Need to get from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park? As two of California’s most-loved tourist destinations, there are several ways to get to and from. Despite San Francisco being around 200 miles away, many visitors make the journey to see the UNESCO-listed place of jaw-dropping natural wonder that is Yosemite. And really, it’s not hard to see why. The park is full to the brim of stark natural contrasts – snowcapped mountains, meadows, glaciers, granite cliffs, crashing waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, and more. So, let’s get you there. Here are the best ways to get from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park.
San Francisco to Yosemite National Park
If you’re craving an adventure and want to be able to travel at your own pace, on your own time, then getting to San Francisco to Yosemite by car is the way to go. If you don’t have a car or you’re on holiday in San Francisco, you can either hire one from the airport or downtown. Bear in mind that hiring a car at the airport tends to come with additional fees – it’s always worth doing some research to find the best deal. Once you have a car, it’s at least a four drive, but you’ll probably want to factor in more time to stop along the way.
There are several great places along the way, so much so that we think spreading this out over a few days is absolutely worth it. That way, you can enjoy the journey just as much as the destination. Satinlaus River Parks in Knights Ferry is a brilliant haven for hikers, kayakers, thrill seekers, and just generally outdoor lovers. From there, the drive to Yosemite then takes you on an incredibly scenic drive through the Sierra Nevada mountains. You could also stop at the Madera Wine Trail, you’ll definitely want to stay over if you come here!
A road trip is all well and good, but there are a couple of things to note when driving to Yosemite. There are some particularly scenic routes, like the Tioga Pass, that require a reservation, to avoid overcrowding and over-polluting the area. Also, visitors have to pay an entry fee of $35 per car, which is valid for seven days.
Taking an organised tour from San Francisco to Yosemite is ideal for those who want to have all of the planning and organising burdens taken off of their shoulders. Someone else drives, organises, and usually, they’ll feed you too. However, if you choose to take a day trip, it is a long day of up to 15 hours. But they do pick you up from your hotel, which is a nice added convenience.
There are several tour operators around San Francisco and while some of them offer different stops along the way, most of them have a certain skeleton that they stick to. They’ll take you through the rugged beauty. of the Sierra Nevada mountains, stopping at historic Gold Rush towns, before reaching the wild beauty of Yosemite National Park. You could really spend days exploring the cliffs, waterfalls, canyons, trails, and pools of Yosemite. Most tours will focus on certain highlights, though, including the Tuolumne Grove, a stop at the picture-perfect Tunnel View, an insight into the majestic El Capitan, and the option to take on a hike.
If you’re on a budget, then your best bet to get from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park is by bus. It might be the slowest option, but it is the most affordable. You can hop on the trusty Greyhound from San Francisco Bus Station to Merced, which takes around 3 hours and 45 minutes. There’s only one bus per day and it leaves at 11am and gets you in at 2:45pm, then you’ll have to wait three hours until the 5:40pm bus to El Portal Yosemite Lodge. The journey takes around 2 hours, so while you can still make a nice evening of it at Yosemite that night, this is best suited to those who plan to stay over and aren’t on a day trip.
The most environmentally friendly way to get from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park is by train. It might not be the quickest – you’ll probably want to stay over rather than do this as a day trip – but travelling by rail undoubtedly has a less negative effect on the environment than other modes of transport. Plus, you get to see some incredible scenery along the way that you might not have otherwise seen. It may take some planning, but you’ll get there.
Firstly, you go to any BART station in San Francisco and take the Richmond line to Richmond. You can pay at the station, or use a BART ticket or Clipper card, if you have one. Either way, the journey takes around 35 minutes. When you arrive in Richmond, it’s a short walk to the Amtrak station, where you can get a train to Merced. This takes around 2 hours and 45 minutes, so you can sit back and relax before the next leg. From Merced, hop on the Yosemite Area Regional Transit System bus to Yosemite National Park. This is the last leg of the journey, taking around an hour and 45 minutes.