Snow camp carpools and driving directions

This webpage has detailed driving directions from Silicon Valley to Yosemite valley and the Yosemite valley campgrounds / hotels, in two sections:

One set is for people coming from San Jose, Cupertino, Campbell, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Gilroy, Morgan Hill, etc. to Yosemite Valley including routes 140 and 120 (and a few notes about 99/145/41).

A second set of directions covers the 580/205/120 route for people driving to Yosemite from Fremont, Oakland, Hayward, Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, Union City, Livermore, Newark, San Ramon, Castro Valley, etc.

Farther down on this webpage are directions once you get into Yosemite valley.

road map of Yosemite National park area

Carpools are arranged among the students going on field trips, not by the club or the college. Often the final arrangements are made at the pre-trip meeting. Snow Camp has all the details about the trip and the date/time of the pre-trip meeting. For info on how to get/give a ride go to Carpool FAQs

Road trip advice and etiquette has ideas for limiting boredom and some packing and safety tips.

moving rainbow line:

Yosemite Park entrance fees:

You will need to pay the park vehicle entrance fee, effective June 2018 the Yosemite park entrance fee will be $35 per vehicle or $20 per motorcycle. A Yosemite annual park pass will cost $70. (We do not recommend riding a motorcycle in the winter in Yosemite)

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.)

moving rainbow line:

The park service warns: “Please note that GPS units do not always provide accurate directions to or within Yosemite. Yosemite covers 1,200 square miles and does not have a single address. We do not recommend using GPS units for directions in and around Yosemite. If you do use a GPS unit, just keep in mind that if there’s a conflict between what the road sign says and what your GPS unit says, the road sign is correct (and your GPS unit isn’t).”

Stanley Steamer and Half Dome.: Arthur Holmes and Frank Holmes from San Jose, California, drive a Stanley Steamer on a dirt road in Yosemite with Half Dome in the background, circa 1900. Photo from the Yosemite Museum.

How long does it take to get to Yosemite?

The drive to Yosemite from the Bay Area can take 4 plus hours if you don’t make many stops, aren’t behind slow drivers and do the speed limit. Or it can take 5-6 or more hours if you have a lot of passengers who want fast food or photo taking stops, or you have to put on chains and drive slowly.

You will probably leave town later than you think because it will take longer to pack up than you think, especially with a big group. One guy in ’98 didn’t use our directions, he had found some elsewhere on the internet. He got lost and it took him thirteen hours of driving to get to the park. Yes, 13.

You can find the instructions to turn off the loud beep your car makes when you use the keyless ‘remote’ pushbutton on your keychain to unlock the car. Then you won’t forget about it and wake up everyone in the middle of the night. The club requires: If you park at the campground you will turn off your car alarm. You will disable the loud beep that goes off when the keyless remote is used to unlock the car OR you will take the remote off the keychain and use the key to unlock the door(s). You will disable the beep that goes off when the trunk is opened / any other beep. In the interests of letting others sleep, if you can’t disable the beep(s) (or disconnect the beepers) you will not drive that vehicle or you will park it at a day use parking lot.

If you rent a vehicle you will learn how to turn off car alarms/disable beeps at the rental business, BEFORE you leave for the trip. (AND if you rent a vehicle make sure well in advance they will let you use chains on it, as you are required to carry chains all winter even if it does not seem like you will need them!) It has snowed in Yosemite valley in April.

DRIVING DIRECTIONS TO YOSEMITE VALLEY

Buy a map, or CSAA, (also known as Triple A) members should pick up a free Central California, Bay Area to Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, map.

Some GPS units have misled people and they are found wandering around the vicinity of the Search and Rescue offices instead of finding their hotel/campsite. Please get a map and use it and read the posted road signs.

Most people will take the route (140) with the possibility of not having to put on chains until the very last minute (or maybe not at all). In ’98, when there were flood watches all over the state, there was no flooding on this route.

You could take 120 instead of 140, but you will be much more likely to have to use chains, and here’s a picture of the self-service gas station at Crane Flat on that route:

self serve gas 120 pxls:

Some online map services recommend the Chowchilla mountain road as a direct route into Yosemite. The concessionaire warns “Unless you are interested in 4-wheeling on this rutted dirt road, Highway 140 is a much faster option.”

Possible delays due to road work are at: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/roadwork.htm

The National Weather Service has a map of predicted fog severity at:

https://www.weather.gov/hnx/HNXFogSI.html This below is not the current one, but just an example and the one at the webpage is much easier to read:

NWS map of central California with potential severity of fog density

Just before you leave, call 1 800 427-7623. It is voice activated, so say 140 or 580/205/120 or whatever highway number for road conditions, detours, etc. The Yosemite road and weather phone message is 1 (209) 372-0200.

CALL the road info number before you leave town, and perhaps again during your drive!

Besides rock slide closures, hazardous tree removal or road paving may be planned along your route.

The Park service has noted: “drivers are reminded of the greater likelihood of encountering rock debris on park roads during wet weather. Although rockfalls are always possible along all park roadways, they tend to happen more often during winter storms. . .
If you encounter small rock debris on the road, drive through the area (do not stop within the debris) and promptly report it to Park Dispatch. Do not attempt to remove the debris yourself – leave that task to road crews equipped to do so safely. If you encounter large rock debris on the road, turn around and promptly report it to Park Dispatch.”

As of a Nov. 29, 2018 rain storm there was a closure of part of Highway 140 just inside Yosemite where there had been a hillside fire previously: “El Portal Rd/Hwy-140 from Park-line to Hwy-120/140 intersection is closed due to rocks, mud, and debris in the road.” This could easily happen again each time there is a big rainstorm this winter. Having a full or nearly full gas tank gives you a better opportunity to turn around and take another route if you do not find out about a road closure before you leave town or if it becomes closed when you are already on your way to the park.

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Oakhurst or Mariposa, your last two big towns before you enter the park using the 140 or 41 routes, are fairly big Sierra towns, with a major sized grocery and lots of restaurants plus a choice of gas stations (more expensive than home). It might be worth your time if you’re on a budget to drive a few blocks through town looking for the cheapest station as occasionally they have a gas price competition.

Fill up with gas at whichever town is on your route. There are no gas stations in Yosemite valley.

The nearest station for our trip, miles from the campground / hotels/ cabins, will be in El Portal (in recent years at least a dollar a gallon more than Mariposa) or within the park at Crane Flat (30 minutes from Yosemite valley) or Wawona (about an hour from Yosemite Valley) each 24 hours with credit or debit card at the pump, IF the pumps are functioning. (Rarely the gas pumps are not available, for example when Mariposa County inspects the fuel tanks a downtime of 2 or 3 hours can be expected and when Fuel bank systems are being upgraded stations will not be open for business on the day of installation.)

You should keep at least a half-full gas tank (to prevent gas line freeze-up), or a closer to full tank should you need to change routes, idle, drive slowly or turn back. So fill up at the last major town before entering the park. If you didn’t bring chains, you can usually rent and/or buy them in Oakhurst or Mariposa as well.

If it’s cold, Mariposa or Oakhurst would be a propitious place on a winter trip to put on those polypro longjohns / base layer and change into boots. Some years there is little snow on the ground, some years lots. As you drive, be ready to stop around a corner on winding mountain roads for work crews, a fallen tree or a tourist stopping in the road to take a picture. If trees are full of snow be prepared for a huge snow plop on your windshield.

Up into the mountains there may be a sign saying whether chains will be required that day on the Yosemite route. You probably won’t need to put them on until farther up the road if they are required; the sign may just be a warning. If Yosemite is having early-spring-type weather and you decided to risk not bringing chains, don’t congratulate yourself too soon, things can change by tomorrow. Don’t forget, you can’t rent chains in Yosemite, they are very expensive to buy, and even four-wheel drive vehicles with snow tires are required to have chains. Often the Rangers check for chains and won’t let you into the park if you don’t have them. AND not having chains “could subject you to an expensive citation.”

The roads in the park can be quite icy.. slow down and skip this experience…

From the National Park Service Morning Report, Monday, January 22, 2007

Yosemite National Park

Visitors Rescued From Vehicle In River

On January, 11th, a winter storm passed over the park, producing little snow but creating very icy road conditions. Although crews treated park roads and rangers put four-wheel-drive or snow chain restrictions into effect, a Nissan Pathfinder slid off Highway 140 near Pohono Bridge shortly after passing a chain control area. According to the initial report, everyone was out of the vehicle and there were no injuries. Park telecommunication supervisor David Thorpe was in the area, though, and provided additional information. Thorpe, who is also a Mariposa County swiftwater rescuer, told rangers that the Pathfinder began rocking when the occupants were attempting to get out, suggesting that it was unstable; the evacuation was accordingly stopped until the vehicle could be stabilized. Still inside in the front passenger seat was a 62-year-old man with an artificial hip and restricted mobility. That part of the vehicle, including the tire and bumper, were touching a deep pool of swiftly moving water. Rangers, Yosemite SAR personnel and members of two fire battalions responded. The Pathfinder was secured and the man was carefully extricated and raised up a slick, rough scree slope in a litter. Meanwhile, traffic management personnel, road crews and tow trucks from the Valley worked at sanding the road, managing the closure, and moving other vehicles involved in collisions back onto the roadway. The icy conditions were caused by frozen rain falling on the roadway. Although there wasn’t much of an accumulation, the compressed particles created a very slick surface. [Submitted by Jason Gayeski, Valley Patrol]

ice road sign snow tires req'd:

Here are two routes aiming for 140, but changing to 99/145/41 if you call and find that another rockslide has blocked 140.

Below, in dark blue, skip ahead to find hints for the 580/205/120 route for people driving to Yosemite from Fremont, Oakland, Hayward, Walnut Creek, Pleasanton, Union City, Livermore, Newark, San Ramon, Castro Valley, etc.
and then follow more directions into Yosemite Valley

Read through this while looking at a map.

(For people coming from Silicon Valley (San Jose, Cupertino, Campbell, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Monte Sereno, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Gilroy, Morgan Hill), take 101 South to Gilroy.

In Gilroy exit on 152 East, and go to the left over the 101 freeway. If you forgot something, turn right just after going over 101 into a shopping center with (early 2018) a Target, Starbuck’s, and fast food places for restrooms and road trip provisions.

152 East takes you over Pacheco Pass, which is a much improved road, if you haven’t driven it the last few years. It has been widened with passing lanes, and the road is much safer and easier to drive. After about 14 miles, go on to the 152/156 branch towards Los Banos.

After San Luis reservoir, continue on 152 over I-5 and down into Los Banos, with more fast food places. If it’s cold out now, you might want to put on those long-johns.

This section of 152 is also called highway 33 and/or West Pacheco Blvd on some maps. On the right and back in a little at the intersection of Badger Flat road is a Target for a little food and whatever else you suddenly realized you forgot. We find it a convenient grocery stop /restroom stop on the way home from Yosemite trips.

After Los Banos travel on 152 east for about 18 miles and make a decision to take either

59 North towards Merced, then 140 to Mariposa,
UNLESS you call and find out there has been a rockslide and 140 is closed

OR decide to stay on 152, then head south on 99 to Madera, go up 145 and 41 to Oakhurst. We’re not giving as many details of the longer drive through Oakhurst, so if you choose that route, (or road conditions force you to use that route) skip ahead to the teal-colored paragraphs .

If you decide to take 59 north, pay attention, the overpass is easy to overlook. Watch for the San Joaquin bypass shortly before it. Stay on 59 north for about 15 miles to Merced. Get on 99 for about twenty thousand milliseconds (okay, less than 30 seconds), then exit on to 140 east. After about 37 miles, get gas in Mariposa if you did not spot the Chevron on the right in Cathey’s Valley at the intersection of Hornitos Road and Cathey’s valley road. (Again, gas closer to the park, at El Portal, for example, is going to be much more expensive.)

Along this route, past Mariposa, but before El Portal and the entrance station, is a one-way-at-a-time section of road with a relatively short duration stoplight. Even if you do not see traffic approaching, the red light is a real red light. Starting to drive along this section when the light is red can leave you in the unenviable situation of trying to drive in reverse while a string of cars that was approaching waits for you to get out of the way. (Yes, we saw this happen.)

In late May some years, Highway 140 between Crane Creek and the Yosemite National Park border (Parkline) in El Portal becomes “thick with thousands of California tortoiseshell butterflies. This species emerges in spectacular numbers in some years and is thought to be the source of Mariposa County’s name, which is Spanish for butterfly.

Please help minimize the number of butterflies killed by reducing your speed when you encounter their swarms. At 25 mph, the butterflies are more likely to follow the slipstream around your car, and emerge unscathed. At higher speeds the butterflies don’t fare as well. Dead butterflies along the roadway also increase the risk to the birds that come to feast on the dead butterflies.”

Take 140 east about 34 miles to the Arch Rock entrance station (if this part is open–call before you leave home!).

Are we there yet? Not quite, your campsite or room is still about a half hour away. (In the summer it can be much longer by mid-day as the traffic can get quite backed up.) Restrooms just past the entrance station are on the right. The restrooms are usually open even when the entrance station is closed.

As you continue, the Merced River will be on your right.

Here are hints for the 580/205/120 route, everyone else should skip ahead:

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).

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.

Next stop is the the Yosemite National Park Big Oak Flat entrance station, with a visitor center with restrooms on the right. Now could be a good time on a winter trip to put on the long johns / base layer and switch from tennis shoes to winter boots.

Plans to upgrade / replace the Big Oak Flat Welcome Center entrance station buildings, parking are at:
https://www.nps.gov/yose/getinvolved/upload/YOSE-BOF-Public-Review-EA_FINAL_508.pdf

Nine miles farther you might want to top off your tank at Crane Flat in case you want to do extra driving while in the park. There is a one way road/driveway into the station. It is not staffed in winter, but most of the time you can pay at the pump with a credit card. (This station frequently has lower prices than some of the little stations just outside the park entrance.) At Crane Flat there is usually a snow play area. 3.5 miles north of Crane Flat you can take a 4 mile round trip hike or ski into the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Are we there yet? Not quite, it’s 16 miles from Crane Flat to Yosemite Valley campgrounds or hotel rooms.

A bit after a few tunnels (be courteous to bike riders!) when this road enters Yosemite Valley, you will stop at a stop sign and turn left. As you continue, the Merced River will be on your right.

sign chains req no exceptions: sign that says chains required no exceptions, speed limit 25Whenever any kind of chain controls are in place the speed limit is 25 miles per hour. Leaving a big following distance could be a great idea, especially when you are approaching a stop sign, so you don’t slide on ice when you brake and find yourself unable to stop before you hit the car in front of you that was stopped for that stop sign.

Routes 140, 580/205/120 join at this point, down in Yosemite Valley.

yosemite sign icy:

Here in central valley and coastal California most of our roads will not freeze very often as the ground beneath doesn’t get that cold, so ice will only form occasionally in patches or after freezing rain.

But as you approach bridges, slow down. Black ice (a thin, invisible, complete coating of ice) forms on top of bridges, causeways or any stretch of road not paved over solid ground.

Black ice can occur even when the weather is dry. Melting water from roadside snow banks often freezes on road curves during early evening hours and stays frozen. Black ice can look like dry pavement .

It can take you three times the normal distance to stop when a road is icy (even with anti-lock brakes, four wheel drive and snow tires). Spin-outs are common in the winter in Yosemite. Leave a good following distance. Slow down well in advance of stop signs. Expect people coming from another direction to not be able to stop and to slide into the intersection (and possibly into you).

When you cross the river on the Pohono bridge 5+ miles from the entrance station, the road becomes a one way loop (unless there has been a rockfall on part of it, or of the park is doing road repairs on the outgoing part of the loop, then it will be two-way). Coming towards you from the left is Northside Drive (usually) one-way. Don’t be one of the people who does not see the signs telling them to not drive on Northside Drive.

To see a 360 degree view where one way Northside Drive merges with 140, the two way road you will be driving on and the road changes from two way to one way (Southside Drive) (unless, of course a different rockslide has caused Yosemite valley roads to be changed from one-way to two-way!):

https://www.google.com/streetview/#us-parks-trails-and-beaches/merced-river-yosemite-national-park

A little later, from the right, the road from Oakhurst/to Badger Pass “Wawona Road” on the map below, joins this route.

map with roads above and below river

Taking a brief side trip up the Wawona Road to Tunnel View and/or Bridalveil Fall (see pictures below) can be quite worthwhile especially if you are coming into the park in daylight.

If you choose the Madera/Oakhurst route, from Oakhurst you’ll go north on 41 through National Forest land to the South entrance station. If you come in late the Ranger kiosk will be closed. Are we there yet? Not quite, your campsite is still about an hour and a half away.

It’s 5 miles to Wawona, with the big white hotel buildings, golf course, gas station and small store, then it’s 12 miles to the turnoff for the ski resort (by here you may need chains), then about 7 miles to a long tunnel just above the valley floor.

tunnel view NPS photo.: El Capitan on one side, Half Dome in the center and Bridalveil fall on the otherSlow down and put on your right blinker at the end of the tunnel and pull carefully into the small parking lot. Walk across the road (watch out for drivers watching the scenery and not seeing you) to the main viewpoint.

NPS photo of Tunnel View (the massive rock form on the left is El Capitan, in the background in the center is Half Dome, the waterfall on the right is Bridalveil Fall:

NPS photo of Yosemite valley including El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall and a mass of clouds

This view is worth stopping for even if you are running late and even if there is rain or snow falling. The Yosemite Fund (now called the Yosemite Conservancy) and the National Park Service funded a remodel in 2008 with educational exhibits, expanded handicap accessible viewing area and improved traffic flow. Thousands of people stop each day in the summer.

Google maps 360 degree street view at Tunnel View.

More photos of the view from the parking lot at tunnel view:
photos below by Quang-Tuan Luong/terragalleria.com
, all rights reserved.

QT Luong Yosemite valley from tunnel winter snow: QT Luong valley from tunnel view winter fog: QT Luong Yosemite Valley from tunnel view: terragalleria Yosemite valley winter glorious pink sunset: terragalleria photo of Yosemite valley winter glorious pink sunset

In about a mile and a half, just after the turnout on the right to Bridalveil Fall, (with vault toilets, until the plan is finished): https://www.nps.gov/yose/getinvolved/bridalveilea.htm

if you get here early it’s only a five minute walk to the base of the fall.

NPS map of short walk to Bridalveil fall in Yosemite Valley

https://www.yosemiteconservancy.org/restoration-bridalveil-fall explains work on restoration of the Bridalveil Fall area.

360 degree view: https://www.google.com/streetview/#us-parks-trails-and-beaches/yosemite-national-park-bridelveil-falls-trail-1

after the Bridalveil Fall turnoff, the Wawona Road next joins Southside drive and the road becomes a one-way loop, unless there has been a rock fall or road construction and it is designated two way.


HERE all of the routes described above merge into one route.

Where the routes merge is at about the center of the map below, where the lower road labeled Wawona Road comes into the Yosemite Valley Southside Drive:

map with roads above and below river

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Sometimes one or more roads are closed suddenly due to a rock fall / mud slide that needs to be cleared. Roads that were two lanes in the same one-way direction can need to be be designated as two-way. Watch for signage.

WATCH OUT!!! and please be assured that some drivers will not notice the changes, even with multiple signs. (There was a large sign with flashing lights at the beginning of this section of road designating this change and then four of these yellow double arrow signs alongside the road on both sides. We watched multiple vehicles drive in the wrong lane for part or all of this section of road.)

two way road sign with large arrows and car in wrong lane

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snowplows stay back: two snowplows, one with a sign that says stay back Drive extra carefully from now on, there may be a snowplow working around the next corner, someone stopped to take pictures who didn’t pull far enough off the road (or just stopped in the roadway), or people weaving over the center line as they drive and sightsee.

Was that a coyote already?

coyote: a National Park Service photo of a coyote diving into snow

Road repairs (or construction projects that cause roads to be closed or re-directed) in Yosemite valley are usually done in the winter, for less traffic disruption. Expect lane closures and waits of fifteen minutes to a half hour. In these areas they may have to reroute traffic or pilot cars will escort traffic from each end of a project. Be cautious of trench plates and loose gravel in repair areas. Rockfalls can close a whole section of road.

The following is the description if all regular roads are open. If there are closures there will be signs redirecting you.

In the summer this section of road can have a bus/emergency vehicle lane in place and drivers of private vehicles must stay in the left lane. Signage is put up when this is in effect.

Follow signs that say “to all Valley Destinations” for about five miles. The river will be on the left side of the road, although you won’t be able to see it at times.

You’ll go past a few turnoffs to picnic areas. There will be a stretch of road with meadows on both sides and parking on the left where you can stop and see Yosemite Falls on the left, or Half Dome a bit farther on the right.

Here are two NPS pictures (and a third and fourth of mine) of what the view of Yosemite Falls might look like in the winter along this stretch of road:

NPS Yosemite Fall April: Yosemite Falls Feb 11 2004 NPS photo: upper yosemite fall and snow cone after storm 2008: yosemite falls no I did not enhance the blue color:

and one of the boardwalks next to the parking, across the meadow in May:

waterfall in background, people walking on wooden boardwalk in foreground

In the NPS photo below of flooded Sentinel Meadow taken May 16, 2005, you can just make out the sunken edge of the boardwalk across the meadow between the two posts on the fence and can just see Yosemite Falls thru the low clouds in the background. Next to it is the same place in June, 2005 and again in February 2008

flooded Sentinel meadow Yosemite May 16 2005 NPS photo: meadow Yosemite falls June 2005: Yosemite Falls and snowy meadow feb 4 2008:

The roadway described above is just beyond where the white right arrow in a black circle is on the lower road (a section of Southside Drive) in the lower left corner of the map below.

map with roads, river and a few locations

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If you have a few extra minutes and can find parking on the left hand side of the road, a short walk takes you to a display about massive flooding when Yosemite valley has turned into a lake. At the end of the left hand side of Southside Drive long parking strip, directly across from the chapel, follow a path towards a pedestrian bridge over the river.

The section of a shuttle bus map below shows the chapel at the bottom right hand corner and a dotted red line showing the path to the bridge. The bridge is just below the letter “M” in the words Yosemite Lodge.

map showing bus stops, the Merced river, parts of roads and parts of  trails

The bridge is in the upper left hand side of this photo:

road in foreground, path to bridge beyond the road

You can stand next to the display

metal sculpture with various years on itand see that the water flooding over the bridge in 1997 would have been up to the chin of many adults (had they been able to stand on the bridge at all).

A description of the flood display and more photos are at: Yosemite floods display on Superintendent’s Bridge. And find photos of a longer walk in the area at Cook’s Meadow.

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Next you will go past the Chapel on the right, and end up at a stop sign before Sentinel bridge to the left across the river. The one way section of Southside Drive you are on (usually) continues as one way as it goes straight ahead, but it turns into two-way as it goes over the bridge.

intersection with  stop sign

We watched vehicles at this intersection for 20 minutes one summer day. One out of five drove right through the stop sign without slowing down. (Were they too irritated about slow traffic? Had no campsite reservation and hoped to get one at the last moment?) Only about one of five stopped fully behind the stop sign white line in the road before going forward. One turned left and must have not noticed the signage, or was just too irritated about slow traffic / in too big of a hurry, because he drove into an oncoming traffic lane and almost was hit by a car traveling in the proper lane over the bridge.

People going to the Yosemite Lodge, Ahwahnee (Majestic) hotel, Camp Four and the route back out of Yosemite Valley should turn left and go over the bridge on to a two-way road (and carefully watch for signage, especially at the big circle of roadway).

People going to the Yosemite Valley Lodge can find a map of the hotel buildings at https://www.travelyosemite.com/media/820990/yosemite-valley-lodge-property-map.pdf so they can look for the small parking lot in front of the lobby /front desk. People going to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (Ahwahnee) can find a map at Ahwahnee map. People going to Camp 4 can find a map at Camp 4 (four) Map.

People have been finding the big circle of roadway (roundabout) confusing. roadways and parking lot

If you have not been to Yosemite before, or it has been a few years, you might want to take a look at a map of the round about and day-use parking lot near Yosemite Village with photos and details of the three roads that merge into the round-about at map

People going to the Pines campgrounds and Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) should continue straight ahead after the stop sign.

The road straight ahead (not over the bridge) is two lanes in one direction, get in the left lane because the right hand lane is for buses/ambulances only, as are some other roads in the valley.

sign designating bus only lane

In busy traffic times, if you get tired of waiting for traffic to move, and think you don’t see an officer, so you move into the bus only lane, you might find two law enforcement rangers on bikes stopping you:

vehicle stopped by law enforcement in Yosemite

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You then go past Housekeeping Camp on the left with the open all year (even in winter when housekeeping camp is closed) laundromat where you can dry clothes if you didn’t bring the right rain gear, bear left when you enter the parking lot.

map with roads, river and campgrounds

Past some employee housing on the right, this usually one-way section of road comes to an intersection with stop signs and two-way traffic ahead. If you want to go to the Pines campgrounds, the campground office or Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) SOME OF THE YEAR you should have merged into the right hand lane a bit before the intersection with stop signs, because the left hand lane will be a only left hand turn lane. Do whatever the arrows and signs say (some examples of signs are below).

Again, it can take you three times the normal distance to stop when a road is icy (even with anti-lock brakes, four wheel drive and snow tires). Spin-outs are common in the winter in Yosemite. Leave a good following distance. Slow down well in advance of stop signs. Expect people coming from another direction to not be able to stop and to slide into the intersection (and possibly into you).

intersection at Curry and incoming route: road interesection with half dome in background

During high traffic times, especially on busy weekends in the summer, traffic at this intersection can be backed up for many car lengths. (Note the empty right lane for buses only in the photo below.)

park ranger and a row of vehicles

The road ahead to the Pines campgrounds might be blocked off and a ranger might be directing people who do not have reservations for Half Dome Village or a Pines campsite to turn left and not try to park in the full parking lots to the right.

two a-frame signs in road

Or there might be different signage,

signs that say trailhead parking full and food lodging, retail
but the road ahead will still be blocked:

road with closure signs

As you approach this intersection, to the left is the old site of the flooded River campgrounds, to the right is the Half Dome Village free day use parking lot, Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village), with the wood floor canvas roofed/walled tent cabins and a bus stop for the free bus to the ski resort. If you arrive after dark in winter you might see the lights of the ice rink. Ahead of you the road becomes two way and heads toward the pines campgrounds.

The map below shows some of the canvas tent cabins in the upper left corner (potential overnight accommodations, lots of details/photos at tent cabins tips and tricks). Please note the office you will check in at, the pink almost-square labeled Front Office. And note free Yosemite Valley shuttle bus stop number 14, that will take you to Upper Pines Campground either to camp or to visit people who got campsites. (Do not take a bus at stop 20 to get directly to the campground.)

map of Half Dome Village Yosemite June 2017

At their website, a map of all the tent cabins (in white) and wood walled cabins (in orange) /shower house/restrooms (restaurants not usually open in the winter):

http://www.travelyosemite.com/media/524862/half-dome-village_property-map_web.jpg

When there are no signs closing the road ahead, as in most of the winter and other less busy times, you want to go straight ahead to get to the pines campgrounds (again, the road ahead is now two-way). The road goes past a big meadow on the left, bears right, then curves left (at that curve do not take the shuttle bus access road that goes off to the right/straight-ish).

and in the summer that road may have signs closing it:

signs trailhead parking lot full

Just before a bridge make a right into Upper Pines Campground. If it has been snowing a lot the entrance to the campground can be a little hard to spot in the big snow banks and the road in sometimes becomes so narrow it is really only a one lane road. The park service does not always snow plow the campground road/loops as often as the main roads.

snowy road into upper pines campground:

Big Hint: The Ranger at the kiosk would really like you to come to a full stop at the stop sign next to the entrance kiosk.

Please turn off the stereo now so as to not disturb people in neighboring campsites.

Which campsite should you park at or drop gear off at?

If you got a reservation for a campsite you are set up BUT a storm could suddenly cause some of the campsites to not be usable, so . . . have a credit card available for alternate overnight accommodations. There are usually only two or three loops of campsites open in the winter to drive through to find your campsite.

Below a photo of the bulletin board (where you can put a message to people sharing a site with you, for example) on the right just past the campground entrance kiosk (see just beyond the stop sign in this photo, the dark brown bulletin board is much bigger than it looks in this photo):

upper pines campground entrance winter 2016: road into a campground with kiosk and signs

At some sites it is easy to fit the two cars (trucks, SUVs) people often drive. (Upper Pines campsite parking spaces are mostly 24 to 35 feet long (a few only 18 feet), many can’t fit vehicles side by side.) If we get lots of snow it can be a tight fit because of the piles of snow in campsite parking spaces NOT YET removed by the snowplows, OR a snow shovel could be wise to bring because when they plow, the snow plows do not clear the campsite parking spaces at all completely. If you are the first one there, and expected to share a site, pull all the way forward and all the way to one side so the next vehicle can fit in next to you. (Your vehicles must be totally off the road and on the campsite parking pad.) Puuuuleeeeease don’t wait to park properly until the other vehicle sharing the campsite parking space arrives and make them go looking for you. If you don’t fit side by side and end up parking behind another vehicle and blocking them from leaving, please plan to talk to them before you leave the campsite to go for a night hike, go ice skating, etc.

Yes, the photo below was just one night of snow.

yosemite snow camp snow covered cars:

After the kiosk/bulletin board, the first road coming towards you from the right is the start of the first campground loop, a one-way road. The next road coming towards you from the right is the end of that first campground loop.

The third road coming towards you from the right is the start of the second campground loop, again one way.

map of part of Upper Pines  campground

Above notice the first, second and third campground loops, and Yosemite valley free shuttle bus stops 15 (from Half Dome village to the campground) and 19 (from the campground to Half Dome Village, and to the stop for the free bus to the ski resort)

A complete campground map is at:

https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/pinescombined.pdf

Sometimes the seasonal temporary creek totally floods some campsites, and they or or whole loops are closed accordingly:

Yosesmite campsite with a pond under and around the picnic table and bear box

Please note that you need to be sure you only have 6 people sleeping in each site.

If there are people around in other sites for our group who are all unpacked and have eaten dinner they will probably help you set up your tent, just like you’ll do for the next car …. yes?

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You won’t have to drive much more during the trip if you use the Yosemite Valley free shuttle bus and the free bus to (Badger Pass) Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.

There are directions and a few hints about the logistics of getting from the campground and/or Half Dome Village to brunch at the Ahwahnee in interesting winter weather at the Ahwahnee brunch webpage.

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There is little parking in Yosemite valley beyond your campsite, hotel area or day use parking. If you 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) 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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Prepare for winter driving has a link to bad weather driving tips, tips for using tire chains, tricks for dealing with frozen car locks, how to prepare your vehicle for winter driving, a winter survival kit for your car and what to do if you get stranded.

It includes this advice:

My windows are fogging up faster than my navigator can wipe it off!

Yes, it’s cold out and you filled your car with people to share the trip expenses. They all are exhaling foggy breath, especially when you all sing along to that CD. Have them take turns holding their breath. Okay, maybe that’s not practical. Have them pay up for the gas expense in advance and let them off at the next bus stop. Unthinkable? The swimmers in the Outdoor Club know they can lick the inside of their swim goggles to prevent fogging, but a windshield…?

Not really practical either. . . well then . . .

The fog on the windows could be caused by trying to keep the car interior warm. When air is warm breath condenses, so stop and have your passengers put on those longjohns, jackets and maybe even knit hats, then keep the car cool. Even a few degrees will affect the maximum amount of water in the air quite significantly. With less water in the air the windows will frost up less.

Make sure your air conditioner or heater is in the fresh air position rather than recirc. The recirculate setting reuses the humid air already in the car. The air in the car is quite humid due to those mammals you are giving a ride to, and the outside air is less humid (even if it’s raining/snowing), so pull it in and push it against the inside of the window. And even though you are trying to keep the air in the main compartment coolish, the windows themselves need to be warmer than the cold air/rain/snow hitting them, so set the temperature to warm. Pulling in outside air has the drawback of sucking in truck or diesel exhaust, so pull back from that big rig or go around it. Set the fan to its highest setting if you are going in slow traffic.

Now you can go back to your sing-along or heavy gossip session.

It uses less gas to drive with the air conditioning on than to drive with windows open.

Some people recommend wiping your windshield interior with shaving cream to de-fog it, but we do not because it can smell minty to the bears and they break into vehicles they can smell “food” inside of.

thin line of gray colors made from a clouds photo

See also: services (minor emergency repairs, towing for some vehicles), at the Yosemite garage. Look for stop #2 at the shuttle bus stops descriptions and scroll down to the garage.

thin line of gray colors made from a clouds photo

You might also want to read How to not collide with a deer,
Safe driving in rain and fog,
Prepare for winter driving,
wildlife jams, and/or
Snow chain rentals .

Road trip advice and etiquette has ideas for limiting boredom, getting along on a road trip and some packing and safety tips.

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El Cap Meadow Google maps street view on your way out of the valley:

https://www.google.com/streetview/#us-national-parks-and-historic-sites/yosemite-national-park-el-capitan-meadow


photos below by Quang-Tuan Luong/terragalleria.com
, all rights reserved.

Valley View (seen on the way out of Yosemite Valley, the small parking lot is on the left hand side of one-way Northside Drive) panorama spring and winter:

terragalleria valley view panorama spring: terragalleria yosemite valley winter:

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Mileages and driving time to Yosemite from many places in California (and Reno) are at:

https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/mileages9-2007.pdf

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Yosemite driving / hiking distances

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 1 mile

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

hiking distances for most Yosemite National Park trails can be found at:

https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/trailheads.pdf

Bridal Veil fall parking to Bridalveil fall .5 mile (.8 kilometers) round trip

lower Yosemite fall round trip from bus stop 1 mile (1.6 kilometers)

Mirror Lake round trip from bus stop 2 miles (3.22 kilometers) round trip

from Happy Isles bus stop to:

– Vernal Fall footbridge 1.4 miles (2.25 kilometers) round trip, 400 foot (122 meters) elevation gain

– top of Vernal Fall 3 miles (4.83 kilometers) round trip 1,000 foot (304 meters) elevation gain

– top of Nevada Fall 5 miles (8.05 kilometers) round trip 1,900 foot (579 meters) gain

Four mile trial to Glacier Point 4.8 miles one way, 3,200 feet (975 meters) elevation gain

Camp 4 to Columbia Rock 2 mile (3.21 kilometers) round trip, 1,000 feet (304 meters) gain

Camp 4 to top of Yosemite falls 7.2 miles (11.59 kilometers) round trip, 2,700 foot (823 meters) elevation gain

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Some history of previous road closures in the vicinity of Yosemite:

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.”
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.

November 16, 2017, highway 140 was closed for about 20 hours after a big rain storm “due to small debris flows.”

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

Visitors are always urged to use caution when driving through any rockfall area. Some sections of road are completely closed to parking/stopping, even to briefly take a photo. Watch for signage.

A fall/winter message from the Park Service to employees said:

“Greater Likelihood Of Rock Debris On Park Roads During Wet Weather

With wet winter weather just around the corner, drivers are reminded of the greater likelihood of encountering rock debris on park roads during wet weather. Although rockfalls are always possible along all park roadways, they tend to happen more often during winter storms. The area affected by the June 12, 2017 rockfall at Parkline Slab (downhill of Dog Rock) may be particularly prone to storm-triggered rockfalls, as there is abundant loose debris on the bedrock slope above the road that is likely to be mobilized by significant rainfall.

Those driving the El Portal Road should be especially vigilant for rock debris below Parkline Slab during or immediately after rainstorms, and be aware that road closures may occur in response to these storms.

If you encounter small rock debris on the road, drive through the area (do not stop within the debris) and promptly report it to Park Dispatch. Do not attempt to remove the debris yourself – leave that task to road crews equipped to do so safely. If you encounter large rock debris on the road, turn around and promptly report it to Park Dispatch.”

Again, CALL the road info number before you leave town, and perhaps again during your drive!

There were probably people who did not call in early April 2018 and they did not know Yosemite Valley was closed to visitors, reservations for campsite and hotel rooms were cancelled. Messages April 5, 6, 7: “Due to anticipated flooding, Yosemite Valley is closed. We will evaluate conditions on Sunday morning and open as soon as it is safe. All other areas of the park are open, conditions permitting. Call 209/372-0200 (then 1, 1) to check road conditions.” . . . “River expected to peak at 5PM (14.7 ft). Residents stay inside. Southside Dr. 2-way traffic for emergencies. Caution: tree failures.”
Message April 8, 2018: “Yosemite Valley will open to all vehicles and visitors at 12:00 noon today. Yosemite Valley has been closed to the public since Friday due to anticipated impacts to roads and infrastructure from high water. Water levels in the Merced River crested at 13.73 feet at Pohono Bridge, which is approximately 4 feet over flood stage. Park roads were 2 to 4 feet underwater Saturday afternoon through late Saturday night.”