How to Get to Yosemite From San Francisco: The 4 Best Ways

a man with his hands up in the air showing peace sign in front of yosemite valley view

What is the easiest way to get to Yosemite National Park from San Francisco? How about the fastest? Is it possible to get to Yosemite and back in 1 day? 

There are a million articles out there to get you excited about visiting Yosemite. They talk about the waterfalls, jaw-dropping views and hikes, the water activities in the summer and the snowy photography opportunities in the winter. But you can’t make any of those memories or take any of those photos if you don’t first know how to get to the park! 


In this article we will outline the 4 best ways to get from San Francisco to Yosemite, and all the necessary details of each, to help you make the best choice for you. Afterwards, we will answer some frequently asked questions about getting from San Francisco to Yosemite. Then all you will have to do is enjoy the park! Let’s get started!

MethodPriceTime (hrs.)Benefits
Driving a car$150+/day+gas+entry3 – 4Flexible, Fast, Affordable for groups
Booking a Tour$209+ pp15 – multi-dayConvenient, Best option for 1 day
Booking a 1-Way Tour$149+ pp6 – 7 Convenient, Flexible
Riding Public Transportation$44+ pp6.5+Affordable

1. Driving from San Francisco to Yosemite

PriceTime (hrs.)Benefits
$150+/day + gas + park entry3 – 4Fast, Flexible, Affordable for groups
a couple standing at the tunnel view

Driving your own car is the quickest and most flexible way to get from San Francisco to Yosemite. We do not recommend this option for a 1-day trip to the park unless you have multiple drivers. You would need to start EARLY, drive straight through, be ready to take on Yosemite with plenty of energy for a few hours, and then be able to safely drive back. It has been done, but driving yourself to Yosemite is more enjoyable when you have 2-3 days or more. 

Renting a Car to Drive

Couple driving across golden gate bridge

If you live locally and have access to a car, driving to Yosemite is a no brainer, but most visitors who want to drive to Yosemite will need to book a rental car. 

San Francisco offers big-name rental companies like Hertz and Budget, both with several airport and downtown pickup and dropoff locations. Keep in mind that the non-airport locations have weird and limited hours, so if you need to pick up your car early or return it late, you may need to use the airport locations (and pay the additional airport fee). 

There are endless possible ways to drive from San Francisco to Yosemite, but there are two main routes that we recommend, both entering the park from the West, which is the closest to San Francisco. Driving Highway 120 will get you there the fastest. Highway 140 will be more scenic and offer popular stops along the way. Both routes are outlined below. 

Driving Highway 120 from San Francisco to Yosemite

road photo on the way to yosemite

Taking highway 580 to 120 is usually the fastest way to get from San Francisco to Yosemite. Without traffic, you can drive this route in just over 3 hours. Staying on Highway 120 will lead you into Yosemite through the Big Oak Flat Entrance. It is often the busiest gate, due to its accessibility from San Francisco, so plan to get there early and be patient. You will be rewarded with quick access to Yosemite Valley. Here are the details:

map of highway 120 from San Francisco to Yosemite

  • Head east toward Oakland, either on 101N and I-80 from downtown or 101S and 92E from SFO
  • Merge onto I-580 E 
  • Keep left at the fork to continue on I-205 E
  • Merge onto I-5 N
  • Take exit 461 for CA-120 toward Manteca/Sonora
  • Take the exit on the left onto CA-120 E/CA-99 N toward Sacramento/Sonora N
  • Take exit 242 for CA-120 E/Yosemite Ave toward Sonora
  • Take the first right (after Wendy’s) onto CA-120
  • Turn left onto CA-108 E/CA-120 E/E F St
  • After 25 miles, Turn right onto CA-120 E 
  • After 44 miles, arrive at Big Oak Flat Entrance

Note: The last gas available to you before you reach the sights down in the valley is inside the park in Crane Flat. Make sure you stop there if you need to. 

Driving Highway 140 from San Francisco to Yosemite

map of highway 140 from San Francisco to Yosemite

Leaving Highway 120 and following Highway 140 into Yosemite through the Arch Rock Entrance is a popular alternative. It is slightly longer (still under 4 hrs without traffic), but incredibly scenic, and includes excellent options for stops, either brief or overnight, in Mariposa and Midpines. And from the Arch Rock Entrance, it is the quickest drive to reach the sights in the valley. 

  • Head east toward Oakland, either on 101N and I-80 from downtown or 101S and 92E from SFO
  • Merge onto I-580 E 
  • Keep left at the fork to continue on I-205 E
  • Merge onto I-5 N
  • Take exit 461 for CA-120 toward Manteca/Sonora 
  • Take exit 6 to merge onto CA-99 S toward Modesto/Fresno
  • Take exit 186B for CA-140 E toward Mariposa/Yosemite
  • Take the first left onto CA-140 E/Yosemite Pkwy
  • After 68 miles, arrive at the Arch Rock Entrance

Note: The last gas on this route is in El Portal, and there is none down in Yosemite Valley, so plan ahead!

Things to Know About Driving From SF to Yosemite

view of yosemite on the road

Driving your own car to Yosemite is a great option if you have 2-3 days or more to enjoy the park. A personal vehicle allows for stops along the route at points that interest you (we recommend Mariposa — a charming gold rush town with tons of history), and more accessibility within the park. Be prepared to purchase park entry in advance or when you reach the gate. 2023 prices are $35 per vehicle (with up to 15 passengers).

Finding parking within Yosemite can be a hassle, especially during peak months (Summer and Fall) and peak times during the middle of the day. We think the best plan is to find a spot early in one of the large, convenient lots near a shuttle stop and use the free valley shuttle to reach popular destinations within the valley. More on this shuttle later!

The advantage to having a car becomes clear when you want to reach spots out of the valley like Glacier Point. Typically, Glacier Point is only accessible to those without a vehicle by a short tour, but in 2023 that tour is not even running! So the ONLY way to reach Glacier Point in 2023 is with a personal vehicle or on a multi-day tour from San Francisco that includes it. 

Tip: Download an offline map of Yosemite before you get there! While GPS can get you TO the park, there is no reliable GPS available to help you navigate within the park. 

You do have to think about gas (or EV charging stations) when driving your own vehicle, and there is no gas available in Yosemite Valley. Below are the closest gas stations, although for better prices you may want to fill up further out.

Gas close to Yosemite Valley:

In the Park – Crane Flat Gas Station or Chevron in Crane Flat

Highway 120 – Valero 5.5 miles before Big Oak Flat Entrance

Highway 140 – Chevron in El Portal

EV charging stations in Yosemite Valley:

Yosemite Valley Lodge – 8 level 2 chargers!

Ahwahnee Hotel – 1 Tesla and 1 level 1 charger

Yosemite Village Store – 1 level 2 charger

2. Taking a Tour from San Francisco

bus parked at the valley view lookout

The easiest way to get to Yosemite from San Francisco is to book a tour. Sit back, relax, and learn about the park from a live tour guide. When you reach the park, be driven directly to the best viewpoints in Yosemite Valley.  

The convenience and choice of these tours is really top notch. If you only have one day to see Yosemite, this is 100% the best option. But if you do have more time, you can choose the length of your stay too, booking a multi-day tour which includes travel and lodging, or scheduling your to and from bus tours and booking your own accommodation in Yosemite separately. 

Taking a One-Day Tour from San Francisco to Yosemite

PriceTime (hrs.)Benefits
$209+ pp15 Convenient, Worry-free, Best option for 1 day

a couple standing at the tunnel view

Yosemite and Giant Sequoias One Day Tour from San Francisco

  • 15 Hours
  • 209+

The only 1-day Yosemite tour from San Francisco to deliver more than you dreamed at Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and on a hike to Giant Sequoias.

More Info
10% OFF Summer Offer
girl with her hands in the air looking at valley from Tunnel View overlook in Yosemite

Yosemite Overnight Tour from San Francisco with No Accommodation

  • 269+

This Yosemite tour from San Francisco let’s you make your own overnight stay so you can slow the pace to experience Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and the Giant Sequoia redwoods.

More Info

If you only have 1 day to see Yosemite — take a tour! Driving is exhausting and picking and choosing stops within the busy park is stressful. So if time is tight, it makes the most sense to leave the planning and driving to the experts. 

There are multiple companies that offer tours from San Francisco to Yosemite. Here are the details of one to give you an idea of the perks (okay, we admit it… it’s ours ;)).

Yosemite and Giant Sequoias One Day Tour from San Francisco:

Pickup/Dropoff: Daily from several popular SF hotels

Duration: 15 hours

Highlights: live expert guide, unforgettable Yosemite Valley stops including Tunnel and Valley Views, Bridalveil Fall, El Cap meadow, free time in the park to explore, walk among giants at Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoias

Price: $209 per adult

Taking a Multi-Day Tour

PriceTimeBenefits
$269+ pp1-5 days Convenient, Flexible, More time to explore

If you have a bit more time to explore Yosemite, but still want the convenience of a tour, consider a multi-day tour. You will experience all of the best of Yosemite outlined above, but also have free days in between to explore on your own and experience the truly magical sunrise and sunset hours in the valley. 

Multiple accommodation options are available with our multi-day tours. You can choose the Yosemite Valley Lodge for a classic Yosemite experience, or opt for the affordable and adorable Bug Lodge hostel. If you want to get closer to nature, the Curry Village tent cabins offer a rustic, yet comfortable, glamping-style option. 

Or pick your own accommodation! Make arrangements for your own overnight stay and simply join us for the guided trips to and from the park.

3. Taking a Flexible Multi-day Tour

blonde woman looking at el capitan in yosemite

Price
Time (hrs.)Benefits
$149+ pp6 – 7 Convenient, Flexible, More time to explore

Booking a 1-way bus tour between San Francisco and Yosemite is a flexible and fun way to get to and from the park, whether you opt to book both directions, booking your own accommodation in between, or choose another travel option (like public transportation) for the other direction. It is a great way to get the inside scoop of the area from a live expert guide, while getting where you want to go. 

The 1-way tours through Extranomical Tours include everything in the first or last half of our full-day tours. On the way to Yosemite, be introduced to the park with the most spectacular viewpoints, including Tunnel View and Bridalveil Fall. On your way back to San Fran, take in unmissable valley stops like El Capitan meadow and Valley View, and then explore an entirely different landscape as you walk among giant sequoias in Tuolumne Grove. 

San Francisco to Yosemite One-Way Tour:

Pickup: 6 am daily at several popular SF hotels

Duration: 6 hours

Highlights: live expert guide, entrance into Yosemite, stops at Tunnel view and Bridalveil Fall

Dropoff: Yosemite Valley Lodge

Yosemite to San Francisco One-Way Tour:

Pickup: 2 pm at Yosemite Valley Lodge 

Duration: 7 hours

Highlights: live expert guide, stops at El Cap Meadow, Valley View, and Tuolumne grove of giant sequoias (weather permitting)

Dropoff: several popular SF hotels

Things to Know About Taking a Tour From San Francisco

Bus tours to Yosemite run year round, so they are an excellent choice for winter visits! You won’t have to worry about which roads or sections of the park are closed. Just dress warmly and let us show you the snowy winter wonderland of Yosemite. Note: Our visits to Tuolumne Grove can be impacted by winter snow and road closures. When this is the case, we spend extra time in the valley.

All of the tours outlined above include your Yosemite Park entrance fee (paid during checkout). Have peace of mind that your entrance reservations (if applicable) and passes are taken care of and you won’t need to wait in long lines at the gate.

All in all, taking a tour from San Francisco to Yosemite is a great choice. The choice of tour lengths makes for nearly unbeatable flexibility, and you don’t have to worry about your own vehicle once inside the park. The free Yosemite Valley Shuttle provides consistent transportation to all of the best spots in the valley. 

4. Taking Public Transportation

For those budget-conscious travelers out there, you can take public transportation from San Francisco to Yosemite, but it is not straightforward and it is not without transfers. This can still be a great option if you and your group are willing to spend more time getting to the park and have the patience to navigate the system.

The options include buses the entire way, or a train/bus combo. Unfortunately at this time, there is no fully-train option to get from San Francisco to Yosemite. 

Taking the Bus From San Francisco to Yosemite

A group of people walking across a meadow in Yosemite Valley
Price TimeBenefits
$44+ pp one way8 hr. 16 min.Affordable

To get to Yosemite via public bus, you will need a combination of Greyhound and the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS). You will also have to walk (or book a rideshare) about a mile through Merced (and wait almost 2 hours) to transfer between the two. We are going to be honest with you, the Greyhound and YARTS systems do not currently jive. Here are the details:

  1. Downtown San Fran to Merced, CA via Greyhound
  • Departure from bus station at Mission and Fremont Streets in downtown
  • $22 per person one way
  • 11:00 am – 2:45 pm, currently the only option
  1. Merced Transfer
  • Walk/book a car 1 mile to the Merced Amtrak Station at 324 W 24th St (To walk follow the palm trees down N Street, take a right on Main, then a left on K St. to 24th)
  1. YARTS bus from Merced to Yosemite Valley
  • $22 per person one way
  • 4:35 pm – 7:16 pm (to Yosemite Valley Visitor Center)

The Return Trip:

The only return Greyhound from Merced to San Francisco departs daily at 11:55 am, which is too early for the first scheduled YARTS shuttle from the valley. The best option currently is to take the return trip via Amtrak from Merced, outlined below. 

Taking the Train (and bus) From San Francisco to Yosemite

two guys are taking picture in front of tunnel view
Price TimeBenefits
$53.20+ pp one way6 hr. 30 min. +Affordable

As mentioned above, there is no train-only route between Yosemite and San Francisco. But you can take Amtrak for a good chunk of the way and enjoy the comforts and views of the train life before transferring to a YARTS bus.  

  1. Get to the Richmond Amtrak Station
  • Take Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to Richmond Station via red line (or transfer to red line)
  • $5.20-$11.35 per person (downtown/SFO)
  • 35 min – 1 hr 15 min (downtown/SFO)
  1. Richmond Amtrak Station to Merced, CA
  • San Joaquin Line South
  • From $26 per person one way
  • 2 hr. 40 min. (7:54 am, 9:54 am, 11:55 am and 1:55 pm departures)
  1. Merced to Yosemite via YARTS
  • Merced Amtrak Station to Yosemite Valley
  • $22 per person one way
  • 2 hr. 41 min. (10:55 am or 4:35 pm departure, arriving at 1:36 pm or 7:16 pm to Yosemite Valley Visitor Center)

The Return Trip:

The current Amtrak departure options from Merced to Richmond are 3:23pm, 5:23pm, and 7:23pm, allowing multiple choices for connecting YARTS departures from the valley.

Things to Know About Taking Public Transportation

The biggest issue with the public transportation options, once you figure out your route, is the time they take out of your vacation. While it is technically possible to do the train/bus combo in both directions in 1 day, you would be left with less than 2 ½ hours to enjoy the park. Because of this, we do not recommend taking public transportation to and from the park in one day.

All in all, taking public transportation to and from Yosemite is a decent, budget-friendly option. Amtrak will be a more comfortable ride and offers easier connections than Greyhound, but requires a trip on BART to reach Richmond Station from San Francisco. Whichever you choose, routes and schedules are always changing, so plan your route and connections in detail before you go! 

FAQs

a man in red jacket siting on log near the mirror lake and looking at mountains and yellow trees

Where is Yosemite?

Yosemite National Park is a 1,200 acre park nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in east central California. It is 167 miles from San Francisco and reachable via car and bus year round.

Can I visit Yosemite in the winter?

Yes! Winter in Yosemite is gorgeous and accessible. Although some areas of the park close seasonally, areas in the valley are arguably even more beautiful with snow, and definitely worth a visit. 

Before making the trip on your own, always check for road conditions and park closures at the official park site here. Highways leading into Yosemite may require chains at certain times of the year, so check before you go.

Keep in mind that YARTS runs on a different schedule during the winter, which may affect connections. The schedule for winter 2022-23 was actually MORE favorable for the all-bus option, with an additional stop in Merced eliminating the transfer walk. Just make sure to check here or call 877-989-2787 for updated schedules before your trip.

How long does it take to drive from San Francisco to Yosemite?

Driving your own vehicle to Yosemite from San Francisco takes 3-4 hours in favorable traffic.

Can you see Yosemite in 1 day?

Absolutely! While we do not recommend driving yourself or taking public transportation for a 1-day visit, 1-day bus tours show you the highlights of Yosemite in one incredible 15-hour day. 

How long does it take to see the Park?

While the highlights of Yosemite can be experienced in 1 day, we recommend extending your stay to 2-3 days or more to truly get a feel for the park. This extra time will allow for outdoor activities like swimming, biking, and hiking, and you will be able to explore the viewpoints early and late in the day — the best time for photographs.

How much does it cost to get into Yosemite?

It depends on which travel method you choose! 

Driving your own vehicle (with up to 15 passengers) into the park costs $35. It can be paid online in advance or via credit/debit card at all 5 entry gates and is valid for up to 7 days. Visit here for more official details and to pay your entry fee online.

Most bus tours to Yosemite include your entry fee (ours do!) and you get to skip the line at the gate! Just relax as you drive right into Yosemite and head to the sights.

Public YARTS buses into Yosemite also include park entry! This is a great perk to this public transportation option. 

How do I get around inside Yosemite?

Yosemite National Park has a fantastic free shuttle. Its route includes all of the main spots in the valley and it runs every 12-22 min, daily from 7 am – 10 pm. Additional shuttle routes are limited in 2023, but check here for updates. Some destinations outside of the valley are reachable via limited Summer routes on YARTS.

The valley shuttle is so convenient and the personal vehicle parking is so limited, that we recommend using the shuttle even if you drive yourself to the park. Just save your car for trips out of the valley like Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove. 

Can I fly to Yosemite from San Francisco?

You can fly CLOSER to Yosemite. While San Francisco is a popular jumping off point due to its busy international airport and abundant visitor services, there are technically airports closer to Yosemite. Every one of them however, will still require a lengthy rental car or bus ride to reach the park. But if that sounds good to you, here is a great blog that goes over details and options.

Additional Yosemite National Park Resources

Now you know the 4 best ways to get from San Francisco to Yosemite! The choice really comes down to the length of your stay and your budget. But however you choose to get there, the granite cliffs and rushing waterfalls of Yosemite are sure to have you planning your return trip right when you leave. 

Now that you know how to get to the park, the really fun planning begins! You’ll need to know the best time of year to go, all of the best things to do, and the best places to take photos. As Yosemite experts, we have got you covered! 

Published on: August 5th 2023
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