Yosemite Area Road Trips

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Yosemite Area Road Trips


Many visitors plan to see all of Yosemite, as if they could in one day. The distances involved and the slower scenic nature of mountain driving, makes that very difficult. Spectacular views also demand more time then expected. Seeing it all in one day – not possible.

For the best use of time, for seeing the most – and the best of the Yosemite area, Groveland is the central and logical hub for traveling by car. Especially, for trips going to or coming from other locations, such as: Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, Death Valley, San Francisco, or the California coastal areas of Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur, and Moro Bay. Hwy 120 is considered the quickest, most frequently used, well maintained, and diversified scenic route for Yosemite area travel.

 Hwy 120 is open from Sugar Pine Ranch to Yosemite Valley all year – except for rare and brief closures. Good to know for winter travel plans, after first snow, Hwy 120 over Tioga Pass from Hwy 395 on the east side, and from the west at Crane Flat inside Yosemite, is closed to through traffic. There is no way by car to cross the Sierra Madera Mountains without using highways far to the north or the south during the winter closure. From Sugar Pine Ranch connections to Hwy 140 and 41 are also open all year. During the winter, check with YNP and Caltrans for road conditions and tire chain requirements.


How much time is available arrival day, and where you next lodge, inside or outside of Yosemite Park, are the three most important factors for what to see in which order.

Sugar Pine Ranch is 20 minutes  to Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance. It is another 55 minutes to the Valley floor – approximately 2.5 hours round trip. Sunrise is usually 6:00 a.m. in the summer, and sunset is 8:45 p.m. Arriving in the area by 4:00 p.m., the day before check-out, leaves room to go to Yosemite Valley and return with 2 hours for sight seeing. Other options are a short drive, to our local Rainbow Pool or Carlon Falls, or to San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite Park.

One of the most spectacular views from Glacier Point, just south of Yosemite Valley, especially at sunset, will take 1 hour from the Valley floor to get there and back, leaving about 1 hour for viewing. Adding 20 minutes to travel the one-way road half way around the Valley you will arrive back at the ranch between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. in time for dinner in Groveland.

Your full day in the Park will be in the Valley floor. What you choose to do depends on your interests, and when you leave the ranch. Plan about 1 hour for breakfast, between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. included with your room from May 21st through September 16th, or breakfast in town.

There is a turnout off Hwy 120 before reaching the Valley. An overlook just past the third tunnel looks across the deep Merced River canyon at the giants El Capitan and Half Doom. Stop when inspired – always. There is no time later; parking is limited, so grab it while you can.

First stop in the Valley is Bridalveil Falls; 20 minutes to walk and take photos. Continue south, towards Fresno, on Hwy 41 to Tunnel View parking – before the tunnel – another great photo op – 15 minutes. Head back to the Valley. Go to Half Dome (Curry) Village, and park. Take shuttle to get around, and to see most everything in the Valley. Your best options are:

Visit the Happy Isles Nature Center nearby. Mist Trail, along the east bank of the river, about 1 mile (or about 1.5 hours round trip from Happy Isle shuttle stop) is a bridge crossing the river with a great view of Vernal Falls. Add 2.0 hours to visit the top of Vernal falls. The path to the bridge climbs in elevation about 500 feet; the second climb to the top about 1,000 feet. Beautiful Emerald Pool at the top is a great place for lunch. The hike to the bridge is fitting for families, and also seniors. The climb to Vernal Falls is twice as hard. Take a light rain jacket or water resistant wind breaker on the upper part – it’s misty. Always take water and energy snacks on your walks.

Return to take the shuttle, and stop at Yosemite Village. Visit the gift shop, Ansel Adams Gallery, the Park Information Center & Museum, the Indian Village behind the Museum, and the theater to see a great film about Yosemite. And have lunch – if you skipped Emerald Pool atop Vernal Falls. About 2-3 hours to see the Village, watch a movie, and eat.

Take the shuttle to the Yosemite Falls stop. Walk the path through the trees to the bridge at the Lower Falls. About an hour. Pick up the shuttle again, and return to Half Dome Village.

A few things you can do on the way to your next lodging.

Death Valley bound on Hwy 395 south, or onward to Las Vegas: Tuolumne Big Trees just past Crane Flat on Hwy 120 – add 1.5 hour excursion time for the grove. Olmsted Point – 15 minute look. Tenaya Lake photos – 15 minutes. The Valley to Crane Flat to Tioga Pass, down to Hwy 395 road time – 1.75 hours, plus stops. For the best ghost town adventure ever, plan about 4 hours round trip from the 120/395 junction north to Hwy 270 to Bodie. Hwy 270 turns to dirt in about 5 miles for 5 or so miles, but it is easy traveling, just slower. Back to 395 south, 1.5 miles before Lee Vineging and the 395/120 west junction, stop at the Mono Lake Information Center on the left for a 30 minute fascination with the unusual. Back at the 395/120 west junction, south on 395,  just 3.5 hours to Death Valley; plus 3 hours to Las Vegas – a very long day. Or plan to lodge on the way in Mammoth Lakes 20 minutes south, and just 10 minutes off 395, or Bishop about 50 minutes south of 395/120 junction.

Going to Sequoia National Park from Yosemite Valley, take Hwy 41 towards Fresno; 35 minutes later stop in Wawonna, and shuttle to the Mariposa Big Trees (2 hours), unless time is limited – Sequoia big trees, after all, are the giants. A quick stop at the Sugar Pine Railroad (45 minutes), about 20 minutes before Oak Hurst in Fish Camp, is a great 20 minute break. If a layover in Oak Hurst is planned, consider an evening barbeque, moonlight train ride and camp fire sing-a-long. It’s great fun!

Traveling to Silicon Valley or San Francisco from Yosemite Valley on Hwy 120 west about an hour, stop at Knights Ferry Stanislaus River Park, and take a stroll over the Stanislaus River by covered bridge – the best, and maybe the only New England style bridge this side of the Mississippi River. Just 40 minutes from Groveland; 5 minutes off of 120.

For destinations along the California central coast follow the Sequoia directions above to Hwy 99, and pick up Hwy 152 west. Or, for a leisure and scenic ride along the Merced river from the Valley, into Mariposa (1.5 hours) take the Hwy 140 turn-off in Yosemite Valley. While in Mariposa, be sure to visit the California Mine and Mineral Museum 1 mile south on Hwy 49, and the Mariposa Historical Museums in town – about 1 hour each, and both excellent. From there, head towards Merced on 140. Take Hwy 99 south towards Fresno if heading towards Monterey, then take Hwy 152 (and keep a sharp eye out for exit #166 to Gilroy). Continuing west, you are off to the beautiful California coast and towns of Monterey and Carmel. In total this is a long, all day road trip.


Two days is best for seeing many of the iconic parts of Yosemite. Although far short of the time needed, but you will be amazed by how much more pleasure an extra day brings.

The one-day agenda above is good, but you may want to acclimate to the altitude upon your arrival at the ranch before heading into Yosemite. Groveland is 3200 feet in elevation. During your visit you will travel through 4000, 6000 and even 9000 feet – up and down, over and over again. A good night’s rest is smart.

A few travel tips are:

  • The famous and controversial Hetch Hechy Reservoir – 1 hour from the ranch; as little as 30 minutes to all day there; a dam, tunnel through the mountain, and a trail to two water falls.
  • Take the time to really see Glacier Point, with its great view of the Valley 2300 feet below, Half Dome, Vernal and Merced Falls, and the crest of the Sierras as far as the eye can see. Fast food available – 1.33 hours round trip from the Valley; 1 – 2 hours there. Two main view areas.
  • Visit Groveland’s Museum, 1860s Jail, and shops – 2 hours
  • A raft float trip down the Merced in Yosemite Valley – 2 hours
  • An all day hike to Merced Falls, up Mist Trail and down the John Muir Trail – take lunch, water & snacks.
  • Visit the Majestic (Ahwahnee) Hotel, by the Village, famous for its setting & architecture. Have lunch in the grand dinning room. 1 hour
  • Tuolumne Meadows in the high country – 1 to 5 hours for the information center and short hikes.
  • Rainbow Pool and water fall, our local swimming hole – 20 minutes to view, hours of swim fun.


Tour Yosemite and beyond. Experience the spirit, history, and culture of the Sierras. Take time for some fun: time for golf, horseback ridding, wine tasting, and a zip line ride, or caving?

Suggestions for an extended stay:

See our calender under Events for scheduled cultural, fun entertainment and educational activities.