Valley during the summer (End of May, June, July, August and Early September).

Death Valley National Park west coast road trip

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

Which Road Trip such I take through Death Valley?

I suggest taking the 1-2 day route through Death Valley, stopping at the popular landmarks located along Highway 190, which include Zabriskie Point, Mesquite flat, Dante’s View, Badwater Basin etc.

Death Valley Road Trip Highlights:

  1. Mesquite Flat
  2. Badwater Basin
  3. Dante’s view
  4. Zabriskie Point
  5. Salt Creek
  6. Artist’s Palette
  7. Racetrack Playa
  8. Devils Golf Course
  9. Golden Canyon Trail
  10. Rhyolite Ghost Town
Mesquite Flat:

This is the most popular sand dunes in Death Valley and is easily accessible from the Main road. They rise to a height of 328 feet and are the only dunes where sand boarding is allowed.

Mesquite Flat sunset death valley california

Mesquite Flat sunset death valley california. Source: Gigi Ebert

Badwater Basin:

Badwater Basin is one of the largest salt flats in the world and covers 985 square feet. It also is the lowest point in the U.S.A and lies 282 feet below sea level.

Insider Tip:

Getting to Badwater Basin takes approximately 20 minutes from the main road.

Badwater Basin-california

Badwater Basin-california

Dantes View:

Dantes view offers one of most the fantastic views of Death Valley and Badwater basin and is a must visit spot. To get there you will need to take the 13 mile road which has no exit, this takes around half an hour but its so worth it!

Devils Golf Course

The Devils Golf Course offers a unique shape where salt crystals form large holes in the ground and is a unique phenomenon of death valley.

Devils golf Course california

Devils golf Course, Death Valley California

Tips on Driving Through Death Valley:

  • Bring Plenty of Water
  • Bring Plenty of Gas
  • Make sure you have all your Travel Essentials 
  • Make sure you have all your Travel Accessories 
  • Bring a Great Travel Camera to capture some scenic shots.
  • Bring some High Quality Hiking boots: See Recommended Hiking Gear
  • Make sure your Car is serviced, with a spare tire or alternatively rent a fully reliable car.

How to get the best car rental Deals?

To get the best car rental deals check out: Ultimate Car Rental Travel Hacks!

car rental travel hacks

car rental travel hacks

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Town & Tourist

A travel resource guide that has been carefully crafted and curated by travel bloggers to help you find the best places to travel to in the USA.