Which Entrance to Yosemite Is Best?

A trip to Yosemite is an excellent way to destress from the hustle and bustle of the city. The place is coveted for its majestic views. Besides, your entrance to Yosemite maximizes your time alone or with your loved ones. It gets filled up very quickly, so you have to work fast to get a spot for your family. With this, you should start planning your route if you’re going to visit Yosemite.

You can take five entrances to Yosemite, four of which are on the Park’s western side. On the other hand, the fifth is on its eastern side. Now, you might be asking which entrance to Yosemite is best. The answer varies.

There are things you have to consider to know which entrance is best for you. At your starting point and forward, you’ll run into or the attractions you want to see. In this article, you’ll discover Yosemite’s five entrances and which is best for you. If you’re planning a trip to Yosemite and want to know more about its entries, this article is for you.

Where Is the Main Entrance to Yosemite National Park?

As mentioned earlier, there are five main entrances to Yosemite National Park. The four on the western side are Hetch Hetchy, Big Oak Flat, Arch Rock, and South Entrances. The last one, the Tioga Pass Entrance, is on the remote eastern side of the Park.

Of course, you can take any of these entrances if you’re planning to visit Yosemite. However, there’s always going to be the best entrance for you, which we’ll discuss later. In this section, we’ll give you route suggestions to make your trip to Yosemite worthwhile.

If you’re from San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, here are some route suggestions that you can take.

From San Francisco

When driving from San Francisco, the closest entrance is the Big Oak Flat, which can be accessed via Highway 120. The trip to Big Oak Flat is 170 miles from San Francisco. It also usually takes a minimum of four hours, depending on the traffic.

If you’re driving from San Francisco, try to do it on a weekday or during the early mornings. This way, you can avoid large crowds. From the Big Oak Flat entrance, the trip will take around 45 minutes to Yosemite Valley.

From Los Angeles

If you’re coming from Los Angeles, the trip to Yosemite is pretty straightforward. The closest entrance from Los Angeles is the South entrance, which is open all year-round via Highway 41. You can also access the Badger Pass Ski Area, Glacier Point, and the Bridalveil Creek campground via this entrance. From the South entrance, the trip to Yosemite Valley takes approximately one hour.

From Las Vegas

If you’re driving from Las Vegas between October and May, the Tioga Pass will probably be closed. In this case, call the National Park Service and choose the weather and road reports prompt.

If the Tioga Pass is open, there are several direct routes to Yosemite from Las Vegas. These drives start west at SR 120, through Tioga Pass, to Mono Lake. However, if the pass is closed, get ready for an eight-hour drive through central California.

Which Entrance to Yosemite Should I Take?

Now, among the five entrances to Yosemite, there are several differences that you have to take note of. Based on different factors, one entrance may be more beneficial than the other. If you want to know which entry you should take, keep reading.

Hetch Hetchy Entrance (Hwy. 120)

If you want to skip the crowds, the Hetch Hetchy entrance is the one you should take. It’s the entrance located farthest north of all entries, leading you to Yosemite’s peaceful areas. You can access the Hetch Hetchy entrance via Highway 120 and Evergreen Road. While it’s open year-round, the downside is that it’s only available during daylight in the winter.

Besides the quiet of this entrance, another stop worth driving for is Mark Twain’s cabin. Not only that, but you can also drop by the Railtown 1897 State Historical Park via this entrance. Now, if that doesn’t get you going, the Hetch Hetchy entrance also brings you to the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

Big Oak Flat Entrance (Hwy. 120)

If you’re driving from the Bay Area, the most straightforward route to Yosemite is the Big Oak Flat entrance. You can also take the Arch Rock entrance, the entrance located southeast of Big Oak Flat. Just take I-580 east to I-205, then to Highway 120 east via Manteca, California.

The Big Oak Flat leads you to Groveland, a town 24 miles away that’s filled with hotels, shops, and restaurants. If you’re a fan of outdoor music, you should drop by Groveland. It’s also famous for the historic Iron Door Saloon, the oldest operating saloon in California.

Arch Rock Entrance (Hwy. 140)

The fastest route to Yosemite National Park if you’re driving from San Francisco is through the Arch Rock entrance. To access Arch Rock, take I-580 east to I-205, then take Highway 140 east into the Park. Through the Arch Rock entrance, you can visit El Portal Road, the closest town to Yosemite.

El Portal is known as the closest town to Yosemite, which has various services that you can enjoy. The town has gas that allows you to pay using a credit card. It’s also known for its market, a picnic area, and even a campground. Additionally, Arch Rock also brings you to Midpines, where you can find swimming holes, rafting, and fishing amenities.

South Entrance (Hwy. 41)

The closest entrance from San Diego or Los Angeles is the South Entrance. You can visit Fish Camp, a town known for various lodging areas and unusual activities you can enjoy through this entrance. You can also drop by the Tenaya Lodge, a 350-room resort with lodging, swimming pools, and even an on-site restaurant.

Besides these amenities, the South entrance also gives you access to the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad. This gives you three different transportation options, including the Moonlight Special. In case you didn’t know, it’s a 3-hour evening with a BBQ dinner, campfire, and a train ride.

Tioga Pass Entrance (Hwy. 120)

The last entrance is Tioga Pass, the closest entrance from Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, and Death Valley. It’s the only entrance located on the eastern side of the Park, which you can access from May to October.

If you access Yosemite via Tioga Pass, you can see the majestic Lee Vining, a small town with local businesses. Aside from this, you can also explore Mono Lake, an inland sea known for its salty waters and endemic animals.

Which Entrance to Yosemite Is Least Crowded?

If you want to visit Yosemite and avoid the crowds, taking the Tioga Pass is the best way to go. It’s usually not crowded during early mornings. Aside from this, another entrance you can take is the Hetch Hetchy entrance. It’s known for giving visitors a peaceful drive, as Yosemite visitors do not usually take it.

Besides these, keep in mind that Yosemite is often crowded during the summer. While early June can be relatively calm, the Park gets filled with visitors until the Labour Day weekend. With this, here are some tips you might want to follow:

  • Plan in advance and book your accommodations early.
  • Ear during off-peak hours or go for a picnic.
  • Stay late.
  • Visit the Park during early June, late August, or early September.

What Time Does Yosemite Entrance Open?

The Yosemite National Park is open all year-round, 24 hours a day. However, there are some things you have to remember if you’re driving to Yosemite. Here are some details you have to remember about these entrances:

  • You can access the Park via the Arch Rock entrance (Hwy. 140) and the Big Oak Flat entrance all year-round.
  • The Tioga Pass entrance (Hwy. 120, east) is located a few miles from Tuolumne Meadows. It’s also the eastern entrance to Yosemite from U.S. 395.
  • The Tioga Road isn’t accessible during November or December. However, it usually reopens for use in May or June.
  • The Hetch Hetchy entrance is the northwest entrance to Yosemite. It’s closed during the winter.
  • The South entrance is open to visitors all year round.
  • Keep in mind that during winter, some roads may be closed due to unforeseen reasons. The Park administration may also require chains at any time.

Final Thoughts

Driving to Yosemite National Park can be exhausting, especially if you don’t know which entrance to take. There are five entrances to Yosemite, but of course, only one can be the best for you. With this, you must know the essential details of every entrance. Also, keep in mind that every entrance has its unique features, so don’t forget to do your research.

Whatever entrance you choose to take, remember to enjoy the ride and make your safety a top priority.