While a few days in Los Angeles is fun, get out of the city and explore one of the most famous national parks in California – Yosemite! Located in the center of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is a can't miss outdoor destination when you visit Southern California.
There are plenty of transportation options to explore this park, making the visit enjoyable for any type of traveler. So turn your California vacation into a road trip or hop on one of the many public transport options to discover the wonders Yosemite has to offer.
Driving from Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park
Because of its remote location, a road trip from Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park is the fastest, most enjoyable, and most cost-effective way to see the park. Whether you're driving your personal car, picking up a rental at LAX, or renting an RV or campervan in Los Angeles, driving your own vehicle allows you the most freedom to explore the park.
The drive from Los Angeles to Yosemite Valley is about a 6-hour drive and just over 300 miles.
Driving in Los Angeles is commonly known for hours of traffic only to progress a few miles. It seems stressful to many, but if you time things right and avoid rush hour, your trip will be more enjoyable.
What Route Should You Take?
With over 1,100 mi2 of protected land, Yosemite has many areas to explore. There are separate park entrances each with surrounding towns ranging from an hour or two apart. Look up where you are staying and research what route is best for your visit.
Highway 41 to Yosemite Valley
The quickest, most popular route once you're out of Los Angeles is to take I-5 north to Highway-99 north to Highway-41 north and continue into Yosemite Valley.
Down in the valley, there are numerous hiking trails, a visitor center, food options, and accommodations. Check out views of Half Dome and El Capitan, stand at the base of Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls, or relax on a beach along the Merced River. These are just a few of the scenic wonders you can enjoy down there.
Highway 41 to Mariposa Grove and Glacier Point
Taking the same Highway-41 entrance into the park, which passes through the town of Fish Camp, puts you in Yosemite very close to Mariposa Grove. This is an incredible first stop on your way in. Walk amongst the Giant Sequoias, some of the largest trees in the world.
Then continue on Highway-41 to Glacier Point road. After following the tight curves among the coniferous trees and alpine meadows you'll end up at an impressive vista where you can see about one-third of Yosemite National Park. Half Dome, waterfalls, and high alpine peaks are some of the impressive sites you'll have from here.
Tioga Pass (Highway-120 East)
The Tioga Pass entrance station is located at the highest point on Tioga Road. From Los Angeles, this route is accessible from the eastern side of Yosemite, while driving up I-395 then heading west on the 120 through the park. This part of the park sees the least visitors and is a beautiful drive and great alternative route for your trip.
This route is only open snow conditions permitting. The pass opens after the snow is melted and closes when the first snowfall sticks. It typically opens from the end of May to early July depending on the snowpack and closes in October or November.
Along the way hang out on a beach alongside Tenaya Lake, hike to an alpine lake, or enjoy the scenic drive and viewpoints. Stop at Olmsted Point for views of Half Dome and if the timing works check out this vista as the sun rises or sets.
Highway 140 to Yosemite Valley
This route takes a bit longer than Highway 41 but if you have accommodations booked in Mariposa county it's your best option. Head up I-5 north to I-99 north to Hwy-140 where you'll head east into the park.
Highway 120 to Yosemite Valley
Like Highway-140, Highway-120 is a longer route into the park but if you have accommodation in Groveland or anywhere in Tuolumne County this is your best entrance into Yosemite. Follow the same route to Highway-140. When you reach Mariposa hop on 49 N until 120 E. This trip takes about 7 hours.
If your trip to Yosemite is in the winter months always check the weather before you go. During winter months required that you carry tire chains in your car, even if it's not snowing. While chains are most commonly necessary from November through March, occasionally they're necessary for as late as May and as early as September.
During the winter the high park roads including Tioga Road and Glacier Point close. The valley stays open through most weather conditions however driving becomes difficult and limited as the roads fill with snow. Call +1 209-372-0200 or check online for updates on road closures and chain control.
Make Your Park Reservations Early!
Since summer 202o, Yosemite National Park requires reservations during its busy months. If you are driving into the park you must have these reservations ahead of time, reservable at recreation.gov. These reservations are mandatory and there are no exceptions. They sell out quickly so reserve them early.
If you have hotel, camp, or wilderness bookings you are automatically granted entrance into Yosemite. Alternative options for guaranteed entrance include the Yosemite Area Regional Transport System (YARTS) bus or a commercially guided bus tour.
Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park by Bus
Public transportation by bus is the best way to explore the park while avoiding the drive along the scenic, yet tight and windy roads. The use of buses also reduces traffic throughout the park and you don't have to worry about parking which becomes a huge issue during the summer. You can find a few bus options below.
YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transport System)
The most commonly used transportation within Yosemite National Park and the surrounding cities are the YARTS buses. There are four bus routes. They start in Merced, Fresno, Sonora, and Mammoth Lakes. They all take passengers to Yosemite Valley with many stops along the way.
YARTS are also used when transferring from Amtrak trains, the airport, and from other large bus companies that don't operate in Yosemite. YARTS are the easiest and most affordable way to get around the park without a personal car.
All lines run seasonally except the line from Merced (weather conditions permitting), so check out the YARTS schedule online. Online booking is available 24 hours in advance. While reservations are not required, remaining seats are first-come, first-served when boarding the bus. Weekends and holidays get busy so it's best to reserve a seat ahead of time.
Shuttles Within the Park
Within Yosemite, there are national park run shuttles. Some take you around the valley, others to El Capitan, the high country, and Glacier Point. They are a convenient way to get around when you don't have a car.
(Currently, they are not operating this 2021 season but they are predicted to open next season).
Greyhound provides bus services from Los Angeles and other large cities in Southern California to Merced. From there you can hop on a YARTS bus and continue into the park.
Commercial Bus Tours
There are a few commercial bus tours that leave from large cities including Los Angeles and San Diego but because of their far distance from Yosemite National Park, commercial bus tours are more commonly operated out of San Francisco and San Jose.
Like YARTs, you do not need a reservation to enter the park on a commercial bus tour. Note that most of these bus rides are more than just public transport buses; they are a guided trip with commentary and information about the park.
Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park by Plane
If you want to fly to Yosemite you have a few options. You can fly to an airport in Los Angeles and drive about 6 hours to the park or you can take a flight to LAX then take a connecting flight to the Merced or Fresno Airport. While these flights are generally more costly, United, American, and Delta are some airlines that operate out of either airport.
Both cities are located within two hours of Yosemite National Park. From either airport, visitors can rent a car or connect to a local YART bus to make their way into the park. The YARTS run right from the airport bus stations.
Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park by Train
An Amtrak train followed by a YART is another option for your journey to Yosemite National Park. While this option takes the longest, typically the train and YARTS accommodations are comfortable and more spacious compared to a plane seat.
From Los Angeles the train heads to Bakersfield. From Bakersfield take the San Joaquin train to Merced. From the Amtrak train station, deboard the train and continue on a YART bus. The YART buses run right from the Amtrak station and end in the valley.
Tickets average $55-$70 one way. The full journey typically takes 9-12 hours but some trains stop overnight in Bakersfield or Merced and can take over 30 hours to travel one way.
Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, a business traveler looking for a scenic weekend, or a Los Angeles local looking to escape the beach to get into the mountains, Yosemite is the place to go. After a visit to Yosemite National Park, you'll understand why it's so famous around the world.
With plenty of ways to travel to the park, there's no reason to pass up a trip to this incredible wonder of California. Park sites are impressive year-round and with personal or premium service transport options you should start planning your next trip!