Yosemite National Park is wonderful in winter.  The biggest challenge for many visitors is how to get to the Park to experience the beauty and wonder.

The good news is that once you have arrived in Yosemite Valley, you can park your car or get off the bus and use the free Valley shuttle to get around.  If Badger Pass is open, you can ride the free bus up to this ski resort for snow sports or snow play.  Read other winter visit ideas on the Trip Reports of the Top Questions about Yosemite on the forum page.

But first you have to get there!  Here are some possible ways to get into Yosemite National Park for your winter visit. 


If you choose to drive, the All Weather Route Highway 140 via the Arch Rock Entrance is the best one.  It gradually ascends along the Merced River to Yosemite Valley and is least likely to have chain restrictions.  Hwy 120 via the Big Oak Flat Entrance ascends to about 6,500’ before descending to the Valley at 4,000’.  Highway 41 via the South Entrance ascends to 6,200’ at Chinquapin before descending to the Valley. You can check road conditions to Yosemite from Caltrans and road conditions inside Yosemite by calling 209-372-0200 and selecting '1' from each of the first two phone menus.

If you have your own car, buy chains at an entrance town.  (Oakdale – Hwy 120, Mariposa – Hwy 140, Oakhurst – Hwy 41.)  Check to see if they can be rented or returned if unused.  Find a store by searching for “Auto Parts” in the town of your choice.

If you’re renting a car, you might want to pay for an upgrade to an All Wheel Drive (AWD) or Four Wheel Drive (4WD) vehicle.  Note that SUV means Sport Utility Vehicle, it does not mean AWD or 4WD.  There are plenty of 2 Wheel Drive SUVs rented from local agencies. If you want AWD or 4WD, you must specify.   

Whatever type of car you are driving, you still need to carry chains in your vehicle.  You will probably be asked at the entrance station if you are carrying chains as they may be made mandatory on any park road at any time.  If you are driving an AWD or 4WD vehicle, you may be allowed to drive on the park roads when folks with 2WD must chain up.  Read the chain restriction descriptions here

In the past, some rental car companies allowed chains to be put on the vehicle. Unfortunately, this policy appears to have been changed. (If you find a company that allows chains, please post that information on the Yosemite National Park forum page.)  As a driver of a rental car, you need to know that you are not supposed to put chains on the tires.  As a visitor to the National Park, you must carry chains in your vehicle.  As a responsible driver, you have to figure out what to do.  Where to Rent or Buy Chains


Public Transportation

The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System YARTS is a great way to access the park and let someone else drive!  This is a bus route from Merced (intersection of Hwy 99 and Hwy 140) to Mariposa, El Portal, and on into Yosemite Valley.  If you have a car, you can park at one of their lots and ride the bus into the Valley.  Many folks like the Park & Ride lot in Mariposa. Check the YARTS website for details.

If a storm is expected during your visit, YARTS might be a great option.  Of course you must visit according to their time schedule, but it’s an easy way to get into Yosemite Valley when the roads are snowy.

Folks traveling from San Francisco or the Bay Area can book a ticket all the way to Yosemite Valley on Amtrak.  It’s a bus from San Francisco to the train station, then a train to Merced, and finally the YARTS bus to the National Park.    Public Transportation SF to Yosemite



Tour companies from San Francisco include Extranomical Tours, Incredible Adventures, Grayline, Golden Horizon Tours, and more.  Check the San Francisco page for details.  Some companies offer private tours while some are for larger groups. Visitors can take a long one day tour or plan to spend the night.

Visitors who are staying in Groveland can book a private tour with Yosemite Guide Service.  Transportation is included.


Plan ahead, and then enjoy your winter visit to Yosemite National Park.