San Jose area to Yosemite via 120

This is some advice about driving to Yosemite from Silicon Valley via highways 580/205/120 for the De Anza College Outdoor Club trips to Tuolumne Meadows.

Should you choose to visit the valley on the way and/or use highway 140, (99/145/41) take a look at Snow camp carpools and driving directions

Some tips for the 580/205/120 route:

trying to shortcut through Livermore on 84 can take more time at stoplights than the longer route of 680 to 580

after Altamont Pass, leave 580 and get on 205,

205 joins 5 for a brief way, then head on to 120,

go past Manteca and on to 99 north using a left lane split,

and look for the next quick exit east on 120.

Most of the rest of the route will be on slow roads rather than freeways, some of it through towns that really want you to do the posted speed limit.

In Oakdale you will make a left turn at a light to continue on 120 east. At Yosemite Junction you will make a right (no light or stop sign in your direction at this intersection).

From the Yosemite Daily Report: “Beginning July 5th, 2016, traffic on State Route 120 between Moccasin and Chinese Camp will be subject to delays of up to 10 minutes to accommodate a structural retrofit and deck replacement at the James E. Roberts Memorial Bridge over Lake Don Pedro. From October 2016 to February 2017, the bridge will be fully closed to traffic for night work, Sunday through Thursday between 7:00 P.M. and 5:00 A.M. Project work will culminate in a full 24/7 closure for one week at the end of construction period, as construction work is completed and inspected. Jacksonville Road is available as a low-speed bypass to Hwy 108, Sonora and Jamestown. For more information, please visit: www.dot.ca.gov/dist10/JamesRobertsBridge.”

For the section between Don Pedro Reservoir and Groveland, use Priest Grade, DON’T try OLD Priest Grade. If it is at all hot weather, turn off your air conditioner as you drive the eight miles, sixty curves and switchbacks of Priest Grade, even if your car is in great condition. Don’t turn the air conditioner back on right away when you get to the seeming top at Big Oak Flat. There is still some steep uphill through Priest Station. At the elevation 3000′ sign more typical mountain down and up hill starts.

Just before you leave, call 1 800 427-7623. It is voice activated, so say 120 or 140 or 580/205/120 or whatever highway number for road conditions, detours, etc.

For updated 24-hour road and weather conditions for within Yosemite National Park, please call 209-372-0200, press 1 and press 1 again before you leave and even again during your drive to the park.

A rockslide also closed 120 for a day and then for about six weeks for repairs in 2012.

In winter 2017, highway 120 was closed for weeks. A March 2 news release said: “Significant rain and snow this winter has saturated the soils, resulting in movement under the road bed. This soil movement has caused a large fissure to form in the roadway that has resulted in both lanes of traffic being unsafe for vehicles. Soils under the road continue to move, causing further damage. Over 100 feet of road, near the Big Meadow Overlook, has been impacted by this fissure. There is no estimated date for the road to reopen.” An April 5 news release said: “Severe winter storms that have given new life to an underground spring caused saturated, heavy soils under the road to slide downhill. Over 200 feet of roadway has been impacted.”

rangers look at a long, wide, deep crack in a snowy road

A rock slide on Highway 140 west of El Portal closed the road for months in 2006 and when it was reopened, there was a vehicle size limit. One day a driver of an oversized vehicle ignored the size restrictions, got stuck and closed the road to everyone for hours. A 15 foot X 6 foot X 4 foot boulder closed it briefly in December 2010. Nov. 1, 2016 several large boulders fell and and landed on 140 within the park, completely closing that section of the road for a day/night.

June 12, 2017, 140 was “closed from the Big Oak Flat Road intersection to Park-Line for at least 24-hours due to a significant rock-slide near Dog Rock.” Then the closure time was lengthening to many days. The location of this slide caused a 2 1/2 – 3 hour drive from Yosemite valley to hotels just outside the park entrance instead of the usual half hour.

Just one huge rock could close it again at any time.

For a look at the 140 fix they are working on go to:

http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist10/environmental/projects/fergusonslide/RockShed.html

Visitors are always urged to use caution when driving through the rockfall area.

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The road through Tuolumne Meadows is closed in the winter, you can only ski in. The Tuolumne Meadows campground reservation office for the spring, summer and fall months becomes the Tuolumne Meadows ski hut in the winter. The Tioga road opens mid May to late June, and closes late October to early December, depending on snow amounts/plowing . https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/tiogaopen.htm

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Tips for pulling a trailer over Tioga Pass are at:

https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/restrictions.htm

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You will need to pay the park vehicle entrance fee, (2018 $30, for up to seven days ($20 motorcycle) or better yet, find someone to carpool with who already has a (National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands) Interagency annual pass (in 2018 $80 for a year). (If you also go on the club Grand Teton National Park trip between summer and fall quarters it could be wise to get a year long pass.)

or find a carpooler who is a U.S. military member or dependent and has their ID Card (form 1173) and can get a free national parks pass http://store.usgs.gov/pass/military.html

OR find someone who is 62 or over to get a lifetime seniors pass for $80.
(The passes can’t be transferred/shared, the pass holder needs to be in your vehicle and show a photo ID.)

There is a visitor center with a relatively large parking lot and restrooms on the right just after the Big Oak Flat entrance station.

You might want to top off your tank at Crane Flat as the station at Tuolumne Meadows is gone. There is a one way road/driveway into the station. After hours you can pay at the pump with a credit card.

In late June to July, maybe even August or September in heavy snow years, you will see yellow flowers with petals that droop downward at the top of 3 to 6 feet tall stems blooming in the Crane Flat area meadows. These are Coneflowers. Look closer in these meadows and find Shooting Stars, Monkeyflowers, Forget-me-nots, Deers-tongue, Yampah (lacy white flowers on almost leafless stems 1 to 2 1/2 foot tall, which are not really Queen Anne’s Lace, but sometimes called that) and Corn Lilies (up to 6 feet tall) in season. See: Tuolumne trip wildflowers.

Are we there yet? Not quite, it’s forty miles from Crane Flat to Tuolumne meadows and you will want to make stops and sightsee.

tuolumne campground map group sites area: map with road, campground and part of a river

There is more, including a description of what you will find on the rest of the drive into Tuolumne Meadows, at:

Tuolumne trip

Tenaya Lake from Olmstead Point: Tenaya Lake beach:

Tuol Meadows from west: tuolumne meadows store in a tent 120pxls:

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Snow camp carpools and driving directions has driving directions from Silicon Valley to Yosemite Valley, including routes 140 and 120 (and few notes about 99/145/41). Info there could help you drive from Tuolumne and/or Crane Flat to Yosemite Valley.

Details advice about using the Yosemite valley free shuttle bus is at: https://marydonahue.org/yosemite-valley-free-shuttle-bus

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There is little parking in Yosemite valley or Tuolumne beyond your campsite, hotel area or day use parking. Park off the side of the road, not in a parking space, (as in the photo below, off road behind a large rock meant to deter anyone from parking there) and you can get a parking ticket with a $200 + fine (orange ticket under the windshield wiper) in this photo:

car with an orange parking ticket

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Yosemite driving distances

junction Big Oak Flat road and El Portal Road
– Junction Northside and southside drives .9 mile

-Junction Northside and southside drives – junction El Cap crossover 1.4 miles

(Southside drive) junction El Cap crossover – junction at Sentinel bridge 2.7 miles

junction at Sentinel bridge to junction at Half Dome Village 1mile

Yosemite Village – junction El Cap crossover 3.2 miles

Bridal Veil fall parking to far end of Wawona tunnel 1.6 miles

junction of Southside drive at Half Dome Village to start of Happy Isles road .4 miles

start of Happy Isles road to Mirror Meadow bus stop 1.2 miles

Mirror Meadow bus stop to junction at start of Happy Isles road .4 miles

junction of Southside drive at Half Dome Village to main day use parking .8 miles

Yosemite Village to Tioga pass road 18 miles

Tioga pass road to Tioga pass entrance station 47 miles

Tioga pass entrance station to Lee Vining 13 miles

junction Tioga pass road to Big Oak Flat entrance station 9 miles

Big Oak Flat entrance station to Hetch Hetchy 18 miles

Yosemite Village to Chinquapin Junction 14 miles

Chinquapin Junction to Glacier Point 16 miles

Chinquapin Junction to south entrance station 17 miles

Yosemite Village to Arch Rock entrance station 11 miles

Arch Rock entrance station to Mariposa 34 miles

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Yosemite trips index

Carpools are arranged among the students going on any Outdoor Club Trip, not by the club or the college. For info on how to get/give a ride go to Carpool FAQs

You might also want to read How to not collide with a deer, Safe driving in rain and fog, Prepare for winter driving, and/or wildlife jams Road trip advice and etiquette has ideas for limiting boredom, getting along on a road trip and some packing and safety tips.