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    From San Francisco to Yosemite by car: tips for choosing the best itinerary

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    Martí Micolau

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    Of the large US parks, the closest to the city of San Francisco it is also one of the most famous in the whole West: it Yosemite National Park. Of course, the concept of "proximity" is a bit particular when referring to on the road in the United States: the minimum distance between San Francisco and Yosemite Valley is in fact slightly higher than 300 km, to go in just under 4 hours. 

    But that's the way it is: unless you're heading up the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles or to less common destinations (Lake Tahoe or Sacramento), the classic tours of the West involve just Yosemite as a first stop. So let's figure out how to organize the move from San Francisco to Yosemite in the best way!


    • From San Francisco to Yosemite in auto
      • The fastest route
      • The other roads
    • Advice on how to divide the stages
      • How to choose based on the itinerary
    • What to see between San Francisco and Yosemite
    • From San Francisco to Yosemite on an organized tour

    From San Francisco to Yosemite in auto

    Le available roads there are as many as there are western entrances of Yosemite, and the itineraries and travel times vary.

    The fastest route

    To get to Yosemite as quickly as possible from San Francisco you need to enter the park from Groveland Through the North Entrance. This may be the best choice for those who have to make the trip during the day and cannot afford to make an intermediate stop with an overnight stay.

    Leaving the city via the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge, take I-580 E / I-205 E for approximately 110km to Exit 461 towards Manteca / Oakdale. From here, take the CA-120 for about another 190 km until you arrive in the heart of Yosemite Valley. Route 120 will then become the Tioga Road, the wonderful scenic drive that crosses the pass of the same name in the Sierra Nevada. As anticipated, the distance in this case is approx 300 km to be covered in 3.50 hours approximately (without counting stops and traffic leaving the city and entering the park).

    The other roads

    There are at least two other roads to reach Yosemite from San Francisco: the first leads to the West Entrance (Mariposa); the second - but I advise you to do it only under certain conditions - enters the park through the South Entrance (Oakhurst). Here is the itinerary to do in detail.

    West Entrance

     The road that comes to Butterfly it is longer than the previous one, but in reality the travel times are similar, because a considerable part of the journey takes place on high-speed roads. The itinerary to do when exiting San Francisco is the same as the previous one, but at Manteca you have to take exit 6 towards Modesto / Fresno, take the CA-99 up to Favor and then the CA-140 to Yosemite. The distance is 340 km, the travel time is 4 hours.

    South Entrance

    The road that comes to Oakhurst from San Francisco it is much longer. I don't recommend it, unless you've found affordable accommodation on this route or you absolutely don't want to visit Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias before heading into the Valley proper. The way to enter from the south entrance is the same as above, but from Merced you must continue on the CA-99 to Chowchilla (exit 170). From here they are another 155 km to get to Yosemite Valley entering from Oakhurst via secondary roads and remote villages (Raymond, Coarsegold). The distance in this case is approx 390 km to go in 4.45 hours.

    Advice on how to divide the stages

    As you may have guessed, the there is a long way to go and during the on the road the time is precious. To all those who ask me for help in organizing these stages, I always give very concrete advice, that is break up the trip with an intermediate overnight stay, in order to obtain at least 3 advantages:

    • avoid doing more than 300 km in a single day, without counting those that are then used for the next stage (usually beyond the Tioga Pass, on the Eastern Sierra)
    • don't steal too much time neither to the visit of San Francisco nor to that of Yosemite
    • save some money on accommodation: Taking away an overnight stay in San Francisco has a positive effect on your budget!

    Specifically, I suggest investing late afternoon / evening of the last day of stay a San Francisco to pick up the rental car and get closer to the park sleeping in one of the towns along the route. The possibilities are numerous: from Modesto to Merced, passing through Stockton, Manteca and Oakdale. The accommodations are there and usually do not cost much, then of course you can also decide to arrive at the gates of the park, but the prices gradually rise. To deepen this aspect, I refer you to my suggestions on how to choose accommodation between the two destinations.

    Advice on where to sleep between San Francisco and Yosemite

    What's important is that the next morning you can arrive in the park at a comfortable hour, with 2 hours (or less) of driving behind you: you will avoid the incoming traffic and you will have more energy and more time for hiking in Yosemite! Plus, if you're not particularly tired, you can also drive a little more when it's time to get out of the park and get closer to the next stop, which will be 99% Death Valley (to learn more about this important intermediate step, read the article below).

    Advice on where to sleep between Yosemite and Death Valley

    How to choose based on the itinerary

    Yosemite it is very extensive and there are many things to see, so your choice of road to take coming from San Francisco could also affect yours park visit program.

    • You want to go directly to the Yosemite Valley? In this case the first two roads (the fastest and the one leading to Mariposa-West Entrance) are fine. If you decide to follow my advice and break the journey, look for the accommodation that suits you best and choose accordingly which way to go between the two. If, on the other hand, you do it all in one day, leave San Francisco very early or expect to have little time for the park. For example: I found accommodation in Favor and then I entered the West Entrance.
    • You are going to see the Mariposa Grove redwoods? As anticipated, in this case it might be worth going through the South Entrance, as the forest is practically there. All the more reason in this case, the advice to break the journey by sleeping in one of the towns along the route (for example Merced or Chowchilla) is valid. The sooner you arrive in the woods, the more time you can devote to other areas of the park (Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, Tioga Road, etc.).

    ATTENTION! If your schedule also includes the Sequoia national park after Yosemite, then you can avoid taking the latter route, entering the park from the north or west and concentrating the visit on the central part of Yosemite. Do not worry: you will see the sequoias the next day, after a strategic overnight stop between the two parks. To find out more, read my in-depth analysis below.

    Where to sleep between Yosemite and Sequoia

    What to see between San Francisco and Yosemite

    Here are two targeted tips:

    1. Gold Rush: is the time available not a problem for you? Do you want to enrich the journey between San Francisco and Yosemite with another interesting visit? In this case I suggest you leave for the western towns of Gold country, where the Gold Rush in California. In the linked article you will find advice on the stops to visit and a map to understand which towns are closest to Yosemite.
    2. Monterey e Carmel: if before going to Yosemite you want to visit one of these coastal towns or both, you will surely have to take into account at least an overnight stay, given the distances (2 hours between San Francisco and Monterey, 4 hours between Monterey and Yosemite). In any case, I recommend that you read our itinerary from Monterey to Yosemite to understand the beauty that awaits you if you decide to take this route.

    From San Francisco to Yosemite on an organized tour

    If you are in San Francisco, you don't have a rental car to do a Fly and Drive, but you still want to take advantage of the proximity of Yosemite to the city, you could take advantage of a organized tour. The excursion in 1 or more days is a classic and the offers available are numerous, so we have dedicated an article to the topic with all the relevant info and advice.

    Tours organized from San Francisco to Yosemite



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