Yosemite Area Road Trips

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Yosemite Area Road Trips


Driving to see Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, San Diego, Los Angeles, the California coast (Carmel, Big Sur, Moro Bay, Monterey,) and San Francisco, Yosemite National Park and Death Valley is a great way to spend a summer vacation. In the Yosemite area, California State Highway 120 is the most direct or logical roadway from (or to) San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas.

Highway (Hwy) 120 is the quickest, most frequently used, well maintained and scenic route for Yosemite area road trip touring. Hwy 120 is open to Yosemite Valley all year – except for rare and brief closures due to winter weather, traffic accidents, or forest fires. During winter, after first snow, Hwy 120 from the east over Tioga Pass in Yosemite is closed to through traffic. There is no way to cross the Sierra Madera Mountains without using highways far to the north or south during the winter. Hwy 120 is open all year, however, from the ranch to Yosemite Valley.

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 hard to do. Too, they do not realize how spectacular the views are, or how much time attractions take to enjoy. The result: to much to do, and to little time to do it. We can help with this, for example.


A nice, but limited number of experiences are possible during one day. Time will be limited to the afternoon (or day of guest arrival, and the day in Yosemite after check-out, which is somewhat dependent upon the next destination after leaving the Yosemite area.

Sugar Pine Ranch is a direct 20 minute route to Yosemite. 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 at 8:45 p.m. If you arrive in the area at 4:00 p.m., the day before check-out, you can get to the Valley floor, and back, with 2 hours remaining for sight seeing.

One of the most spectacular views is Glacier Point, especially at sunset. It will take 1 hour from the Valley floor to get there and back, leaving about 1 hour for Glacier Point viewing. Adding 20 minutes to travel the one-way road half way around the Valley (sorry, but necessary on your way back) you will arrive back at the ranch between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. in time for dinner in a local restaurant.

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 7:30 and 9:00 a.m. included with your room from May 20th through September 15th, or breakfast in town.

There are many places and wonderful views on the trip around the Valley. There is one turnout on Hwy 120 before reaching the Valley. An overlook (just past the third tunnel) – is a majestic view across the deep Merced River canyon facing the giants El Capitan and Half Doom in the distance. Stop when inspired – always. There is no time later. Your first stop in the Valley is Bridalveil Falls; 20 minutes to walk and shoot photos. Head south, towards Fresno, on Hwy 41 a few hundred yards only, and  stop in the Tunnel View parking lot before the tunnel – another great photo op – 15 minutes. Head back to the Valley to Curry Village, and park. From here you walk or take the shuttle. The shuttle affords the greatest opportunity to get around, and to see most everything in the Valley. Your best options are:

For stretching your legs, go to the Happy Isles shuttle stop. There is the Nature Center nearby. Take Mist Trail along the east bank of the river, heading up stream about 1 mile to the bridge crossing the river. From the bridge gaze up to Vernal Falls. About 1.5 hours round trip from Happy Isle shuttle stop. Optional, add 2.5 hours total to the top of Vernal. The path to the bridge climbs in elevation about 500 feet; the second climb to Vernal about 1,000 feet. At the top is beautiful Emerald Pool, and a great place for a take-along sack lunch. The first part is fitting for families and adults – seniors too. The climb to Vernal is twice as hard. Take a light rain jacket or water resistant wind breaker on the upper part – it’s misty.

On the shuttle tour, 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.

Take the shuttle to the Yosemite Falls stop. Take the walking path through the trees to the bridge at the Lower Falls. About an hour. Pick up the shuttle again, and either return to Curry Village or finish the Valley tour, before returning to Groveland. About 1.5 hours on tour, or traveling to your next destination/lodge.

Departure day: On your way from the area, to your next destination, you will want to visit some key spots. Which ones depends on your route and available time to sight see.

Death Valley bound on 395 south, or onward to Las Vegas, there are several opportunities. Tuolumne Big Trees just past Crane Flat on Hwy 120 – add 1.5 hour excursion time for the grove. Next 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, about 5 miles in for another 5 or so miles, but it is easy traveling, just slower. Back to 395 south, 1.5 miles before the 395/120 west junction returning from Bodie, stop at the Mono Lake Information Center on the left – you won’t believe the ecology; 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 (just 10 minutes off 395), or Bishop about 50 minutes from 395/120 junction.

Going to Sequoia National Park, take Hwy 41 towards Fresno in Yosemite Valley; 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 acceptable, reservations for a evening barbeque, moonlight train ride and camp fire sing-a-long is a must. It’s great fun!

Traveling to Silicon Valley or San Francisco on Hwy 120 west, 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.

Want 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 and the Mariposa Historical Museums – 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 to experience the rich history and breath taking sites of the Yosemite area, you will be amazed by how much more pleasure an extra day brings.

How your visit is organized will depend on the weather, your interests, and your desired pace. 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. An afternoon dip in our resort pool, and a lounge beneath the pines is also a good way to acclimate.

For additional sites, activities and time required on location check with us for travel times to and from destinations. See Yosemite Road Trips Gallery for attractions.

  • The famous and controversial Hetch Hechy Reservoir – THE OTHER YOSEMITE (TOY) – 1 hour from the ranch. As little of 30 minutes to all day there.
  • 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 – ? hours there.
  • 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 & snacks.
  • Visit the Ahwahnee Hotel, by the Village, famous for its setting & architecture. Have lunch. 1 hour
  • Tuolumne Meadows in the high country – 5 hours
  • Rainbow Pool and water fall, our local swimming hole – 20 minutes to view, hours of swim fun.


Tour Yosemite and beyond. Time to immerse in the spirit and culture of the Sierras, and the history of bygone times, lost cultures, and sacred environments? Time to live and feel the power of a wilderness oasis extending your stay affords? How about some time for golf, horseback ridding, wine tasting, a zip line ride, or caving?

Suggestions for an extended stay: (Ask our staff about seasonal attractions.)

Visit and ride authentic 19th century trains at Railtown 1897 State Park, in historic Jamestown – 2 hours

Short hike to explore Carlon Falls and ancient American indian grinding holes – 3-5 hours

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

  • How about touring a living, authentic and preserved gold rush town, Columbia State Park – 3-5 hours
  • Check out the local fishery in Moccasin – 30 minutes
  • Boat on Lake Don Pedro – 2-8 hours
  • Hike to the top of Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley – 6 hours
  • Ski at Dodge Ridge 60 minutes away, or snow shoe at Crane Flat in Yosemite – all day
  • Plan ahead for an exciting river rafting trip down the Class IV Tuolumne River – 1-2 days
  • Gaming and excellent food at the Mi Wok Black Oak Casino – how lucky do you feel?
  • 18-hole professional golf & country club dinning at Pine Mountain Lake – half a day
  • Horseback guided trail ride, 2 hours, or bring your own saddle horse for a day in the forest
  • On motorcycle, tour Cherry Lake, Andersen Valley, high mountain passes (Tioga, Sonora or Ebits), Mono Lake Basin and Bodie
  • And there are lots of all day beautiful day hikes – you won’t believe how beautiful