Exploring Yosemite National Park's Entrances: A Guide to Nearby Towns & Attractions
Most of us have heard that Yosemite National Park is the size of the US State Rhode Island, but we don't aways appreciate what that can mean. Essentially, it's pretty common to accidentally book a hotel in one town, make dinner reservations at a restaurant 2 hours away and then book an excursion meeting an hour and half in the other direction. What the heck, after a while it can feel like you're studying for a geography final just to make vacation plans!
Many providers in the region talk about their services based on National Park entrance, highway or town, so let us help you with this quick breakdown!
Big Oak Flat Entrance (Northwest Entrance):
Access: Via Hwy 120 and is available year round. Winter and Spring may see the need for tire chains or other conditional use.
Location: Situated in the northwest part of the park.
Distance to Landmarks: This entrance is most commonly accessed by those visiting from San Fransisco and Sacramento.
Yosemite Valley is approximately 30 minutes away, or 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast.
Tuolumne Meadows is approximately 1.5 hours, or 85 miles (137 kilometers) east.
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is also 1.5 hours away and is not the closest entrance to the Mariposa Grove. It's best to access the grove from the South Entrance. However, the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias is only 15 minutes drive from this entrance station.
Nearby Towns: Groveland, California offers accommodations, dining options, pharmacy, grocery store, basic services and visitor information. It spans 30 minutes from downtown Groveland to the entrance station. The largest town in that corridor is Sonora, CA and is located 1 hour and 15 minutes from the entrance station.
Other Attractions: Cherry Creek and the Tuolumne River offers incredible Class IV-V whitewater rafting through Sierra Mac River Trips and ARTA River Trips as well as others. These areas are also a Mecca for year round fly fishing opportunities available through Echo Adventure Cooperative. The entire region in blanketed with BLM and National Forest Land, so it is perfect for off road Jeep adventures with Miller's Off Road Adventures or mountain bike rentals through Echo Adventure Cooperative, Rush Creek Lodge or Evergreen Lodge.
Lodging: the Groveland Region is fortunate to have destination resorts like Evergreen Lodge and Rush Creek Lodge as well as smaller boutique hotels like Blackberry Inn, Groveland Hotel and our Yosemite Basecamp. We also have Yosemite Westgate Lodge for a classic hotel experience and a plethora of AirBnbs located in the Pine Mountain Lake community.
Food: Our Top 5 favorites include Priest Station Cafe for the views, Around the Horn Brewing Company for mountain brewed beer, Iron Door Saloon for the history, Two Guys Pizza Pies for the amazing pizza and Lucky Buck Cafe for best all around! (these all have consistently awesome food and service)
Vibe: Adventure Seekers looking for small town charm
Arch Rock Entrance (South Entrance):
Access: Via Hwy 1-40. This year round road is the last to be closed in the winter as it is low elevation in a deep river valley. Though it is prone to rock and mudslide closures, so always check conditions in the winter.
Location: Found in the southern part of Yosemite National Park.
Distance to Landmarks: This entrance is usually used by those coming from Merced or other central California cities.
Yosemite Valley is approximately 20 minutes away or 18 miles (29 kilometers) northeast.
Tuolumne Meadows is approximately 1.5 hours away or 60 miles (97 kilometers) east.
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is about 1 hour and 20 minutes meaning this entrance is not the closest to the Mariposa Grove. It's best to access the grove from the South Entrance.
Nearby Town: The small town of El Portal is right on the border and has some lodging and a small general store. The town of Mid Pines are Mariposa are about an hour away and offer a wide range of amenities!
Attractions: The entire drive to the Arch Rock Entrance is unique as it traces the Merced River in the valley, so you have access to amazing fly fishing the entire drive. You can also enjoy fantastic whitewater rafting for the whole family through Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions. Explore the Yosemite Climbing Museum or the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa! Oh and we haven't been yet, but we've heard good things about the Yosemite Ziplines and Adventure Ranch!
Lodging: The classic hotels and motels feel abundant along the drive into Yosemite with Yosemite View Lodge and Cedar Lodge, but there are some really cool alternatives with The Yosemite Bug Rustic Resort and AutoCamp Yosemite both located in Midpines.
Food: We always stop at the Yosemite Bug Rustic Resort for a coffee and their seasonal specials at the June Bug Cafe or at the Pizza joint at Yosemite View Lodge. We also really love Happy Burger and the Grove House in Mariposa!
Vibe: Adventure DIYers including climbers and gold prospectors.
Tioga Pass Entrance (East Entrance):
Access: Via Hwy 120. This road is seasonal and it only open in the summer and early fall. This is the least predictable of all of Yosemite National Park entrances.
Location: Located on the eastern side of the park and at a higher elevation.
Distance to Landmarks: The Entrance is usually used by those coming from Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes. It is also known as Tioga Road and it takes you through high alpine terrain and provides access to high-country attractions like Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake, and numerous hiking trails.
Yosemite Valley: Approximately 2 hours one way or 73 miles (117 kilometers) west.
Tuolumne Meadows is approximately 20 minutes away or 18 miles (29 Kilometers)
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias: This entrance is not the closest to the Mariposa Grove. It's best to access the grove from the South Entrance. Just hike the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoia.
Nearby Town: Lee Vining, California, is the closest town on the eastern side, and it's situated near Mono Lake. Mammoth is the largest town in the area and is just a 35 minute drive south.
Attraction: What is there not do and see in this gateway!? Even the drive is an unprecedented experience, then you have the best fly fishing in California through the Troutfitter and Wild Fly Anglers, fantastic rock climbing and bouldering south of Mammoth, mountain biking in Mammoth Lakes, Mono Lake and the Tufas, the June Lake Loop, Crowley Lake, Devils Post Pile, Bodie State Park... We could go on for hours!
Lodging: We polled the staff and none of us have ever stayed in a hotel on the east side, we all just drive out into the high desert and camp.
Food: Hands down you have to stop at the Mobile Gas Station at the intersection of Hwy 120 and 395 for Whoa Nellie Deli. It's an icon, trust us! If the Tioga Pass Resort reopens, then go there for a pie tin full of roast and potatoes followed by literally any flavor of homemade pie!
Vibe: It's its own vibe. Yeah, the Eastern Sierra is a total vibe onto itself.
Wawona Entrance (Southwest Entrance):
Accessed via Hwy 4. This entrance is year round, but it is often mariposa due to the elevation.
Location: Situated in the southwest part of the park.
Distance to Landmarks: This entrance is used as the most direct route from LA and Fresno.
Yosemite Valley: Approximately 1 hour or 26 miles (42 kilometers) northeast.
Tuolumne Meadows: Approximately 2 hours or 78 miles miles (80 kilometers) east.
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias: Located within the same area.
Nearby Towns: The Wawona area and nearby Fish Camp both offer dining and accommodations, but the larger town of Oakhurst is approximately 30 minutes away and has a full range of options and amenities. Please note that Fresno is more than an hour and half away from Yosemite.
Attraction: We love the diversity of awesomeness in this corridor including the train at Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, horseback riding with Yosemite Trails Saddle and Sleigh Company or fly fishing with Sierra Fly Fishers. We also recommend Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides for adventure in the park!
Lodging: Wawona and Yosemite West have a host of vacation rentals or you can choose from an array of resorts including Tenaya Lodge at the park entrance or the Sierra Sky Ranch near Oakhurst. Oakhurst also has a host of traditional hotels such as a Best Western, Hampton Inn, etc.
Vibe: Total tourist vibe that is family friendly and accessible.
We hope this helps make the most of your visit to Yosemite, but please reach out with any questions, recommendations, thought, hopes, and/ dreams and we'll do our best to help!