At that time of year the Tioga Pass entrance of Yosemite is closed. So getting from Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite would require a very long detour either by way of Lake Tahoe, por else around the southern end of the Sierra Nevada, a drive which will take up a long day. I would say, choose either Mammoth or Yosemite; don't try to do both on a winter trip. A lot of winter mountain driving would be required to complete this.Edited: 03 September 2018, 04:23
Can’t be done. Rental car companies do not allow chains on their cars, and chains are required at that time of year ( there are check points).
Tioga Pass is closed in the winter, making for a long and treacherous drive. The children will be miserable.
How old are the children? 7 and under require car seats.
This would be a very rushed trip in summer, when you could take the direct (and scenic) routes. In winter, it's basically impossible. Even if you decided to hope you won't need chains, or to risk using them on a rental, you will likely encounter detours at most, and slowed down driving at best. Don't forget the very short daylight hours.
Six nights gives you a bare full day in each place. Rather than all that rushing, I'd pick two. Either Mammoth and Tahoe, or Yosemite and Tahoe. (You can't do Mammoth and Yosemite in December, as the eastern entrance to Yosemite is closed.)
If you stick with all three, you would need to go LA to Mammoth to Tahoe to Yosemite.
Thank you very much for the information! I will let my hubby know!
1) It all depends on the weather, which is impossible to predict. ***IF*** you were able to get a 4WD with snow tread tires (I have no idea if it's even possible to guarantee any of that), then you'd be ok up to R2; if conditions go to R3, you'd still need chains. Someone should be familiar with how likely this is in late December. www.dot.ca.gov/cttravel/chain-controls.html
2) Yes, you can get from LA to Mammoth in a single day. It's about 5-6 hours of driving, depending on your exact starting point. And there are some things to see along the way, if you want some short stops.
Are you wanting a snow play/ski experience? Because Mammoth and Lake Tahoe will be good options. You'll need to be flexible, if a winter storm comes plan on staying put or getting out before it arrives. Have you found a car rental agency that guarantees a 4wd? (Many SUVs are just 2wd). If so, can you please share which agency?
If you are looking for sightseeing type places, then Yosemite and Hwy 49/Gold Rush area might be better for you.
This is a topic that comes up all the time on the Sequoia and Yosemite forums.
Yes, there are SUV's that are 4WD with M+S tires. Knowledgeable posters state that many rentals have M+S tires (I don't know how you verify them in advance). Sixt rentals claims that half their fleet is 4WD with M+S tires and others say that Reno has many of these (and SF has some, but not many).
This configuration is fine for Level 1 chain controls (extremely likely in Mammoth at Christmas). Yes, there are checkpoints. You do not need chains on a rental car that is AWD or 4WD with mountain/snow tires (which a 4WD SUV will have). But, if it goes to Level 2, you will need chains on any vehicle. My advice would be not to drive anywhere that you need Level 2. It's impossible to predict what will actually be needed, so you would need a plan B (staying where ever you were before you go to the checkpoint).
Yosemite you can get to through El Portal entrance with either no chains needed or Level 1, 90% of the year. But not Mammoth. You can also use the free YARTS bus from El Portal to get into the park if it goes to Level 1 and you're driving a regular rental.
Again, sixt rental in LA says they have the largest number. Be sure to inspect the car to make sure it has the right tires.
You'll need 3 carseats. You will still have to purchase and carry chains and be prepared to use them if you go into Yosemite. Snow can occur at any time.
California has 3 levels of chain controls www.dot.ca.gov/cttravel/chain-controls.html 4WD/AWD with MS tires are exempt from all except R3 (it's possible that the road may be closed in this condition) but you still need to carry chains and may be asked to show them at the entry gates to Yosemite. You're more likely to encounter snow at Mammoth or Tahoe than Yosemite Valley. I would take Hwy 140, the lowest elevation route, into the valley. If you venture to Tahoe, the Nevada side has two levels of chain controls https://www.nevadadot.com/safety/safe-winter… More importantly do you have any experience driving in snow/ice?