Snow camp carpools and driving directionsThis webpage has driving directions from Silicon Valley to Yosemite, including routes 140 and 120 (and few notes about 99/145/41) for students on De Anza College field trips.
Carpools are arranged among the students going on the trips, not by the club or the college. Often the final arrangements are made at the pre-trip meeting. Snow Camp has all the details about the trip and the date/time of the pre-trip meeting.
For info on how to get/give a ride go to Carpool FAQs
Road trip advice and etiquette has ideas for limiting boredom and some packing and safety tips.
You will need to pay the park vehicle entrance fee, (2013 $20 for seven days) or better yet, find someone to carpool with who already has a National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands annual pass ($80 for a year). (If you also go on the club fall Grand Teton National Park trip it could be wise to get a year long pass.) Or find someone who is a U.S. military dependant and has their Dependent ID Card (form 1173) and can get a free national parks pass http://www.store.usgs.gov/pass/military.html
How long does it take to get to Yosemite?
The drive to Yosemite can take 4 plus hours if you don't make many stops, aren't behind slow drivers and do
the speed limit. Or it can take 5-6 or more hours if you have a lot of passengers who want fast
food or photo taking stops, or you have to put on chains and drive slowly.
You will probably
leave town later than you think because it will take longer to pack up than you
think, especially with a big group. One guy in '98 didn't use our directions, he had found some elsewhere on the internet. He got lost
and it took him thirteen hours of driving to get to the park. Yes, 13.
(That's why we ask for your car make/model, and your driving plans, so we can call the
highway patrol or your emergency person if you don't show up.)
(Form your carpools off campus. Occasionally cars that are left parked on campus over a
weekend have been trashed!)
You can find the instructions to turn off the loud beep your car makes when you use the keyless 'remote' pushbutton on your keychain to unlock the car. Then you won't forget about it and wake up everyone in the middle of the night. If you can't disable it, take the remote off your keychain and put the remote away somewhere and use the key to unlock the vehicle during the trip.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS TO YOSEMITE VALLEY
Buy a map, or CSAA,
(also known as Triple A) members should pick up a free Central California, Bay Area to Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, map.
Most people will take the route (140) with the possibility of not having to put on chains until the
very last minute (or maybe not at all). In '98, when there were flood watches all over the state,
there was no flooding on this route.
You could take 120 instead of 140, but you will be much more likely to have to use chains, and here's a picture of the self-service gas station at Crane Flat on that route:
Possible delays due to road work are at: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/roadwork.htm
Just before you leave, call 1 800 427-7623. It is voice activated, so say 140 or 580/205/120 or whatever highway number for road conditions, detours, etc. The Yosemite road and weather phone message is
1 (209) 372-0200.
(A rockslide on Highway 140 west of
El Portal closed the road for months in 2006 and when it was reopened, there was a vehicle size limit. One day a driver of an oversized vehicle ignored the size restrictions, got stuck and closed the road to everyone for hours. A 15 foot X 6 foot X 4 foot boulder closed it again briefly in December 2010. Another slide could close it at any time.)
(A rockslide also closed 120 for a day and then for about six weeks for repairs in 2012.)
CALL the road info number before you leave town!
Oakhurst or Mariposa, your last two big towns before you enter the park trying the 140 or 41 routes, are fairly big Sierra
towns, with a choice of gas stations (more expensive than home, it might be worth your time if
you're on a budget to drive a few blocks through town looking for the cheapest station as occasionally they have a gas price competition), a major sized grocery
and lots of restaurants.
Fill up with gas at whichever town is on your route. The gas station in Yosemite valley was closed
because the tanks were leaking. The nearest station for our trip, miles from the campground, will be in El Portal (in recent years a dollar a gallon more than Mariposa) or within the park at Crane Flat (30 minutes from Yosemite valley) or Wawona (about an hour from Yosemite Valley) each 24 hours with credit card at the pump, IF the pumps are functioning. You should keep at least a half-full gas tank (to prevent gas line freezeup), or a closer to full tank should you need to change routes, idle, drive slowly or turn back. So fill up at the last major town before entering the park. If you didn't bring chains, you can usually rent them there as well.
If it's cold, Mariposa or Oakhurst would be a propitious place to put on those polypro longjohns
and change into boots. Some years there is little snow on the ground, some years lots. As you drive, be ready to stop around a corner on winding mountain roads for work crews or a fallen tree. If trees are full of snow be prepared for a huge snow plop on your windshield.
Up into the mountains there may be a sign saying whether chains will be required that day on
the Yosemite route. You probably won't need to put them on until farther up the road if they are
required; the sign may just be a warning. If you decided to risk not bringing chains, don't
congratulate yourself too soon, things can change by tomorrow. Don't forget, you can't rent
chains in Yosemite, they are very expensive to buy, and sometimes even four-wheel drive
vehicles with snow tires are required to have chains. Often the Rangers check for
chains and won't let you into the park if you don't have them. AND not having chains "could subject you to an expensive citation."
The roads in the park can be quite icy.. slow down and skip this experience...
From the National Park Service Morning Report, Monday, January 22, 2007
Yosemite National Park
Visitors Rescued From Vehicle In River
On January, 11th, a winter storm passed over the park, producing little snow but creating very icy road conditions. Although crews treated park roads and rangers put four-wheel-drive or snow chain restrictions into effect, a Nissan Pathfinder slid off Highway 140 near Pohono Bridge shortly after passing a chain control area. According to the initial report, everyone was out of the vehicle and there were no injuries. Park telecommunication supervisor David Thorpe was in the area, though, and provided additional information. Thorpe, who is also a Mariposa County swiftwater rescuer, told rangers that the Pathfinder began rocking when the occupants were attempting to get out, suggesting that it was unstable; the evacuation was accordingly stopped until the vehicle could be stabilized. Still inside in the front passenger seat was a 62-year-old man with an artificial hip and restricted mobility. That part of the vehicle, including the tire and bumper, were touching a deep pool of swiftly moving water. Rangers, Yosemite SAR personnel and members of two fire battalions responded. The Pathfinder was secured and the man was carefully extricated and raised up a slick, rough scree slope in a litter. Meanwhile, traffic management personnel, road crews and tow trucks from the Valley worked at sanding the road, managing the closure, and moving other vehicles involved in collisions back onto the roadway. The icy conditions were caused by frozen rain falling on the roadway. Although there wasn’t much of an accumulation, the compressed particles created a very slick surface. [Submitted by Jason Gayeski, Valley Patrol]
Here are two routes aiming for 140, but changing to 99/145/41 if you call and find that another rockslide has blocked 140.
Below, in dark blue, you can find hints for the 580/205/120 route for students starting in Fremont, Oakland, Hayward, Walnut Creek, etc.
Read through this while looking at a map
Take 101 South to Gilroy.
In Gilroy exit on 152 East, and go to the left over the freeway. However, if you forgot
something, turn right from the freeway exit for a short detour to a shopping area with
(mid 2011) a grocery, drug store, Auto Parts, Radio Shack, Wendy's,
McDonald's, Taco Bell and other fast food places for road trip provisions.
152 East takes you over Pacheco Pass, which is a much improved road, if you haven't driven it
the last few years. It has been widened with passing lanes, and the road is much safer and easier
to drive. After about 14 miles, go on to the 152/156 branch towards Los Banos.
After San Luis reservoir, continue on 152 over I-5 and down into Los Banos, with more fast
food places. If it's cold out now, you might want to put on those long-johns.
After Los Banos travel on 152 east for about 18 miles and make a decision to take either
59 North towards Merced, then 140 to Mariposa,
UNLESS you call and find out there has been a rockslide and 140 is closed
OR decide to stay on 152, then head south on 99 to Madera, go up 145 and 41 to Oakhurst.
We're not giving as many details of the longer drive through Oakhurst, so if you choose that route, skip
ahead to the teal-colored paragraphs .
If you decide to take 59 north, pay attention, the overpass is easy to overlook. Watch for
the San Joaquin bypass shortly before it. Stay on 59 north for about 15 miles to Merced. Get on
99 for about twenty milliseconds (okay, a few seconds), then exit on to 140 east. After about 37
miles, get gas in Mariposa.
Take 140 east about 34 miles to the Arch Rock entrance station (if this part is open--call before
you leave home!).
Are we there yet? Not quite, your campsite is still about a half hour away. Restrooms at the
entrance station are on the right. The restrooms are usually open even when the entrance station is closed.
As you continue, the Merced River will be on your right.
Here are hints for the 580/205/120 route, everyone else should skip ahead:
Trying to shortcut through Livermore on 84 can take more time at stoplights than the longer route of 680 to 580.
After Altamont Pass, leave 580 and get on 205,
205 joins 5 for a brief way, then head on to 120, go past Manteca and on to 99 north using a left lane split, and look for the next quick exit east on 120.
Most of the rest of the route will be on slow roads rather than freeways, some of it through towns that really want you to do the posted speed limit.
In Oakdale you will make a left turn at a light to continue on 120 east. At Yosemite Junction you will make a right (no light or stop sign in your direction at this intersection).
For the section between Don Pedro Reservoir and Groveland, use Priest Grade, DON'T try OLD Priest Grade. If it is at all hot weather, turn off your air conditioner as you drive the eight miles, sixty curves and switchbacks of Priest Grade, even if your car is in great condition. Don't turn the air conditioner back on right away when you get to the seeming top at Big Oak Flat. There is still some steep uphill through Priest Station. At the elevation 3000' sign more typical mountain down and up hill starts.
Next stop is the the Yosemite National Park Big Oak Flat entrance station, with a visitor center with restrooms on the right. Now could be a good time to put on the long johns and switch from tennis shoes to winter boots.
Nine miles farther you might want to top off your tank at Crane Flat in case you want to do extra driving while in the park. There is a one way road/driveway into the station. It is not staffed in winter, but most of the time you can pay at the pump with a credit card. (This station frequently has lower prices than some of the little stations just outside the park entrance.) At Crane Flat there is usually a snow play area. 3.5 miles north of Crane Flat you can take a 4 mile round trip hike or ski into the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias.
Are we there yet? Not quite, it's 16 miles from Crane Flat to our campground.
When this road enters Yosemite Valley, you will stop at a stop sign and turn left. As you continue, the Merced River will be on your right.
Whenever any kind of chain controls are in place the speed limit is 25 miles per hour. Leaving a big following distance could be a great idea, especially when you are approaching a stop sign, so you don't slide on ice when you brake and find yourself unable to stop before you hit the car in front of you that was stopped for that stop sign.
Routes 140, 580/205/120 join at this point.
Here in central valley and coastal California most of our roads will not freeze very often as the ground beneath doesn't get that cold, so ice will only form occasionally in patches or after freezing rain.
But as you approach the bridge coming up, slow down. Black ice (a thin, invisible, complete coating of ice) forms on top of bridges, causeways or any stretch of road not paved over solid ground.
When you cross the river on the bridge
5+ miles from the entrance station, the road becomes a one way loop (unless there has been a
rockfall on part of it, or of the park is doing road repairs on the outgoing part of the loop, then it will be two-way). A little later, from the right, the road from Oakhurst/to Badger Pass joins this
See the map of Yosemite valley.
If you choose the Madera/Oakhurst route, from Oakhurst you'll go north on 41 through National
Forest land to the South entrance station. If you come in late the Ranger kiosk will be closed.
Are we there yet? Not quite, your campsite is still about an hour and a half away.
It's 5 miles to Wawona, with the big white hotel buildings, golf course, gas station and small store, then it's 12
miles to the turnoff for the ski resort (by here you may need chains), then about 7 miles to a
long tunnel just above the valley floor.
Slow down and put on your right blinker at the end of the
tunnel and pull carefully into the small parking lot. Walk across the road (watch out for drivers watching the scenery and not seeing you) to the main
This view is worth stopping for even if you are running late and even if there is rain or snow falling. The Yosemite Fund and the NPS funded a remodel in 2008 with educational exhibits, expanded handicap accessible viewing area and improved traffic flow. Thousands of people stop there each day in the summer.
photos of the view from tunnel view:
photos below by Quang-Tuan Luong/terragalleria.com, all rights reserved.
In about a mile and a half, just after the turnout on the right to Bridalveil Fall, (usually with restrooms or at least an outhouse, if you get here early it's only
a five minute walk to the base of the fall) the road becomes a one-way loop, unless there has been a rock fall or road construction and it is designated two way.
HERE all of the routes described above merge into one route.
Drive extra carefully from now on, there may be a snowplow working around the next corner,
someone stopped to take pictures who didn't pull far enough off the road, or people weaving as
they drive and sightsee. Was that a coyote already?
Road repairs (or construction projects that cause roads to be closed) in Yosemite valley are usually done in the winter, for less traffic disruption. Expect lane closures. In these areas they may have to reroute traffic or pilot cars will escort traffic from each end of a project. Be cautious of trench plates and loose gravel in repair areas. Rockfalls can close a whole section of road.
The following is the description if all regular roads are open. If there are closures there will be signs redirecting you.
In the summer this section of road through to the four way stop at Curry Village can have a bus/emergency vehicle lane in place and drivers of private vehicles must stay in the left lane. Signage is put up when this is in effect.
Follow signs that say "to all Valley Destinations" for about five miles. The river will be on the left side of the road,
although you won't be able to see it at times.
You'll go past a few turnoffs to picnic areas.
There will be a stretch of road with meadows
on both sides and parking on the left where you can stop
and see Yosemite Falls on the left, or
Half Dome a bit farther on the right.
Here are two NPS pictures (and a third and fourth of mine) of what the view of Yosemite Falls might look like along this stretch of road:
Continue straight ahead past a bridge to your left that takes people to the Yosemite Lodge, Ahwahnee hotel and the route back out of Yosemite Valley.
You then go past the shuttle bus stop for Housekeeping Camp (with the usually still open in winter laundromat where you can dry clothes if you didn't bring the right rain gear).
Map below courtesy of NPS
Past some employee housing on the right, the usually one-way road comes to a four-way intersection with stop signs and two-way traffic.
It can take you three times the normal distance to stop when a road is icy (even with anti-lock brakes, four wheel drive and snow tires and spin-outs are common in the winter in Yosemite. Leave a good following distance. Slow down well in advance of stop signs. Expect people coming from another direction to not be able to stop and to slide into the intersection (and possibly into you).
To the left is the old site of the flooded River campgrounds, to the right is Curry Village, with a bus stop for the free bus to the ski resort. If you
arrive after dark in winter you might see the lights of the ice rink.
You want to go straight ahead to get to the campground. The
road goes past a big meadow on the left, bears right, then curves left (at that curve do not take the shuttle bus
access road that goes off to the right).
Just before a bridge make a right into Upper Pines Campground. If it has been snowing a lot the entrance to the campground can be a little hard to spot in the big snow banks and the road in sometimes becomes so narrow it is really only a one lane road. The park service does not always plow the campground road/loops as often as the main roads.
Big Hint: The Ranger at the
kiosk would really like you to come to a full stop at the stop sign next to the entrance kiosk.
Please turn off the sterio now so as to not disturb people in neighboring campsites.
Which campsite should you park at?
On the right just past the campground entrance kiosk we hope there will still be a large bulletin board, on which we will have a list of
campsites (probably by noon Friday). We'll try to get campsites near or next to each other. If the bulletin board was knocked down by weather, or ... we will put the note on the phone booth just up the first loop on the right. There are usually only two loops of campsites open in the winter to drive through to find us.
STOP JUST PAST THE KIOSK AND READ THE CLUB ANNOUNCEMENT! Park
in the site listed for you. At some sites it is easy to fit the two cars (trucks, SUVs) people will be driving. (Upper Pines campsite parking spaces range from 24 to 35 feet long, most can't fit vehicles side by side.) In the winter it can be a tight fit because of the piles of snow. If you are the first one there, pull all the way forward and all the way to one side so the next vehicle can fit in next to you. Please don't wait for them to arrive and need to go looking for you.
Sorry, but if you decide you don't like the campsite we assigned you to you can go pay for your own, but the club won't refund your money.
If you carpooled or paid extra for a campsite parking space the Ranger at the campground kiosk
may have your dashboard parking permit OR more likely the faculty advisor will have it at the campsites.
There will probably be a fire going in the evening that you can warm up by.
Your tent doesn't have to go up in the site your car was assigned, you might put it in another one
of ours, but we do need to be sure we only have 6 people sleeping in each site. (We learned about this the hard way one year when the Rangers made us move tents.)
If there are
people around in the sites who are all unpacked they will probably help you set up your tent, just like you'll do for the
next car.... yes?
You won't have to drive much more during the trip if you use the Yosemite Valley free shuttle bus and the free bus to Badger Pass ski area.
Prepare for winter driving has a link to bad weather driving tips, tips for using tire chains, tricks for dealing with frozen car locks, how to prepare your vehicle for winter driving, a winter survival kit for your car and what to do if you get stranded.
It includes this advice:
My windows are fogging up faster than my navigator can wipe it off!
Yes, it's cold out and you filled your car with people to share the trip expenses. They all are exhaling foggy breath, especially when you all sing along to that CD. Have them take turns holding their breath. Okay, maybe that's not practical. Have them pay up for the gas expense in advance and let them off at the next bus stop. Unthinkable? The swimmers in the Outdoor Club know they can lick the inside of their swim goggles to prevent fogging, but a windshield...?
Not really practical either, well then...
The fog on the windows could be caused by trying to keep the car interior warm. When air is warm breath condenses, so stop and have your passengers put on those longjohns, jackets and maybe even hats, then keep the car cool. Even a few degrees will affect the maximum amount of water in the air quite significantly. With less water in the air the windows will frost up less.
Make sure your air conditioner or heater is in the fresh air posistion rather than recirc. The recirculate setting reuses the humid air already in the car. The air in the car is quite humid due to those mammals you are giving a ride to, and the outside air is less humid (even if it's raining/snowing), so pull it in and push it against the inside of the window. And even though you are trying to keep the air in the main compartment coolish, the windows themselves need to be warmer than the cold air/rain/snow hitting them, so set the temperature to warm. Pulling in outside air has the drawback of sucking in truck or diesel exhaust, so pull back from that big rig or go around it. Set the fan to its highest setting if you are going in slow traffic.
Now you can go back to your sing-along or heavy gossip session.
You might also want to read How to not collide with a deer, Safe driving in rain and fog, Prepare for winter driving, wildlife jams
and/or Snow chain rentals.
Road trip advice and etiquette has ideas for limiting boredom, getting along on a road trip and some packing and safety tips.
photos below by Quang-Tuan Luong/terragalleria.com, all rights reserved.
Valley View (seen on the way out of Yosemite Valley) panorama spring and winter: