Naturalist John Muir said that Yosemite Valley was “By far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” The valley is just one part of the 1,200 square miles of protected wilderness that makes up Yosemite National Park. Visitors can explore much of the park by driving along one of its six main roads, although winter closures and summer traffic can limit access.
Fuel and Navigation in the Park
Visitors to Yosemite are cautioned to avoid using GPS to navigate the park. Because the park spreads is so large and doesn’t have any addresses for GPS systems to pinpoint, directions often are incorrect. Rely on park maps, available in park brochures or online. Gas is not available in Yosemite Valley, but visitors can fuel up at Crane Flat, El Portal and Wawona. Vehicle restrictions apply on many of the roads in Yosemite National Park.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite
Some of the best views of the park can be accessed by car. The most popular scenic drive is along Tioga Road. Visitors enjoy lakes, waterfalls, giant sequoia trees and panoramic views along the 39-mile stretch between Crane Flat and Tioga Pass. The drive to Glacier Point also is very popular. The trip typically takes one hour, but during busy summer months, traffic delays can last up to two hours. The parking lot at Glacier Point often fills up on holiday-weekend mornings.
Winter Chain Requirements
During winter months, weather conditions quickly change in Yosemite. Once snowy weather begins, tire-chain requirements often occur in the park. Federal law requires you carry snow chains with you in any area that has a sign stating “Chains Required.” The law applies even if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and a fine of up to $5,000 may apply. In addition, icy roads are extremely hazardous and driving without chains puts you at risk for an accident. The speed limit in chain control areas is 25 mph.
Winter Road Closures
Winter is a great time to visit Yosemite, with fewer crowds and plenty of outdoor activities. However, some of the park is inaccessible by car during winter months. From October to May, Tioga Road and Mariposa Grove Road are closed completely. Visitors miss the high country when Tioga Road is closed, and the eastern entrance at Lee Vining Canyon is shut down. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is reached via Mariposa Grove Road. Although the road is closed, visitors may travel the road on foot or via snowshoes or cross-country skis. It’s 2 miles from the gate to the grove. Snow removal on Glacier Point Road is maintained for the first 5 miles so visitors may access Badger Pass Ski Area. Beyond Badger Pass, snow is groomed for cross-country skiers.