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Explore the awe-inspiring world of scenic drives in Yosemite National Park. Immerse yourself in the unparalleled beauty of ancient sequoia groves, cascading waterfalls, and breathtaking cliffs as you embark on these picturesque routes.
From the iconic Tunnel View to the serene Tioga Road, each drive promises an unforgettable experience, unveiling the grandeur of nature’s masterpiece at every turn. So fasten your seatbelt, roll down your windows, and let the captivating landscapes of Yosemite National Park take your breath away.
- 1. Yosemite National Park At-A-Glance
- 2. 5 Amazing Scenic Drives in Yosemite National Park
- 2.1. Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive
- 2.1.1. Map of Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive with 13 Best Stops Along the Way
- 2.1.2. Tips for Navigating the Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive
- 2.1.3. 13 Best Stops on Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive
- 2.2. Tioga Road Scenic Drive
- 2.2.1. Map of Tioga Road Scenic Drive with 15 Best Stops
- 2.2.2. Tips for Navigating Tioga Road Scenic Drive
- 2.2.3. 15 Best Stops on Tioga Road Scenic Drive
- 2.3. Glacier Point Road Scenic Drive
- 2.3.1. Map of Glacier Point Road Scenic Drive with 5 Best Stops
- 2.3.2. Tips for Navigating Glacier Point Road Scenic Drive
- 2.3.3. 5 Best Stops on Glacier Point Road Scenic Drive
- 2.4. Wawona Road Scenic Drive
- 2.4.1. Map of Wawona Road Scenic Drive with 9 Best Stops
- 2.4.2. Tips for Navigating Wawona Road Scenic Drive
- 2.4.3. 9 Best Stops on Wawona Road Scenic Drive
- 2.5. Hetch Hetchy Road Scenic Drive
5 Amazing Scenic Drives in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive
Map of Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive with 13 Best Stops Along the Way
Tips for Navigating the Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive
Nestled within the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Yosemite Valley is a natural wonderland that showcases some of the park’s most iconic landmarks.
Let’s delve into the essential details to ensure you make the most of your Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive adventure:
- Location: Yosemite Valley is situated in the western part of Yosemite National Park, accessible from various park entrances.
- How to Get There: The main roads leading to the valley are Highway 41 (Wawona Road) from the South Entrance and Highway 140 (El Portal Road) from the Arch Rock Entrance. Alternatively, if you’re entering from the Big Oak Flat Entrance, take Highway 120 (Big Oak Flat Road). During peak seasons, park shuttles are available and provide a convenient and eco-friendly way to explore the valley.
- Length of Scenic Drive: The Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive spans approximately 13 miles (21 kilometers), making it a relatively short and leisurely drive. However, you’ll want to allocate sufficient time to stop at various viewpoints, take short hikes, and soak in the breathtaking vistas.
- Starting Point: The drive typically commences from Yosemite Village, located near the center of Yosemite Valley. Here, you’ll find visitor services, including the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, where you can gather information about current conditions and obtain maps.
- End Point: The Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive forms a loop, bringing you back to Yosemite Village, where your journey began.
- Parking: Various parking lots are available throughout the valley. However, due to the park’s popularity, finding parking during peak seasons can be challenging. Arriving early in the day is recommended to secure a parking spot at popular trailheads and viewpoints.
- Other Important Details: Keep in mind that the Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive offers numerous opportunities to witness iconic landmarks such as El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome. Plan to stop at designated pullouts and viewpoints for the best photo opportunities and to take in the awe-inspiring vistas. Additionally, consider exploring some of the valley’s famous hiking trails, such as the Yosemite Falls Trail or the Mist Trail leading to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.
13 Best Stops on Yosemite Valley Scenic Drive
- Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
The Visitor Center is an ideal starting point for exploring Yosemite Valley. You will find informative exhibits and interactive displays where you can learn about the park’s diverse ecosystem, geology, and rich cultural history.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Visitor Center is open year-round and offers free daily ranger-led programs, including nature walks and talks, providing deeper insights into Yosemite’s natural and cultural heritage.
- Cook’s Meadow
Just a short stroll from the Visitor Center, Cook’s Meadow will treat you to awe-inspiring vistas of Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest waterfall. With the flowing Merced River and lush greenery, this serene meadow provides a picturesque setting for memorable moments.
GOOD TO KNOW: Cook’s Meadow is named after James Mason Hutchings’ wife, Elvira Cook, who explored and advocated for Yosemite’s protection in the 1850s.
- Lower Yosemite Fall
Take a gentle, family-friendly hike to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall, where you will feel the thundering force of the waterfall. During the spring and early summer, when the snowmelt is abundant, the falls display their most powerful and majestic cascades.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Yosemite Fall
- Horsetail Fall View
In late February, if weather conditions align, you might witness the breathtaking “Firefall” phenomenon at Horsetail Fall. As the setting sun illuminates the waterfall, it appears as if molten lava is flowing down the cliff, creating a rare and magical spectacle.
- El Capitan Meadow
The meadow offers a perfect setting to admire the magnificence of the iconic granite monolith, El Capitan which dominates the landscape. It will captivate you with its sheer size!
GOOD TO KNOW: El Capitan is one of the most famous climbing destinations in the world, attracting climbers seeking to conquer its challenging routes.
PRO TIP: Bring binoculars or a camera with a good zoom to get a closer look at climbers on El Capitan.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / El Capitan Meadow
- Yosemite Valley View
This overlook offers a breathtaking panorama of Yosemite Valley, with El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome creating an unparalleled scene. During sunrise and sunset, the valley glows with warm hues, creating an amazing visual experience.
GOOD TO KNOW: Ansel Adams, the renowned photographer, captured his iconic “Clearing Winter Storm” image from this viewpoint in 1940.
- Tunnel View
One of the most famous and most photographed viewpoints in the world, Tunnel View offers an astounding vista of the valley’s iconic landmarks. Framed by towering cliffs, the scene includes El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, and the Merced River winding through the valley.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Tunnel View was named after the Wawona Tunnel, which leads through the mountainside and emerges into this breathtaking panorama.
- Bridalveil Falls View
Take a moment to witness the graceful Bridalveil Fall from this distinct viewpoint, revealing a different angle of the waterfall as it plunges 620 feet down into the valley.
PRO TIP: Take a few minutes and wait for a rainbow! The mist created by Bridalveil Fall is responsible for the formation of beautiful rainbows, adding to the charm of this stunning landmark.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Cathedral Spires
- Cathedral Beach
Nestled along the Merced River, Cathedral Beach provides a serene and idyllic atmosphere. Enjoy the famous views of Cathedral Rocks reflecting in the Merced River.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Cathedral Spires
- Sentinel Fall View
A lesser-known yet captivating viewpoint, Sentinel Fall View offers a glimpse of the picturesque Sentinel Fall as it cascades down from Glacier Point.
GOOD TO KNOW: Sentinel Fall is one of Yosemite’s tallest waterfalls, measuring around 2,000 feet in total drop.
- Swinging Bridge
Swinging Bridge, though not as thrilling as the name suggests, provides a pleasant pedestrian crossing over the Merced River.
- Yosemite Valley Chapel
The historic Yosemite Valley Chapel, built in 1879, exudes charm and tranquility. This small chapel offers a peaceful retreat and continues to host religious services and weddings.
GOOD TO KNOW: The chapel’s design and construction were led by Galen Clark, one of the early advocates for the preservation of Yosemite.
PRO TIP: Attend Sunday services to experience the chapel’s serene ambiance.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Cathedral Spires
- Sentinel Bridge
As one of the prime photography spots in Yosemite, Sentinel Bridge offers postcard-worthy reflections of Half Dome and Sentinel Rock in the Merced River.
GOOD TO KNOW: The bridge provides access to Southside Drive and is a popular spot for capturing sunrise and sunset images of Yosemite’s landmarks.
Tioga Road Scenic Drive
Map of Tioga Road Scenic Drive with 15 Best Stops
Tips for Navigating Tioga Road Scenic Drive
The Tioga Road Scenic Drive is a mesmerizing journey through the high country, that will captivate you with some of the most remarkable landscapes in the Sierra Nevada. This iconic route traverses rugged mountains, glacial lakes, pristine meadows, and ancient sequoia groves, making it a must-do adventure for anyone visiting Yosemite National Park.
- Location: Tioga Road, also known as Highway 120, spans across the heart of Yosemite National Park.
- How to Get There: To access the Tioga Road Scenic Drive, you can enter Yosemite National Park through the Big Oak Flat Entrance located on Highway 120 west of Yosemite Valley or the Tioga Pass Entrance located on Highway 120 east of Yosemite Valley.
- Length: The Tioga Road Scenic Drive covers approximately 46 miles through the heart of Yosemite National Park. The drive can take anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours, depending on the number of stops and exploration activities along the way.
- Start and End Points: The drive can be started from either the Big Oak Flat Entrance or the Tioga Pass Entrance. If you’re coming from San Francisco or the western part of California, the Big Oak Flat Entrance is the starting point. For those arriving from the eastern side, including the Eastern Sierra region, the Tioga Pass Entrance serves as the starting point.
- Parking: Parking is available at various points along the Tioga Road Scenic Drive, including popular stops like Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, Olmsted Point, and more. However, during peak seasons, parking can fill up quickly, so arriving early in the day is advisable to secure a spot. Be prepared to park in designated lots and walk to the scenic viewpoints or trailheads.
- Other Important Details:
- Seasonal Closure: Due to heavy snowfall, Tioga Road is typically closed in the winter months, usually from late fall until late spring or early summer. The opening and closing dates vary each year, depending on snow conditions. It’s essential to check the park’s website or contact the National Park Service for current road status before planning your visit.
- Gas and Services: There are no gas stations along Tioga Road, so it’s crucial to fill up your gas tank before embarking on the drive. Restrooms are available at Tuolumne Meadows and Olmsted Point.
- Altitude: The drive reaches elevations exceeding 9,000 feet, so be aware of the potential effects of high altitude. Stay hydrated and be mindful of any altitude-related symptoms, especially if you plan to engage in physical activities.
15 Best Stops on Tioga Road Scenic Drive
- Merced Grove
Merced Grove is a serene grove of giant sequoia trees, accessible via a moderate hike through a peaceful forest.
- Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias
This grove features impressive giant sequoia trees, including the “Dead Giant,” which visitors can walk through.
GOOD TO KNOW: The hike to Tuolumne Grove involves a steep descent on the way to the trees and a steep ascent on the return journey, so be prepared for an uphill climb on the way back.
PRO TIP: Bring a flashlight to explore the inside of the “Dead Giant” and experience the unique wonder of standing within a fallen sequoia.
- Lukens Lake
A hidden gem, Lukens Lake offers a serene setting with beautiful reflections of the surrounding forest in the calm waters.
- Olmsted Point
A stunning viewpoint offering panoramic vistas of Tenaya Canyon, Clouds Rest, and Half Dome.
PRO TIP: Bring a pair of binoculars or a camera with a good zoom to better observe the climbers.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Olmsted Point
- Tenaya Lake
A pristine glacial lake nestled amidst granite peaks and lush meadows. This is a popular spot for kayaking or fishing.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Tenaya Lake
- Tuolumne Meadows
A high-elevation, subalpine meadow surrounded by the Cathedral Range, Tuolumne Meadows will amaze you with its lush greenery and meandering Tuolumne River.
- Soda Springs and Parsons Memorial Lodge
Soda Springs is a natural carbonated spring, and Parsons Memorial Lodge is a historic stone building with beautiful architecture.
PRO TIP: Attend ranger-led programs and talks at Parsons Memorial Lodge to deepen your understanding of Yosemite’s unique features.
- Lembert Dome
A short hike from the parking area leads to an elevated viewpoint with breathtaking views of Tuolumne Meadows and the iconic Lembert Dome.
- Dana Meadows
Dana Meadows showcases picturesque alpine scenery with meandering streams and wildflower-filled meadows.
- Tioga Pass:
At an elevation of 9,943 feet, Tioga Pass is the highest highway pass in California, offering stunning views of the surrounding peaks.
- Tioga Lake
A serene alpine lake nestled in the shadow of rugged mountain peaks, Tioga Lake offers a peaceful respite.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Tioga Lake
- Nunatak Nature Trail
This short interpretive trail showcases the unique geology and plant life of the area, with informative signs along the route.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Nunatak Nature Trail is wheelchair-accessible, making it a welcoming option for visitors of all abilities.
- Ellery Lake
Ellery Lake is a stunning alpine lake with crystal-clear waters and a picturesque backdrop of rugged mountains.
- Lee Vining and Whoa Nellie Deli
Lee Vining is a small town near the eastern entrance of Yosemite, offering dining and other services. The Whoa Nellie Deli, located inside the Mobil Gas Station, is a popular spot for delicious meals.
PRO TIP: Try the renowned fish tacos and enjoy the stunning views of Mono Lake from the outdoor patio.
- Mono Lake
Mono Lake is a surreal and ecologically significant saltwater lake with striking tufa towers rising from its surface.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Mono Lake
Glacier Point Road Scenic Drive
Map of Glacier Point Road Scenic Drive with 5 Best Stops
Tips for Navigating Glacier Point Road Scenic Drive
This spectacular route will lead you to Glacier Point, an elevated viewpoint offering panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the High Sierra.
- Location: Glacier Point Road is located in Yosemite National Park. The road starts near the southern entrance of Yosemite Valley and winds its way up to Glacier Point, an elevation gain of approximately 3,200 feet.
- How to Get There: To access the Glacier Point Road Scenic Drive, start at Wawona Road.
- Length: The Glacier Point Road Scenic Drive is about 16 miles long, one way. The drive typically takes around 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on traffic and the number of stops along the way.
- Other Important Details:
- Seasonal Closure: Glacier Point Road is typically closed during the winter months due to heavy snowfall. The opening dates vary each year, depending on snow conditions. It’s essential to check the park’s website or contact the National Park Service for current road status before planning your visit.
5 Best Stops on Glacier Point Road Scenic Drive
- McGurk Meadow
A peaceful meadow area where you can enjoy a leisurely stroll and observe the flora and fauna. The meadow is especially beautiful during spring and early summer when wildflowers are in bloom.
- Taft Point Trail
Traft Point Trail is a short hike about 2.2 miles roundtrip. Highlights: Thrilling cliff-edge viewpoint with awe-inspiring views of Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall.
GOOD TO KNOW: Fissures in the granite create dramatic “Fissures of Wawona” formations near the edge.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Taft Point
- Sentinel Dome Trail
Sentinel Dome Trail is a short hike approximately 2.2 miles roundtrip offering a stunning 360-degree view of Yosemite Valley, including iconic landmarks like Half Dome, El Capitan, and the High Sierra.
GOOD TO KNOW: The famous Jeffrey Pine, once photographed by Ansel Adams, stood on Sentinel Dome until it fell in 2003.
PRO TIP: Visit for sunrise or sunset to experience the breathtaking colors of the sky and capture incredible photos.
- Washburn Point
Washburn Point is accessible via a short and easy walk from the parking area (approximately 0.5 miles roundtrip). It offers spectacular views of Half Dome, the surrounding Yosemite Valley, and the distant Sierra Nevada mountains.
Washburn Point provides a quieter and more intimate experience compared to the nearby Glacier Point, making it an excellent alternative for stunning vistas.
- Glacier Point
The crown jewel of the drive, Glacier Point boasts panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Vernal, and Nevada Falls, and the surrounding High Sierra peaks.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Glacier Point area has restrooms, a gift shop, and a snack stand during peak seasons.
PRO TIP: Arrive early to secure a parking spot, especially during the busy summer months. Consider hiking the Four-Mile Trail to or from Glacier Point for an unforgettable adventure.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Glacier Point
Wawona Road Scenic Drive
Map of Wawona Road Scenic Drive with 9 Best Stops
Tips for Navigating Wawona Road Scenic Drive
- Location: Wawona Road, also known as Highway 41, is located in the southern part of Yosemite National Park. The road connects the South Entrance of the park to the popular Yosemite Valley area.
- How to Get There: To access the Wawona Road Scenic Drive, you can enter Yosemite National Park through the South Entrance, which is accessible via Highway 41 from the town of Oakhurst.
- Length: The Wawona Road Scenic Drive is approximately 28 miles long, one way. The drive typically takes about 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on traffic and the number of stops along the way.
- Start and End Points: The drive starts at the South Entrance of Yosemite National Park and continues through Wawona, eventually leading to the iconic Yosemite Valley. The endpoint of the drive is at Tunnel View, offering a stunning panorama of Yosemite Valley.
9 Best Stops on Wawona Road Scenic Drive
- Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
The Mariposa Grove provides an opportunity to witness the unique habitat of the giant sequoias, with their fire-resistant bark and massive size adapted to survive and thrive in a specific ecological niche.
The grove offers various trails of different lengths and difficulty levels, that will allow you to explore the forest and encounter more giant sequoias.
Grizzly Giant is of the largest trees in the grove. It stands at over 200 feet tall and is estimated to be around 1,800 years old. It is one of the oldest and most iconic sequoias in Yosemite.
California Tunnel Tree is the famous sequoia that was tunneled through in 1895 to attract tourists. While you can no longer walk through it, it remains a fascinating historical landmark.
The Bachelor and Three Graces is a cluster of giant sequoias consisting of three closely spaced trees known as “The Bachelor” and “Three Graces.” The name originates from a painting that featured these majestic trees.
GOOD TO KNOW: Mariposa Grove is accessed via shuttle during the peak season to reduce traffic and protect the trees’ roots.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Mariposa Grove (Tunnel Tree)
- Wawona Point
Wawona Point is a captivating viewpoint located within the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. From this vantage point, you will be treated to awe-inspiring vistas of the surrounding forested landscape, including the majestic giant sequoias and the Wawona Valley.
GOOD TO KNOW: Wawona Point is easily accessible via a short hike from Mariposa Grove’s main trail system.
- Wawona Meadow Loop Trail
The Wawona Meadow Loop Trail is a gentle and family-friendly hiking trail that takes you on a tranquil journey through the beautiful Wawona Meadow. The loop offers stunning views of the surrounding forest and the iconic Wawona Dome.
- Wawona Hotel and Thomas Hill Studio
The Wawona Hotel, now known as Big Trees Lodge, is a historic hotel offering a glimpse into Yosemite’s past.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Thomas Hill Studio is located nearby and showcases the works of the famous artist who captured Yosemite’s beauty in his paintings.
- Pioneer Yosemite History Center
The Pioneer Yosemite History Center offers a fascinating glimpse into the park’s past. The center features a collection of historic buildings and structures, including cabins, a covered bridge, a blacksmith shop, and a Wells Fargo office, which have been relocated from various parts of Yosemite to this site.
You will be able to learn about the lives of early settlers, indigenous people, and pioneers who once inhabited the region.
- Chilnualna Falls Trail
Chilnualna Falls Trail is a moderate hike that leads to a series of cascading waterfalls.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Chilnualna Falls Trail is approximately 8.2 miles round trip, so be prepared for a longer hike if you plan to explore the falls.
- Wawona Tunnel
The Wawona Tunnel is a 4,233-foot-long tunnel that burrows through solid granite, allowing vehicles to access Yosemite Valley from the Wawona area. It was completed in 1933 and dramatically reduced travel time to and from Yosemite’s southern entrance.
As vehicles emerge from the tunnel, they are greeted with awe-inspiring panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, including iconic landmarks such as El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Wawona Tunnel
- Tunnel View
A classic and iconic viewpoint, offering a breathtaking panoramic view of Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome.
GOOD TO KNOW: Tunnel View is a popular stop, and parking can fill up quickly, especially during peak seasons.
PRO TIP: Visit Tunnel View early in the morning for a stunning sunrise over the valley, or in the evening for sunset when the granite cliffs glow with warm hues.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Tunnel View
- Bridalveil Fall
A short walk leads to the base of Bridalveil Fall, where you can experience the thundering water and feel its refreshing mist.
GOOD TO KNOW: The walk to Bridalveil Fall is relatively easy, but be prepared for some misty conditions near the waterfall.
Hetch Hetchy Road Scenic Drive
Map of Hetch Hetchy Scenic Drive with 4 Best Stops Along the Way
Tips for Navigating Hetch Hetchy Road Scenic Drive
Escape into the lesser-known, yet equally captivating, part of Yosemite National Park with the Hetch Hetchy Road Scenic Drive.
This hidden gem will take you on an awesome journey to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, a reservoir nestled within a breathtaking glacial valley.
- Location: Hetch Hetchy Road is located in the northern part of Yosemite National Park.
- How to Get There: To access the Hetch Hetchy Road Scenic Drive, you need to enter Yosemite National Park through the Big Oak Flat Entrance, located along Highway 120. From there, follow Evergreen Road to reach Hetch Hetchy Road.
- Length: The Hetch Hetchy Road Scenic Drive is approximately 8 miles long, one way. The drive typically takes about 30 to 40 minutes, allowing for a leisurely exploration of the area.
- Start and End Points: The drive starts at the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station and concludes at the O’Shaughnessy Dam, which forms the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
- Parking: Parking is available at the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station and at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir area near the O’Shaughnessy Dam. There is also a parking lot near the trailhead for the hike to Wapama Falls.
- Other Important Details:
- Seasonal Closures: Hetch Hetchy Road is usually open year-round. However, during winter, some sections of the road may close due to snow or other weather-related issues.
- Facilities: Restrooms and drinking water are available at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir area near the dam.
- Day Use Fee: There is a day-use fee to access the Hetch Hetchy area. You can pay this fee at the entrance station or use your valid Yosemite National Park entrance pass.
4 Best Stops on Hetch Hetchy Scenic Drive
- O’Shaughnessy Dam
The O’Shaughnessy Dam forms the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and offers stunning views of the water against the backdrop of the valley.
GOOD TO KNOW: The dam features a pedestrian walkway with informative signs about the history of the dam and reservoir.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Pedestrian Walkway on O’Shaughnessy Dam
- Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Viewpoint
This viewpoint offers a picturesque vista of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and the surrounding granite cliffs.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
- Wapama Falls
Wapama Falls Trailhead marks the start of the hike to Wapama Falls, a stunning waterfall that thunders into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
GOOD TO KNOW: The hike to Wapama Falls is approximately 5 miles round trip and can be moderately strenuous.
Scenic Drives in Yosemite / Wapama Falls
- Rancheria Falls Viewpoint (seasonal)
During the spring and early summer, when water levels are high, you can catch a glimpse of the beautiful Rancheria Falls cascading down the cliffs.