What Kind Of Vehicle Do You Need When Driving In Yosemite National Park?

If you want to spend your time seeing the wildlife or going camping under the starry nights, visit Yosemite National Park. Sometimes, a quick trip with nature may be what you need to satisfy your outdoor-adventure cravings! So, what kind of car do you need to drive to Yosemite? 

Any car is fine, including an AWD, 4×4, or even an SUV.  But each car has different uses that can suit your preferences and needs. The weather also plays a big role when choosing a vehicle since the roads can be sandy and rough.

Continue reading to learn more about the routes to take and which type of car may be best used for your Yosemite getaway!

How to Drive To Yosemite

The park is located in the Sierra Madres of California, and you can enjoy 1,169 square miles of land. It is visited by more than 3.5 million people yearly, and there are different routes that you can take. 

First, you will have to know the available roads that you can drive on. It will then allow you to weigh the kind of car you need to drive according to your preference. 

If You’re Coming From Big Cities

Take Highway 120 if coming from San Francisco, Sacramento, and their airports. The way is straight for the most part, with gentle curves on some. 

Also, prepare for the ascent at the 8-mile Priest Grade that will take you on over 1,000 feet elevation. A smooth ride in this climb will increase if you drive an all-wheel-drive vehicle, especially in snow or icy conditions. Since all of its wheels are working, there are better chances that you can conveniently ascend. 

You will be passing through Mariposa county and the towns of Buck Meadows and Groveland. If you need to take a quick stop to refill gas or grab something from the grocery, you can drop by Oakdale. It is the largest city you can pass through on this route. 

Following The Old Railway Tracks

If the scenic views are what you’re looking for in a road trip, Highway 140 may be for you. It skirts the old railway tracks, and the first community you will reach is the Catheys Valley. The historical structures like restaurants and bars that you can visit along the way add to its great view. The way is also the best place for hikes and bike riding because of the meadows and butterflies. 

This route also has the lowest altitude approach, making it the best highway to drive in. Driving any car will do on this highway since you are less likely to encounter off-road obstacles.

Towards the South Entrance Of The Park

Highway 41 leads you to the south entrance of the park. It takes you on for the views, and it also brings you to several stopovers that you can visit. Your drive will start at Fresno. 

You can go to tasting rooms and vineyards at the Madera Wine Trail as you progress. Inns and cabins also await you at Fish Camp town. 

Once you enter Yosemite’s south entrance, you’ll drive towards the park’s heart at Yosemite valley. Then you will descend to Tunnel View, which will allow you to see the famous landmarks of the national park. 

Driving a four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicle can make ascending and descending this route extra easier for you. But of course, any vehicle could work too. 

Drive On A Breathtaking View

You can take the Tioga Pass route if you like calm mountain views. It is located on Highway 120’s eastern end, and you can have the chance to pass over the mountain range of Sierra Nevada. If you come from Death Valley, Reno, or Las Vegas, this route may suit you. Using a four-wheel and all-wheel drive can work for your trip! 

Meanwhile, take yourself for a treat with rock formations and lake views on this route. Birds travel and flock in this area. It may be a good chance to see them and capture instagrammable photos! 

When you decide to push through with this route, avoid doing so in the winter season. The snow will make it impossible to pass the route since you will arrive at the park at 9,000 feet high. 

Do you need a 4×4 for Yosemite?

Now that you know the routes, it will be easier to determine what kind of car you need to drive to Yosemite.

A 4×4 or 4-wheel-drive vehicle is common for routes to places where you can go camping or hiking. It is specifically for off-road driving. Luckily for Yosemite visitors, they are not required to drive this car. The pavement to the national park is mostly smooth.

But in most circumstances, you won’t need a 4×4 vehicle. 

Do I need AWD in Yosemite?

AWD or all-wheel-drive may come in handy when the road becomes sandy, rough, or when the weather becomes bad. Its function can reduce your possibility of getting stuck. 

During the winter, this kind of car may be helpful. Sloppy road conditions are your biggest enemy. Since you will pass through the snow on your way to the park, AWD can probably help you get through it. 

So, do you need an AWD for your trip to Yosemite? It can be helpful, especially during inclement weather! But still, it is fine if you own and drive a different one. 

Do you need chains in Yosemite right now?

Of course, you would not want any hassles or complications on the road while driving to Yosemite. 

If you will be traveling in snow, it is better to attach chains to your tire to avoid accidents. Tire chains are used to prevent your car from slipping in the snow. It gives your tires the grip and the control that it needs.

Ensure that you are using the right chain sizes for your tires, as latching the wrong ones may damage your tires. Expect chain requirements for the national park around November to March. It is rarely asked in September or May. 

Chain Requirements

Before going on your Yosemite trip, it is helpful to know the chain requirements that you must follow. Not only does it help you on your drive, but it also keeps you guided on the road. Remember that all vehicles must have chains, even rental ones, and four-wheel drive. 

Using your chains will depend on your conditions on the road. Ultimately, it is impossible to predict if you’ll need one ahead of time. That is why you need to have it with you all the time! 

When To Use The Chains

Signs on the road will indicate when you’ll need one. Remember that the speed limit is 25mph. Be alert to the following: 

  1. “R-1” Pickups and Autos with Snow Tires OK. This sign means that you must put chains unless you are a pickup truck, a car, or an SUV below 6,000 pounds. You’re also an exception if your car has snow tires on at least two drive wheels. 
  2. “R-2” Four-Wheel Drive with Snow Tires is OK. This sign asks you to put chains on unless you are a car, pickup truck, or SUV weighing below 6,500 pounds. You are also exempted if your car has 4 snow tires installed or has 4 or all-wheel drive engaged. 
  3. “R-3” Chains Required – No Exceptions. Once you see this sign on the road, you must put chains on two wheels of your four-wheel-drive vehicle. 

Where Can I Stop To Put My Chains?

When you encounter the chain control signs on the road, you are asked to stop and pull over to the road’s side. It is the safest spot to put the chains on in your vehicle. 

Do you need an SUV to drive in Yosemite?

If you’re planning to go to Yosemite for more than a day, an SUV will best fit your needs. Its body can carry items that will support your outdoor activity. It includes tents for camping, cooking stuff, a sleeping bag, and other necessities for your trip. 

But a big SUV may not be ideal in Yosemite, particularly during peak season. You would not want parking spaces to be your problem. A compact one may be your best pick. 

An SUV with a panoramic sunroof can also improve your outdoor experience, especially when you want to have a relaxing trip and view. 

Final Thoughts

What kind of car do you need to drive to Yosemite? Whether an AWD, 4×4, SUV, or pickup truck, don’t worry because you can drive any car to the park! Yes, there may be advantages for each kind, but it’ll depend on your choice. 

If you are thinking of bringing and driving your car, you would like your trip to Yosemite National Park to be smooth and convenient. Part of this is conditioning your vehicle and inspecting your route ahead. Consider the time and the season of your trip. Try your best to bring all the necessary things needed to assist you in times of emergencies. 

It would help if you considered how suitable your car would be for your trip and the chances that it can do more inconvenience on your end.