Yosemite Entrances: Which One Should I Take?

Yosemite Nationa Park is vast, spanning across an area of 3,081 square miles. But only 5 Yosemite entrances are available to visitors. When planning your Yosemite trip, you must be strategic when choosing the entrance to the park. It will save you valuable time and even money.

Depending on your starting point and what you want to see, one entrance may better suit you than others, so which Yosemite entrance should you take?

If you are driving from Sequoia or Los Angeles, the best Yosemite entrance is South Entrance. The Big Oak Flat entrance is the best if you come from San Francisco. Tioga Pass entrance is your only choice if you drive from the East (Thoe, Las Vegas, Bishop).

Yosemite Entrances: Which One Should I Take?

When planning a winter trip to Yosemite, be aware that some areas of the park may be inaccessible due to seasonal closures. Make sure your vehicle can handle the tight turns and low tunnels inside the park before you go.

Considering the type of vehicle, you’re driving and the time of year, here’s a guide to help you decide which is the best entrance for your needs.

5 Yosemite National Park Entrances

The four Yosemite entrances on the Park’s western side are Hetch Hetchy, Big Oak Flat, Arch Rock, and South Entrances.

The Tioga Pass Entrance is on the eastern side of the Park.

Yosemite National Park Entrances map

1. Hetch Hetchy Entrance (Hwy. 120)

The Hetch Hetchy entrance is located the farthest north and is a good choice if you want to explore the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and other more peaceful areas of Yosemite National Park. Take Highway 120 and Evergreen Road. 

  • In winter, be sure to arrive at the gate during daylight hours as it closes at sunset.
  • There are no visitor centers or full-service campgrounds in these parts, but the hiking trails are spectacular and have the longest hiking season in the park.
  • Accessibility for RVs and trailers: Not recommended for RVs – use the Big Flat Oak or Arch Rock entrance. The single vehicle’s maximum length is 25 ft, with a maximum width of 8ft.
  • Worth visiting: The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. It is the source of drinking water and hydroelectric power for 2.4 million San Francisco residents. Swimming and boating are prohibited in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, but fishing is allowed. 

The northern area of the Yosemite National park has a lower elevation (3,800ft; 1150m) than other areas, which results in an extended hiking season from early spring through fall. 

The area is home to exceptional specimens like the incense-cedar and California black oak and is the natural habitat of the western mastiff, the largest North American bat.

Trails to Explore From Hetch Hetchy Entrance

Please check my detailed guide here to download the printable map for Hetch Hetchy Reservoir trails.

  • Wapama Falls (5miles 8km) 2 hours – Moderate
  • The Lookout Point Trail (2miles 3.2km) – Easy
  • The Poopenaut Trail (3miles 4.8km) 2 hours – Moderate

Most Notable Vistas Accessible From Hetch Hetchy Entrance

The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir offers spectacular views from different spots. Sometimes it feels like you are in the Yosemite Vally filled with water.

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2. Big Oak Flat Entrance (Hwy. 120)

Bay Area residents enjoy the undemanding route to Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance (although the Arch Rock entrance lies just southeast of Big Oak Flat). Take I-580 east to I-205, then Highway 120 east via Manteca, California. It will take roughly 45 minutes to get to Yosemite Valley from here. 

  • Big Oak Flat entrance is open year-round, but you may need chains to drive safely during the winter. 
  • The closest gas station is in Groveland, 24 miles outside of Yosemite National Park.
  • Accessibility for RVs and trailers: Big Oak Flat Road’s tunnel has a height restriction of 13 ft 8 inches to get into the valley and 10 ft 3 inches to get out. The maximum single vehicle length is 45 ft.
  • Worth visiting: Groveland is famous for the oldest operating saloon in California, the Iron Door Saloon, and the live music at different venues during summers. 

Trails to Explore From Big Oak Flat Road

  • Lukens Lake (4.6 miles 7.5km) 3-4 hours – Moderate
  • Harden Lake (5.8 miles 9.3 km) 3-4 hours – Moderate
  • May Lake (2.4 miles 4 km) 2 hours – Moderate
  • North Dome (10.4 miles 17 km) 6-8 hours – Strenuous

Most Notable Vistas Accessible From Big Oak Flat Road

Big Oak Flat Entrance (Hwy. 120)
Big Oak Flat Road Half Dome Overlook

3. Arch Rock Entrance (Hwy. 140)

Arch Rock entrance is an alternate route to Big Oak Flat Entrance for visitors coming from the bay area. When driving from San Franciso, I always use the Big Oak Flat Entrance; I find it less crowded and takes me faster to the park. But, the Arch Rock Entrance is a good option as well.

Take the I-580 east to I-205, then hop onto Highway 140 east. It will take around 25 minutes to get to Yosemite Valley.

  • Arch Rock Entrance is open year-round, but you may need chains to drive safely during the winter. 
  • The closest gas station is in the small town of El Portal. 
  • Accessibility for RVs and trailers: The tunnel on the El Portal road has a height restriction of 12 feet 10 inches and a max single vehicle length of 45 feet.

Most Notable Vistas Accessible From Arch Rock Entrance

It is only 8 miles or 15 min to get from the Arch Rock Entrance to the Yosemite Vally, and you won’t find famous viewpoints there. But it means that you have the shortest drive to the famous Yosemite Valley landmarks when you take Arch Rock Entrance.

Yosemite Entrances: Which One Should I Take? 2
Valley View

4. South Entrance (Hwy. 41)

The South Entrance is most convenient for San Diego or Los Angeles visitors. Allow for a full day’s journey (San Diego is 8 hours away, and Los Angeles is 6 hours away. 

See also: Best National Park Scratch Off Maps

Take highway 41 north (Fresno) to get to the South Entrance. It will take around 1 hour to get to Yosemite Valley from here.

  • The gate is open year-round, but the main visitor center, Wawona, is only available during the summer months. You may need chains to drive safely during the winter. 
  • The closest gas station is at Fish Camp, just outside the park. 
  • Accessibility for RVs and trailers: The maximum single vehicle length is 45 ft. When driving to Yosemite Valley from the Wawona center, the tunnel has a max height of 10 feet 2 inches. The max height from Wawona to the valley is 13 feet 6 inches.

Trails to Explore From South Entrance

  • Wawona Meadow Loop (3.5 miles 5.6km) 2 hours – Easy
  • Swinging Bridge Loop (4.8 km 7.6 km) 2 hours – Easy
  • Big Trees Loop Trail (0.3 miles 0.5 km) 1 hour – Easy
  • Multiple trails at Glacier Point.

Most Notable Vistas Accessible From South Entrance

When you use the South Entrance to Yosemite, you can access the following areas: Wawona, Mariposa Grove, Glacier Point, and the Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Entrances: Which One Should I Take? 3
Tunnel View
Yosemite Entrances: Which One Should I Take? 4
Glacier Point

5. Tioga Pass Entrance (Hwy. 120)

Tioga Pass is the only entrance on the eastern side of the Park. It is the closest entrance for visitors from Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, and Death Valley (around 4 hours). Take US 395 to Lee Vinning, then hop on Highway 120 west into Yosemite National Park. Getting to Yosemite Valley from here will take about 1 hour and 45 minutes. 

  • The Tioga pass entrance is closed from November to May, and most facilities along the Tioga road also close during wintertime. You should note that cell phone service can be spotty along this route. 
  • The closest gas station is Lee Vining.
  • Accessibility for RVs and trailers: Tioga pass is steep and winding and can be very dangerous for larger vehicles during bad weather. 
  • There are no height restrictions.

Trails to Explore From Tioga Pass

  • Tuolumne Meadows (1.5 miles 2.4km) 1 hour – Easy
  • Elizabeth Lake (4.8 km 7.6 km) 4-5 hours – Moderate
  • Mono Pass (8 miles 13 km) 4-6 hours – Moderate
  • Cathedral Lakes (7 miles 11 km) 4-6 hours – Moderate

Most Notable Vistas Accessible From Tioga Pass

Yosemite Entrances: Which One Should I Take? 5
Tuolumne Meadows

Yosemite National Park Entrance Fees

The entrance fee payable at Yosemite entrances varies according to the type of vehicle and the length of your visit.

The following costs are per vehicle, not per person:

  • Non-commercial car, pickup truck, RV, or van with 15 or fewer passenger seats – $35.00 and is valid for seven days.
  • Motorcycle – $30.00 and is good for seven days
  • People on foot, bicycle, or horse – $20.00 is valid for seven days. 

The entrance for a non-commercial bus or van with more than 15 passenger seats is $20.00 per person and is valid for seven days. Children 15 years and younger enter for free. 

Route Suggestions for Yosemite Entrances

From San Francisco to Yosemite

If you’re coming from San Francisco, you may encounter considerable traffic during weekends, so try to get an early morning start. The closest entrance to San Francisco is the Big Oak Flat via Highway 120. The trip duration is at least four hours, and the distance between Big Oak Flat and San Francisco is 170 miles. Remember to add some extra time for driving to your destination in the park. The trip to Yosemite Valley will take around 45 minutes from the Big Oak Flat entrance.

From Los Angeles to Yosemite

If you’re coming from Los Angeles, the closest entrance is the South entrance via Highway 41. The gate is open all year round. The trip to Yosemite Valley takes around one hour from the South entrance.

From Las Vegas to Yosemite

Seasonal rules will determine your route if you’re coming from Las Vegas. The closest entrance is the Tioga Pass, but it is usually closed between October and May. During other months we suggest you use the SR120. If the pass is closed, it’s an eight-hour drive around the Sierra Nevada mountains through central California.

Yosemite Entrances | Final Thoughts

Yosemite National Park is a must-see destination for any traveler and is perfect for spending a few days (or more!). However, the drive to get there can be pretty tiring. So, make sure to map out your route in advance and know the essential details of each of the entrances to Yosemite before you go.

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by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.

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