The best ways to get from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, including what to see along the way.
As someone who has traveled to Yosemite many times, I understand planning a trip to the iconic park can be intimidating.
The expectations for the trip run high but then there’s bad traffic, the cell service is nonexistent, and the entrance requirements are confusing (especially in this day and age).
Never fear! I’ve cut through the noise to give you the most straightforward and best ways to get to Yosemite from San Francisco and even included a few road trip stops and sights to see along the way.
This is our full guide for how to get from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park to make your trip a breeze and your time at the park memorable.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
How Far is Yosemite from San Francisco?
From the San Francisco Airport to Yosemite National Park is about 200 miles.
If you’re driving, it takes between four and seven hours, depending on the route you choose and the traffic intensity.
The routes from San Francisco to Yosemite’s valley floor takes you through California’s Central Valley and into the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
There are four park entrances in total, three of which are on the western side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
However, only two of these entrances are practical to access from San Francisco.
The two closest Yosemite entrances to San Francisco are Arch Rock and Big Oak Flat.
Pro Tip: When planning your trip to Yosemite always put the final destination as “Yosemite Valley Visitor Center,” or the exact location in the park you want to visit (e.g., Wawona Hotel, Tuolumne Meadows, etc). Yosemite is HUGE and Google Maps will often only give you the distance to the park entrance.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
How to Get to Yosemite from San Francisco
While train and bus travel is common in the Bay Area, there’s no direct San Francisco to Yosemite train. Instead, Amtrak offers a combination of train and bus travel (described below).
With that said, the most practical and quickest way to get to Yosemite is driving. These are the most common driving routes you can take to get to Yosemite.
I-580 to Highway 120 via Tracy – Shortest Route
The San Francisco to Yosemite drive time varies widely depending on traffic and the route you choose.
The route from I-580 to Highway 120 via Tracy is usually the shortest. If the traffic is moving, this route usually takes about four hours.
This route takes you to the Big Oak Flat Entrance of Yosemite.
If you’re looking to travel over Tioga Pass, also known as Tioga Road, which is the park’s only entrance on the east side of the Sierra Nevadas, take this route.
Likewise, if your destination is Tuolumne Meadows, this route and the one listed below will be your fastest options.
Highway 4 to Highway 120 via Stockton
The Highway 4 to Highway 120 via Stockton drive to Yosemite from San Francisco is another quick way to get to the park and is usually only 10-15 minutes longer than the route via Tracy.
This route veers north of the fastest route but rejoins it near Chinese Camp and also takes you to the Big Oak Flat Entrance of Yosemite.
I-580 to Highway 99 to Highway 140 via Modesto and Merced
The San Francisco to Yosemite National Park drive via Merced is the option I recommend for snowy, icy weather conditions or for those who get carsick easily.
This route takes longer (close to 6.5 hours), but if you don’t drive well in the snow, this option approaches the park from a lower elevation and can be safer.
This route enters the park through the Arch Rock Entrance. The town of El Portal is directly adjacent to the park at this entrance.
Rental Cars in San Francisco
If you’re flying into San Francisco, there are rental car options aplenty. The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has every major rental car company to choose from.
In addition to the major car rental companies, there are other rental car apps in the Bay Area (this is the tech capital, after all) to choose from that have more of a “car-sharing” business model.
They sometimes have more affordable rental options, but you also sometimes sacrifice a little in terms of the quality of the car.
These are the top three car-sharing companies in the Bay Area that I’d recommend:
Yosemite Tours from San Francisco
If you’re not interested in the four-hour drive from San Francisco, you can opt instead for a Yosemite tour!
Taking bus tours from San Francisco to Yosemite may help you avoid traffic or give you the option to sleep on the way (that’s what I would do, hee hee).
These are the top Yosemite tours from San Francisco that I’d recommend if you don’t want to drive yourself.
Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias Day Trip from San Francisco
The Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias Day Trip from San Francisco is a full-day excursion to Yosemite.
And when I say full day, I mean it – the entire journey is 14-15 hours total.
The tour offers hotel pickup and drop-off from some of the major hotels in San Francisco.
It then takes you through the Big Oak Flat Entrance to one of Yosemite’s quieter giant sequoia groves (the Tuolumne Grove).
The tour also makes a stop at the famous Tunnel View so you can get photos of El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, and Bridalveil Falls.
Plus, this is one of the best Yosemite tours for both native and non-native English speakers since the tour is offered in nine languages!
Yosemite National Park – Full-Day Tour From San Francisco
The Full-Day Tour from San Francisco is an excellent option for those who don’t want to drive but also want to have free time to explore solo during their trip.
This day tour leaves from Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square in San Francisco and allows you to enjoy the scenic drive to Yosemite with expert commentary from the driver in English.
Once you arrive in the Valley, you’ll be allowed the remainder of the day for free time to do as you please.
Small-Group Yosemite Day Tour from San Francisco
This Small Group Yosemite Day Tour from San Francisco is limited to 23 passengers and is an excellent option for a big family reunion or a group of friends.
The tour picks passengers up from several places in downtown San Francisco, including Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, or the InterContinental Hotel.
This day tour is a great mix of guided experience and free time. Once you arrive in Yosemite National Park, you’ll do a tour of the scenic drive in the Valley.
After this, you can create your own walking tour, explore the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, attend a ranger program, or do whatever else you want in your Yosemite itinerary.
If a tour isn’t really your thing, there are also several carpooling apps in the San Francisco area that might be worth exploring for a trip to Yosemite.
While many of them are more focused on commuter traffic within the city, these apps have more flexibility built into their user features, so you may find someone already heading to Yosemite.
Carpool Apps that are Popular in San Francisco
Last but not least, don’t forget about good old-fashioned public transportation for your San Francisco to Yosemite trip.
The Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (YARTS) is the option for public transportation into Yosemite National Park.
The YARTS bus doesn’t have a stop in San Francisco, but it has stops in Sonora, Merced, Fresno, and Mammoth Lakes. This makes it a good option if you only want to drive part of the way there.
YARTS also has several stops in the park, including Yosemite Valley, Wawona, and Tuolumne Meadows.
Greyhound + YARTS
You can reach Merced via Greyhound bus from San Francisco and then pick up a YARTS bus from there.
Amtrak also offers a way to get from San Francisco to Yosemite with a combination of trains and buses.
Just use the trip search feature on their homepage, and it should bring up the trip options for you with connections already built-in.
Getting Around the Park Once You Arrive
Whether your trip from San Francisco to Yosemite involves public transportation or a private car, getting around the park can be challenging and confusing at times.
Before the pandemic, Yosemite National Park offered a free shuttle service around the valley.
Unfortunately, it still hasn’t fully resumed that service as of yet, so driving yourself or doing a bus tour from San Francisco is still the easiest way to get around the park.
You can check the park’s website for more information about getting around the park once you arrive.
Can You Do a Day Trip to Yosemite from San Francisco?
Yes, you can do a day trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park.
However, since the drive time is four hours each way (minimum), you’ll need to leave San Francisco early to make the most of your day.
San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip: What to See on the Way
Driving from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park can be an adventure in itself.
If you’re not on a tight schedule and want to get a feel for the broader area, check out these attractions on the way.
Relive History at the Cowboy Museum in Oakdale, CA
California’s history of cattle ranching is long and layered.
Learn more about the history of the Old West at the Cowboy Museum in Oakdale, CA. Oakdale is about an hour and forty-five minutes from San Francisco.
This is a good stop to include if you’re taking the route that goes through Tracy.
Pan for Gold in Jamestown, CA
The Gold Rush of 1849 shaped California and the American West in dramatic ways.
You can learn more about the history of the Gold Rush in the old mining town of Jamestown, CA, just a short detour from the Tracy or Stockton driving route to Yosemite.
Located only a mile from one of the first gold finds in the country, Jamestown was one of the first gold rush towns in the US.
You can even participate in gold panning yourself! I hope you strike it rich if you go.
Take a Tour of Ramon Rios Winery in Tracy, CA
There are hundreds of excellent wineries and vineyards in California. Still, I’m highlighting the Ramon Rios Winery in Tracy, CA, because it’s located directly on the fastest way to Yosemite.
It’s also conveniently located just outside of San Francisco. Just be sure to have a designated driver if you visit!
Grab a Bite at Sauced BBQ and Spirits in Livermore, CA
You’ll need to eat at some point on your San Francisco to Yosemite trip and this place is a good spot to eat at the start of your road trip.
Sauced BBQ and Spirits in Livermore is on the fastest way to Yosemite National Park (via Tracy) and is one of the tastiest places to eat in Livermore.
Sample Wine and Explore History in Modesto
If you’re taking the longer route to Yosemite National Park via Modesto and El Portal, you may be especially tempted to get out and stretch your legs.
The Lucca Winery in Modesto, CA is on the way from San Francisco to Yosemite and offers a classic California wine tasting experience.
Or, if you’re looking for a more family-friendly excursion, check out the McHenry Mansion, which preserves California’s Victorian history. Plus, mansion tours are free!
Get the Best Mexican Food in Merced
California has a thriving Mexican population, so eating delicious Mexican food as much as possible is never a bad idea.
Check out some authentic and tasty Mexican food at Taqueria El Huarache while you’re going through Merced.
This top-rated restaurant also has a takeout option, so you can grab your meal on the go.
Learn the History of Yosemite at the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum in Groveland, CA
Any path that takes you to the Big Oak Flat Entrance of Yosemite National Park will take you through Groveland, CA first.
Stretch your legs and learn about the history of the area just outside Yosemite at the Groveland Yosemite Gateway Museum.
And if you need more Gold Rush history, Groveland is also a former gold mining town!
What are the Closest Gas Stations to Yosemite?
It’s always a good idea to plan out where to find gas stations when you’re heading to more rural areas of California.
Luckily, the San Francisco to Yosemite routes are pretty populated so you don’t need to worry too much.
With that said, it’s good to keep in mind that there’s nowhere in Yosemite Valley for tourists to obtain gas.
There are gas stations in all the small towns just before you enter the park, so be sure to fill up while you’re there. There are also two gas stations in Yosemite Park at Wawona and Crane Flat.
See this page for more information on these gas stations.
Gas Stations Outside Yosemite National Park
What to do for the Weekend Once You Arrive in Yosemite
Here’s a quick rundown of the best sights to see at Yosemite if you only have a day or two at the park.
Looking for more recommendations? Check out our guide to the best things to do in Yosemite National Park for an ultimate bucket list.
Enjoy Tunnel View
Tunnel View is perhaps the most iconic vista in the United States.
From its small parking area (located just outside a long tunnel), you’ll see Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome surrounding the beautiful Yosemite Valley.
Sunrise and sunsets are particularly popular times to visit Tunnel View, however, expect the parking to be limited.
Watch the Sunset from Glacier Point
Glacier Point overlooks Yosemite Valley from just above Curry Village, located on the east end of the valley.
It provides stunning views of Half Dome and is the location for several popular trailheads. This is another great location to view the sunset.
Attend a Ranger Program
Can you visit Yosemite and NOT attend a ranger program??
While Covid has the regular schedule of ranger programs limited, short outdoor programs are still going on most days of the week right now.
Ranger programs are a fun way to get inspired and learn from an expert naturalist.
Hike to a Waterfall
Yosemite, of course, offers a bajillion hiking trails to choose from.
For a single day, your free time may be limited, so while you can’t venture too far back into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, you can at least walk to Yosemite Falls.
The Lower Falls Trail is short and completely paved and is one of the only dog-friendly trails in Yosemite.
It’s located across from the Yosemite Valley Lodge, which is close to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.
Watch Rock Climbers on El Capitan
As you exit the Valley before you head back to San Francisco, you’ll pass El Capitan, which is a famous cliff with lots of popular climbing routes.
You can pull over across from El Capitan and watch some of the best rock climbing in the world.
Be sure to bring binoculars to Yosemite Valley if you plan to do this as the climbers are quite small against the rock.
Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park
There are lots of options to stay overnight in Yosemite National Park. Many of the more popular options fill up many months in advance, so be sure to make plans early.
While Yosemite Valley is the destination of choice for 80% of the park’s visitors, there are lodging options in other districts of the park too, including the Wawona district.
While the park has many campgrounds, including at least one in every district of the park, most of the campgrounds are only operational during the summer months.
Hotels in Yosemite National Park
Tips for Getting to Yosemite National Park from San Francisco
The best advice I can give anyone planning a trip to Yosemite is to plan ahead.
Check the park website for the most accurate and up-to-date information on how to make the most of your trip.
As of January 2022, the park has no reservation requirements for day use; however, that may change.
Planning ahead will also help you set realistic expectations for your trip with such a large park.
For example, many people want to visit the famous Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias during their trip.
However, the Mariposa Grove is over an hour from Yosemite Valley, making it hard to squeeze into a short trip.
Check the Weather
Always check the weather for your specific destination in the park before heading out.
Yosemite National Park is about the size of Rhode Island and ranges in elevation by many thousands of feet.
For example, the weather in Yosemite Valley is always quite different than in Tuolumne Meadows.
Knowing what to expect in terms of weather not only helps you plan how to dress, it should help you avoid dangerous road conditions.
Many of the roads leading into Yosemite are winding, mountain roads that may require snow chains at any time during the colder months.
Not only can Bay Area traffic add several hours to your drive to Yosemite, the line to get into Yosemite routinely lasts an hour and a half or more on weekends and holidays.
In addition, the traffic exiting Yosemite Valley routinely takes people over an hour around sundown.
The reason is that Yosemite Valley is small, and it’s hard to get thousands of cars out efficiently.
Weekdays during non-rush hours will be the easiest times to get in and out of San Francisco, and the same goes for the entrance to the park.
Expect entrance wait times between 8:30 am-11:30 am on summer weekends to be exceptionally long, and exit times out of Yosemite Valley in the evenings to be congested.
Follow the Speed Limit
Despite the urge to beat the traffic and make the most of your day, don’t speed!
Yosemite famously has “Speeding Kills Bears” signs on the roads in locations where bears have been hit by vehicles.
Every year the park reports between 20-30 bears hit by cars. Don’t add to the statistic.
Have a Plan B
I truly believe if you follow this advice and prepare for your San Francisco to Yosemite trip, you’ll have a great time and see the things on your bucket list.
That said, sometimes life is unpredictable.
Maybe you did everything right, but parking was still full at your intended location, or perhaps the trail washed out in a rainstorm and is closed for the week.
Find a few things to do in Yosemite that sound fun. That way, if one option doesn’t pan out, you’ll immediately know what else you can do to enjoy your day.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meredith is a biologist and writer based in California’s Sierra Nevada. She has lived in six states as a biologist, so her intel on hiking and camping is *chef’s kiss* next level. One of her earliest camping memories was being too scared to find a bathroom at night on a family camping trip. Thankfully, she’s come a long way since then and she can help you get there too!
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