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Let Someone Else do the Driving: Yosemite Car-Free

Today, getting to Yosemite Mariposa County is a routine road trip, but it wasn’t always so. Intrepid early travelers would come by foot, horseback, stagecoach, wagon, railroad, and first-generation automobiles along axel-bending dirt roads. The oft-grueling journey didn’t ease up until the late 1920s, when State Route 140 – the “All-Weather Highway” – opened to allow reliable year-round vehicle access to Yosemite National Park.

This summer, driving to Yosemite is just the first step.  Between May 20 and September 30, Yosemite National Park requires temporary peak hours vehicle reservations to drive into the Park from 6 am to 4 pm, due to construction projects in the park. Passes can be secured through recreation.gov and pre-planning is needed to ensure you can get a pass for the date you want to travel. If you wait until the last minute, you may find yourself without a pass into the park.

But, what if we told you there were alternative ways to enter the park, free of the reservation system? Change your mode! Here are several ways to enjoy Yosemite National Park without a car this summer and early fall.

Park & Ride with YARTS

YARTS bus in Yosemite Valley

Let YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transport Service) carry you into Yosemite reservation-free.

Leave the driving to YARTS, the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System, where a seat on a comfortable, air-conditioned bus includes Park entrance fee and does not require a vehicle reservation.

YARTS provides service from most Yosemite Mariposa County communities. Along Highway 140, there are multiple stops near hotels in Mariposa, Midpines and El Portal. Free parking is available in Mariposa and Midpines at Park & Ride facilities for day, overnight and multi-day uses. Additionally, YARTS serves the Highway 41 corridor with a stop at Fish Camp. Use the complete YARTS route map and schedules to plan your trip. Reservations are highly recommended to ensure your preferred return trip time from Yosemite Valley is locked in.

To fully embrace Yosemite car-free, take Greyhound or AMTRAK to Merced and connect with YARTS from there. By leaving your vehicle behind and taking YARTS, you’ll experience an enhanced, car-free experience rolling into your Yosemite vacation – with the added benefit of reducing your carbon footprint on the Park.

Ride the Yosemite Valley Shuttle

Free Yosemite Valley Shuttle bus

Once in Yosemite Valley, the free shuttle bus provides an easy way to see all the sights.

After YARTS gets you into the Park, the ever-popular Yosemite Valley Shuttle System takes things from there with free and convenient rides on eco-friendly buses. The shuttles stop in Yosemite Valley at, or near, all overnight accommodations and stores. The system map is available online, detailing all service including seasonal lines to Southern Yosemite destinations Wawona and Mariposa Grove.

You can also take a two-hour long “Yosemite Valley Floor Tour”, staffed with a National Park Service interpretive ranger. These tours can be booked in advance and depart and return from the transportation center at Yosemite Lodge, in Yosemite Valley.

For destinations in Northern Yosemite, there’s the Tuolumne Meadows shuttle, typically running mid-June through mid-September (dates vary from year to year based on Tioga Road status; fare required).

Take a Tour, Catch a Class

Tenaya Tour Bus and El Capitan

Not only will you not need a reservation when traveling into Yosemite with a tour operator like Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite Tours, you’ll get to take advantage of having an expert local guide to show you around.

Visitors participating in a private or group tour do not require a separate Yosemite park reservation. There is a wide variety of tours into the Park, offered by operators throughout Yosemite Mariposa County including Discover Yosemite, Incredible Adventures, Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite Tours, and Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures.

Signing up for one of Yosemite Conservancy’s heralded Outdoor Adventures or art classes, retreats and workshops includes Park entry for the duration of the program.  Go full shutterbug and take a Yosemite Valley photography class with the Ansel Adams Gallery – Park reservations included!

Two girls making art in Yosemite

Art and photography workshops like those offered by the Yosemite Conservancy or The Ansel Adams Gallery are a great way to get in tune with Yosemite’s natural beauty. Plus, your registration includes park entry for the duration of your program.

Walk and Roll

Channeling your inner Muir is the simplest way around the vehicle reservation system.  Visitors who are walking, hiking, or riding a bike into Yosemite National Park do not require reservations for entry!

Bonus: Two for the Road

If the notion of doing Yosemite car-free proves too daunting, here are two additional ways around the daily vehicle reservation system.

Stay and Play

Vacation rental cabin interior

In addition to in-park hotel options like The Ahwahnee or Yosemite Valley Lodge, consider renting a vacation rental cabin in Wawona, Yosemite West or Foresta. If you have an overnight rental inside the park, you don’t need an additional vehicle reservation. (Photo: Alpine Escape in Yosemite West.)

Circumvent the vehicle reservation system by booking a campsite, vacation rental, or hotel room that is located inside Yosemite National Park. Overnight reservations for accommodations inside the Park boundary automatically include vehicle reservations (you will still pay the $35-per-car entrance fee upon arrival (credit card only).  The months when vehicle reservations are required tend to be high season and it can be challenging to find inside-the-Park lodging. Midweek and post-Labor Day are sweet spots for scoring a room or campsite booking.  Also consider vacation rentals in Wawona, Yosemite West, or Foresta. Half Dome permit holders are also allowed vehicle access to the Park for a 24-hour period.

The Hetch Hetchy Hack

Granite cliffs above Hetch Hetchy reservoir

Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite Valley’s sister valley is open for exploration even without a peak hour vehicle reservation.

Here’s a great way to enjoy Yosemite National Park this summer in a car, but without a vehicle reservation: visit Hetch Hetchy.  Tucked into Yosemite National Park’s peaceful northwest corner, Hetch Hetchy Valley is one of the hidden gems of Yosemite with soaring peaks, steep canyons, and thundering waterfalls. O’Shaughnessy Dam, at the west end of the valley, provides a nice overlook of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and the wilderness beyond, including 1,000-foot-plus Wapama Fall and Rancheria Falls beyond.

 

 

To explore lodging options, things to do and places to eat, visit Yosemite.com, the #1 trip planning site for vacations to Yosemite National Park and historic Mariposa County. To stay up to date, follow @YosemiteNation on social media and subscribe to our newsletter, “The Wanderer”. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for great videos on the people and places of Yosemite Mariposa County.

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