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4 Best Road Trips to Yosemite

San Francisco to Yosemite Road Trip

Explore San Francisco before heading inland to sample Northern California’s amazing food and wines on this epic adventure en route to Yosemite.

From the Golden City, wind your way through unpretentious wine country, orchards and historic towns on this San Francisco to Yosemite road trip.

Things to Do and See on This Road Trip

High up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a snowflake falls. When spring’s warm sun turns winter snows to water, that snowflake takes a circuitous route, through mountain streams winding across wildflower dotted meadows, through tributaries like the American and Tuolumne rivers and eventually ends up in either the Sacramento or the San Joaquin rivers, flowing through a giant expanse of wetlands known as the Bay-Delta. Eventually, the snowflake flows into the San Francisco Bay and passes under the Golden Gate Bridge to reach the Pacific Ocean. This tiny snowflake, and unfathomable numbers of its companions, water two-thirds of California.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park (Photo: Depositphotos)

On this road trip, you’ll trace the snowflake’s route backwards. From San Francisco’s shores, decide whether to visit Yosemite by rail or car. If you take the train inland, you’ll pass through one of the country’s most productive agricultural regions. By car, journey through towns like Livermore where you’ll find a laidback wine region, with grapes nourished by that snowflake. In Oakdale, explore Gold Rush history and a delicious culinary scene before continuing to towns like Pinecrest, where you can paddle on a peaceful, snowmelt-fed lake or Tuolumne where you’ll find apple orchards producing cider.

When you make it to Yosemite, be sure to visit the Hetch Hetchy area, where less than 1% of park visitors ever venture. There’s a gorgeous, historic lodge to stay in nearby and you can hike around the reservoir and discover its history. What was once a lush valley is now a reservoir holding water for the city of San Francisco.

After Yosemite, wind your way back through beautiful farmlands and orchards, stopping in Modesto where you’ll find a sea of lovely white blossoms in the spring, thanks to the city’s groves of almond trees.

As you make your way towards the coast, consider that little snowflake and its incredible journey. All the wine you’ve sipped, streams you’ve hiked along and produce you’ve eaten along the way are all thanks to Sierra Nevada snowmelt.

Road Trip Map

Trade Wheels for Rails – Take the Amtrak San Joaquins Train
Ride Amtrak to Yosemite to avoid traffic, travel sustainably and enter the park for free. Here’s how it works.

Start: San Francisco

Get Ready to Leave Your Heart
There’s a reason why so many songs have been written about San Francisco. From its creative food scene and colorful Victorian buildings to its cultural offerings, it’s nearly impossible to experience it all in one trip. Our advice: don’t try to do it all. Pick several places and dive deep.

Explore Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay
Once home to Al “Scarface” Capone and other notorious criminals, Alcatraz Island is a National Park Service site located 1.25 miles offshore. It was one of the country’s most infamous federal prisons.

Cruise to Alcatraz Island, the infamous prison in San Francisco Bay
Cruise to Alcatraz Island, the infamous prison in San Francisco Bay (Photo: by John Fleck courtesy of Alcatraz Cruises)


The Sunny Side of the Bay
Discover a down-to-earth wine, beer, ice cream and caffeine tasting scene and sun you can count on, 45 minutes from San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.


Find Western Heritage in Oakdale
Tucked along Hwy. 120 on the way to Yosemite, Oakdale holds its heritage close. From local artisan producers and farmers to Western culture, this town is a great place to spend some time on the way to the park

Stay at the Holiday Inn Express Oakdale
Enjoy this relaxing stop on Hwy 120 on the way to Yosemite National Park with modern, clean rooms and amenities such as complimentary breakfast, high speed internet and an outdoor pool. Find more information at

Yosemite’s West Entrances

Highway 120 (Big Oak and Hetch Hetchy entrances)

Tuolumne’s Top 8 on the Edge of Yosemite
Discover the top eight things to do in these quaint towns from boating to Gold Rush-era experiences.

Want to Avoid Traffic and Parking inside Yosemite?
Park your car in a Yosemite gateway town and take the YARTS bus into Yosemite Valley. From there, you can ride the shuttle to many attractions and trailheads in the park.

The bridge at Wapama Falls in Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley near Evergreen Lodge
The bridge at Wapama Falls in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy ValleyPhoto by Kim Carroll Photography courtesy of Everygreen Lodge

A Tale of Two Lodges, Evergreen and Rush Creek
Looking to recharge? Stay at Evergreen Lodge just a mile from the park’s Hetch Hetchy Entrance or Rush Creek Lodge less than a mile from the Big Oak Flat Entrance.

See the Most Controversial Spot in Yosemite near the Hetch Hetchy Entrance
One hundred years after flooding Hetch Hetchy Valley, central California’s water struggles have only intensified.

Yosemite National Park

Tunnel View, perhaps the most famous view of Yosemite
Tunnel View in YosemiteDepositphotos

Pick Your Perfect Yosemite Activities – Climb, Raft, Bike, Ski, Hike
The ultimate guide to activities inside Yosemite National Park. Which ones have you tried?

5 Famous Viewpoints Close to the Road in Yosemite
Visitors to the park won’t want to miss any of these following heart-stopping vistas, all easily accessible from paved roads throughout the park.

Best 2-Day Eco-Friendly Yosemite Vacation Itinerary
Experience the best of Yosemite while traveling sustainably by eating locally grown food, staying at eco-friendly lodges and hiking on gorgeous trails.

Tour Yosemite Like a Local with Gypsy Guide
On your Yosemite adventure, listen to an entertaining guide in your car.

The Giving Trees
Don’t leave Yosemite without visiting the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Yosemite’s Southwest Entrance

Highway 140 (Arch Rock Entrance)

13 Gems in Mariposa County’s Gold Rush Towns
Find the largest alpaca farm in the state, stay in a classic Airstream trailer, take a scenic flight over the park plus ten more things to do in this charming historic county.

Get a Bird’s Eye View of Yosemite on a Scenic Flight
AirBorrn Aviation / Yosemite Airways offers affordable scenic flights with views of El Capitan, Half Dome and more.

NorCal Basecamp

Break for Modesto
Stop in Modesto, half way between Yosemite and San Francisco, for a much-needed break from the car and grab a bite to eat, visit a farm stand or see a show.

End: San Francisco, Calif.

Rent an RV with Outdoorsy
Do this road trip in a rental RV to stay close to nature. Or check out Destination Delivery: Have an RV delivered directly to a campground or parking site to camp in style without having to get behind the wheel.