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Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite

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Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite


We visited Yosemite Nat'l Park March 23rd to 26th, 2009 and stayed in a cabin in a village called Yosemite West. Winter is a terrific time to visit Yosemite, due to substantially less crowds. Of course, the drawback is that some areas will be closed for the season (eg, in winter, the final 2-mile leg of the road to the giant Sequoias in the Mariposa Grove is gated, and you have to hike uphill 2 miles over an icy/snowy road to see the huge trees).

I was very concerned about being able to obtain tire chains, since the official Yosemite website tells of serious financial consequences ($5,000 fine !) for not carrying and/or not using snow chains where required.


We flew into Reno, rented a 4-wheel drive Jeep, visited Lake Tahoe, then the Monterey Bay, then Yosemite. On March 21st while we were in a warmer climate on the Monterey Bay, the Yosemite area received TWO FEET of snow. When we arrived at Yosemite two days later, there were still huge snowdrifts from the snowstorm, but generally, the roads had been cleared. HOWEVER, chain restriction signs were still in place. On most of the roads, putting chains on your vehicle was not required, BUT you had to CARRY chains in your vehicle at all times.

Since we were in a rental car, there was no way to tell ahead of time what size the vehicle’s tires would be. Otherwise, I could have bought a pair of snow cables online at a reasonable cost from Kragen / O’Reilly Auto Parts or Autozone in advance.

Through a lot of online lookups and dozens of phone calls, I thought it might be a good idea to pass along what I learned to keep you from having to agonize over meeting this requirement.

SIZING : When you get your vehicle, look at the sidewall on the tire and write down the size. You should see something like “P235/65R 17” or “P175/60R 15” (or any of several combinations of three numbers ….. the first number is the width of the tire, the second number is the height of the tire, and the third number is the diameter of the wheel). The chains/cables you rent or buy must be sized to correspond to the number on the tire.

1. The small town of Mariposa (where hwy 140 and 49 intersect), has at least two ways you can obtain chains (snow cables are lighter and take up less room).

A. The NAPA Auto Parts store in Mariposa

will ‘rent’ you a new set of snow cables,

and they carry a lot of different sizes.

They charge your credit card the full $130

cost and hand you a pair of BRAND NEW snow

cables in a plastic carrying case. If you

do NOT have to use them, you can return them

to the store at any time, and they will

refund all but $40 as a rental fee. If you

actually have to use the snow cables, they

are yours, and NAPA will not take them

back. Since I suspected that we would not

need chains in late March, I used NAPA.

Sure enough, that was the case, so the snow

chain/cable requirement was met at minimal

cost ($40). Be sure to call ahead to see

if they have snow cables that will fit your

tires. (have the tire size numbers handy

when you call).

The NAPA store is located behind some

buildings at the corner of Coakley and hwy

140. Turn on Coakley and drive about 250


B. A convenience store / gas station (just a

couple of buildings up the hill from NAPA in

Mariposa called “Stage Stop Mini Mart” has a

sign out front that says they rent snow

chains. I didn’t stop and inquire, but the

clerk in the NAPA store told me she thought

they rented by the DAY (unlike NAPA) and

that the cost was $50 per day. Call and ask

for actual pricing, because this was

hearsay. The actually price may be cheaper

...... Check ahead of time.

If you are traveling to Yosemite when the

chances of new snow are high, you might be

better off renting. Stage Stop actually

rents chains that have already been used.

Hence, if you actually have to use the

chains, all you pay is the rental fee. If

you go through the NAPA store and have to

use the pair of chains, you are charged the

full $130. The Stage Stop Mini Mart is

located directly on hwy 140.

C. There is a small town called Wawona in the far

south end of Yosemite National Park. All we

saw was a gas station, a hotel, and a golf

course. We stopped for gas, I noticed they had

snow cables, so I inquired about their prices.

Generally, they sell them for about $140, and

once you buy them, you can’t return them (even

unused). No, they are not 'gouging'. This

town is FAR away from the beaten path, and they

sell to people who have not done their homework

before visiting Yosemite. Hey, they have

probably saved a vacation for many folks.

If you have not done any advanced planning for obtaining snow chains (see below), using A, B, or C method above (although pricey) will get you

what you need to be ‘legal’ in Yosemite when snow is present.

2. Assuming you are renting a vehicle at an airport, then driving to Yosemite a couple of days later, you might have the option of calling a nearby Kragen Auto Parts or Autozone and getting them to order you a set of snow cables from their warehouse. Generally, this takes from one day to one week depending on the particular store you call. Again, you will need to have your tire size (see above) when you call. Buying Kragen’s snow cables actually would have been cheaper than renting from the NAPA in Mariposa in my case, but I waited too long to call Kragen and didn’t have the option, because the snow cables had to be ordered from the warehouse. The snow cables are cheap through Kragen (and probably Autozone as well) ….. priced at $34.99 online, plus tax and shipping at the time of this writing. This is the best method overall as far as I am concerned. Not only is it less expensive, you also don’t have to worry if you actually have to use the snow chains. As far as I know, you cannot return the chains to Kragen or Autozone whether used or unused, but when the purchase price is better than doing a rental, who cares?

Example : shop.oreillyauto.com/ProductList.aspx…

3. If you are renting a vehicle at an airport, then immediately driving to Yosemite, you might be able to call the auto rental place (the local one you will be renting from, not the nationwide reservation desk) ahead of time and see what the tire size will be for the vehicle you are renting, then order from Kragen for pickup at a store along the way. HOWEVER, good luck ! Most rental car places have the option of giving you whatever best fits your rental reservations, and that may be one of several different vehicles, each with different tire sizes.

4. A company with stores in a LOT of California and Nevada towns is Les Schwab Tires. As of the time of this writing (March, 2009), their snow chain policy is that they will fully refund your purchase price if you bring back the chains UNUSED. Therefore, this may be a way to get chains/cables for FREE if you make a few phone calls and find a store along your route that carries the size you need. Please be sure to ask the store specifically about their return policy . Also keep in mind …. If you have to use the chains, you cannot return them.

5. If you are driving your own vehicle to Yosemite, the best (and cheapest)method is to simply buy a set of snow cables from an auto parts store ahead of time and keep them. See #2 above.

We approached Yosemite from Merced, and there may be some additional options for obtaining snow chains/cables along the way if your route takes you through Modesto or another city. At least one Trip Advisor post about snow chains says that chain rental is becoming a cottage industry around the approaches to Yosemite. However, a little homework ahead of time on your part will save you time, hassle and a lot of worry, so plan ahead. I hope this information is helpful.

Saint Germain...
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1. Re: Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite

Good morning CMGS, very detailed thank you for that. For folks entering from 120 and Groveland, there are at least 6 places you can get chains and they run from $40 for the most common sizes to over $100 for the fancier stuff.

Mariposa visitors center on 140 will also rent the chains and sounds like a good deal, but like GMGS said, the best way to save on this potential expense is to plan ahead.

Word on the street is that Fox and Dollar car rentals allow chains on their rental cars and will rent chains to you when you pick your car up.

Southern California
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2. Re: Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite

For any locals who read this post, would you advise people to purchase (or hire) tire chains to carry for the upcoming Easter weekend? We will be entering from the Oak Flat entrance and staying at Yosemite View Lodge. Is it still necessary to carry snow chains at this time? There appear to be no restrictions on the 140 at the moment, according to the recorded message on 2093720200 9 (press 1 then 1).

Fresno, CA
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3. Re: Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite

There are no restrictions now, but there are storms coming in this week. They predict rain, and no snow, but I've seen that before and had snow.

They require you to carry chains due to the unpredictability of the weather. I had to show my chains before when entering, but that's been a while. Personally, I error on the side of caution, but that's me.

Long Barn...
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4. Re: Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite

Wow- $140 for tire chains. Ouch. Thanks for the long detailed information. I have a very big 4 WD truck with big snow tires, and I was turned away one time at the entrance to Yosemite because I did not have chains in my possession. I learned my lesson on that one. The National Park Service is different from California Transportation Department.

I believe you can buy tire chains on line for about $30, but that certainly does not help those that fly in and rent a car with unknown tire size. I guess that $40 "rental" fee is not bad.

Now for our Southern California visitor this weekend. The odds are you will have no trouble with chain issues, especially if you are coming in on Hwy 140, but weather in the mountains if very unpredictable, and there is a weather system in the area.

I was told that you can buy chains at Walmart, and if not used return them for a full refund. If you think there is any chance you might need chains again, it might be best to go ahead and purchase them. You don't want to be turned away at the entrance gate, do you?

upstate, NY
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5. Re: Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite

This information was exactly what I was searching for tonight! We're flying NY to San Fran for a Yosemite wedding mid-October, so there's a minimal chance we'll need them. I can't thank you enough cmgs! Your details are precise & more useful than any other info I've found online yet.

Fresno, CA
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6. Re: Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite

You won't need them. Right now we have a record setting heat wave in the valley (San Joaquin) of over 100 degrees. Mid October will be nice weather, but no snow.

Mission Viejo...
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7. Re: Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite

muffya- You're probably correct for people coming from the Fresno side. There's a current thread about Tioga Pass and I wouldn't bet the road will be snow-free after October. I'm sure you will agree it depends what direction someone is entering Yosemite.

New York City, New...
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8. Re: Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite

I will be coming to Yosemite next week from Lake Tahoe (Oct 1st.) I don't have the chains. I assume that's okay?

Uden, The...
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9. Re: Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite

No worries for carrying chains. Expecting sunny days and 68F in Lee Vining oct. 1

Fresno, CA
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10. Re: Snow Chains/Cables (tire chains) Requirement in Yosemite

When the high pressure is strong here in Fresno area, there is no snow in the valley. High temps here mean a huge high pressure system that extends over the mountains. Sometimes thunderstorms will happen, but when its hot here, there is no snow over tioga.

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