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Traveling to Yosemite: Where to Stop

Published 7/8/2020
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Yosemite is slightly smaller than Rhode Island. One thousand one hundred eighty-nine square miles, to be exact. The park can be accessed from three different directions, and it is a 3.5-4 hour drive to drive from one side to the other.
Depending on which entrance you come in from, there are hikes and attractions that we recommend stopping for if you have time. If you're on a Campcrate trip, the first and last days can be filled with these optional hikes and stops as you enter or exit the park.

Big Oak Flat Entrance: Highway 120


Arriving from San Francisco / Sacramento / Stockton / Napa

1) If you have 2.5-3 hours, take a side trip to Hetch Hetchy before the entrance and hike the 2.4 mile Wapama Falls Trail.  If you don't want to hike, it is still a beautiful drive.  Although, much of the drive was burned heavily by the Rim Fire of 2013.  From this parking lot, you can walk onto the bridge or begin the 2.4-mile hike.

After you've entered the park, there are two Giant Sequoia Groves.  The first is the Merced Grove and the other is the Tuolumne Grove.

2) The Merced Grove is the smaller of the two groves and less popular.  The hike is 3.4 miles round-trip and follows the old dirt road entrance into the park.

3) The Tuolumne Grove is a little further up the road.  You'll need to turn left at Crane Flat and drive a mile up the road.  This grove hosts more big trees and one of the old famous drive-through trees.  The 2.7 mile round-trip hike follows the old Tioga Road of the 1900s before the modern-day route was paved.

4) Drive to Tuolumne Meadows (3-4 hour total side detour)

Tuolumne Meadows is a beautiful and secluded part of Yosemite National Park full of meadows, granite domes, and snowfields.  The road will bring you up to 10,500 feet of elevation.  If you have time, you could add in the hike to Lembert Dome, assuming the snow isn't too deep.

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7009772/lembert-dome

 

5) Cascade Creek

This one is literally right off the road, so definitely worth stopping

https://www.hikingproject.com/symbol/7011783

 

6) Bridalveil Falls hike on your way in...it's short, but really nice.

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7004499

 

7) Tunnel View

https://www.hikingproject.com/gem/298

Fun side note:  With incredible caution, walk the small sidewalk .25 miles uphill through the tunnel.  On your right, you will find an air vent tunnel that pops out on the side of a cliff.  This will give you a beautiful view all to yourself.  Be sure to take your headlamps and use extreme caution in the tunnel.  The traffic will be heavy and loud, but all worth it.

 

8) Fern Springs

Stop here at Fern Springs.  This water bubbles up out of the ground and park geologists aren't even sure where the water comes from or how many years it's been underground.  You can use your water filter and drink from it.  It is as fresh of water as you can find anywhere.

https://www.hikingproject.com/gem/83

 

9) This one isn't on your way in necessarily, but if you show up too early and traffic is still bad, you can drive through Tunnel View and hike this instead of waiting on traffic.

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7018588

 

Mariposa Grove Entrance: Highway 41

Arriving from Visalia / Fresno / Sequoia National Park / Monterey Bay / Los Angeles (optional)

 

If you need a canister for your camp stove, trail snacks, or accessories stop by Alpenglow Gear in Oakhurst.

1) After you enter the park, there are many hikes around the Wawona Area.  The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias should not be missed.  We recommend the 3.3-mile Grand Tour of the Sequoias

2) If you'd like food, there is a dine-in restaurant at the Wawona Hotel (closed 2020) and a small grocery store, as well.

3) Further up the road, you'll have the option to take a 2-hour round-trip detour to Glacier Pt.  There is a short paved walking area that takes you to Glacier Point from the parking lot.

4) Along the Glacier Pt Road, you will pass the trailhead for both Taft Point and Sentinel Dome.  Sentinel Dome is a 2.1-mile hike and one of my favorites in the park.

5) As you continue onto highway 41 towards Yosemite Valley, there are many pullouts with incredible views of the Merced River canyon

6) Bridalveil Falls hike on your way in...it's short, but really nice.

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7004499

 

7) Tunnel View

https://www.hikingproject.com/gem/298

Fun side note:  With incredible caution, walk the small sidewalk .25 miles uphill through the tunnel.  On your right, you will find an air vent tunnel that pops out on the side of a cliff.  This will give you a beautiful view all to yourself.  Be sure to take your headlamps and use extreme caution in the tunnel.  The traffic will be heavy and loud, but all worth it.

 

8) Fern Springs

Stop here at Fern Springs.  This water bubbles up out of the ground and park geologists aren't even sure where the water comes from or how many years it's been underground.  You can use your water filter and drink from it.  It is as fresh of water as you can find anywhere.

https://www.hikingproject.com/gem/83

 

9) This one isn't on your way in necessarily, but if you show up too early and traffic is still bad, you can drive through Tunnel View and hike this instead of waiting on traffic.

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7018588

 

Tuolumne Meadows Entrance: Hwy 120

 

Arriving from Lake Tahoe / Las Vegas / Bishop / Mammoth Lakes

 

1) Stop at almost every turn out for amazing photos.  Especially here . . .

https://goo.gl/maps/9DMEtUH6Ru82

 

2) Continue through the park gates and go to Lembert Dome to hike to the summit . . .

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7009772/lembert-dome

 

3) Go to the Tuolumne Wilderness Office and pick-up your permit here to avoid Yosemite Valley traffic.

https://goo.gl/maps/pYHk5S1QX1H2

Ask the visitor center if you can camp at the Tuolumne Meadows backpacker's campground instead of the Yosemite Valley one.  It would be really cool to spend the night up here instead.

 

4) If you do spend the night in Tuolumne or enter the park very early and are in great hiking shape, add in the Cathedral Lakes hike (7.4 miles total)

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7009372/lower-cathedral-lake-trail

 

5) After that, continue on to check out Tenaya Beach/Tenaya Lake.  Photo opportunities vary greatly from different sides of the lake.

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7009312

 

6) At the top of the hill, stop at Olmstead Pt for your first view of Half Dome.

https://www.google.com/maps/dir/?daddr=37.81080110447367,-119.48582410812378

 

Note:  If you plan to camp in Yosemite Valley, continue on through this message and your travel.  If you are camping in Tuolumne Meadows, turn around and go back.  Pick up here on morning of Day 2, assuming you got your permit at the Tuolumne Wilderness Center.

 

7) Next, stop to hike the Tuolume Grove of Giant Sequoias (2.7 Miles)

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7018615/tuolumne-grove-of-giant-sequoias

 

8) Cascade Creek

This one is literally right off the road, so definitely worth stopping

https://www.hikingproject.com/symbol/7011783

 

9) Bridalveil Falls hike on your way in...it's short, but really nice.

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7004499

 

10) Tunnel View

https://www.hikingproject.com/gem/298

Fun side note:  With incredible caution, walk the small sidewalk .25 miles uphill through the tunnel.  On your right, you will find an air vent tunnel that pops out on the side of a cliff.  This will give you a beautiful view all to yourself.  Be sure to take your headlamps and use extreme caution in the tunnel.  The traffic will be heavy and loud, but all worth it.

 

11) Fern Springs

Stop here at Fern Springs.  This water bubbles up out of the ground and park geologists aren't even sure where the water comes from or how many years it's been underground.  You can use your water filter and drink from it.  It is as fresh of water as you can find anywhere.

 

https://www.hikingproject.com/gem/83