SNOW CHAIN INFORMATION FOR YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK :
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.