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San Francisco to Yosemite

Yosemite National Park Itinerary

Just 160 miles east of Escape’s class B RV rental in San Francisco hub, in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range sits Yosemite National Park. Its seemingly endless supply of towering granite peaks, lush valleys, and waterfalls create a landscape so expansive your eyes won’t let you believe it’s not a painting. Yosemite Valley is a beacon for nature lovers, adventurers, dreamers, and wanderlust-seekers from all over the globe. You will understand why once you peer out over the valley at Tunnel View.

Travel Time from San Francisco to Yosemite

We recommend visitors spend five days exploring the park because there is so much to do. In fact, planning this trip for five days means you only get three full days to explore the towering Sierra Nevada Mountains, and you still won’t have time to do everything you want. There is the option to only spend one day in Yosemite Valley, which makes the trip four days. This is the perfect trip for a long weekend. 

On this trip, you will drive a total of 450 miles for a total of 10 hours, spread across five days.


Directions Tips:

Distance: 450+ miles (724+ km)

Time: 10+ hours (without stops)

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, CA

Best Time of Year for a San Francisco to Yosemite Trip

The best time to visit Yosemite National Park is from April to September. While the park’s peak season is from late May to early September, and it can get pretty busy, campsite reservations must be made months in advance. Visiting in the summer means warmer temperatures, whereas traveling during spring and fall increases your chance of rain. If you want to experience the park with very little crowds, consider visiting in the winter. Since 75% of the park’s visitors come from May to October, it will feel like you have the place to yourself. Please remember that while the Yosemite Valley and Wawona areas are open in the winter, the more remote roads like Tioga and the road to Glacier Point are closed from around November to May. 

Important things to note before deciding when to take your trip to Yosemite:

  • Many viewpoints and hikes are closed from around the end of October to April. Make sure to check park information for estimated opening dates.
  • There are many waterfalls in Yosemite, and peak flow is in the late spring and early summer. However, in mid to late February, Yosemite’s Horsetail Falls is illuminated by the winter sun, creating a phenomenon known as ‘Fire Falls.
  • Fire season almost always impacts Yosemite, so check before you go.
  • There is an entrance fee for Yosemite National Park. It is $35 per car, or the annual National Park pass is $80 for 365 days of unlimited access to every national park in the U.S.

H2: Preparation for a Yosemite Trip

Good planning is the secret sauce that will make your trip to Yosemite unforgettable (in the best ways possible). Here are some of the things you should consider before embarking on your journey:

Campsites: Yosemite’s campsites are in high demand. All National Park campground release their reservations in blocks. For example, if you plan to visit in May, campsite reservations for May would become available in November (5-6 months in advance). Reservations can be made through recreation.gov. For more information on reserving campsites within National Parks, visit this dedicated blog. If you aren’t into planning that far into the future, consider exploring dispersed camping options near the park.

Permits and Passes: Yosemite no longer requires reservations for entry for the rest of 2023. Please note that the park charges $35 per car, but if you plan on visiting at least two more National Parks in a calendar year, we recommend purchasing the Annual Pass for $80, which gives you access to every National Park for one year. Visitors interested in completing Half Dome need permits for the cables. The Half Dome permit lottery opens in March, and the cables are typically up from May to October. The permit lottery information can be accessed here. 

Food and Supplies: Restaurants and grocery store options are very limited in Yosemite. We recommend stocking up for your trip in the Bay Area. The last place with grocery options is Merced, and if you didn’t stop in the Bay Area, get all your supplies together before heading up into the mountains. 

Pro tip: pack extra ice, perishable food items, and beverages of choice snuggly into the solar-powered fridge first to ensure you have everything extra chilled and ready for you by the time you arrive at camp. 

Supplies: Due to environmental regulations, no gas is available in Yosemite Valley, so make sure you fill up before heading into the park. The park has three gas stations, so plan your routes accordingly. If you plan to hike, dedicated hiking boots are important to ensure you can spend as much time exploring the park instead of tending to sore feet and uncomfortable blisters. Additionally, temperatures can vary greatly with differing altitudes. It is important to pack a variety of layers to be prepared for your trip. Some essentials are a raincoat, hat, sunglasses, sunshirt (with UPF), a backpack big enough for snacks, and a refillable water bottle or water reservoir. The best part about renting a camper van for your Yosemite trip is that you only have to worry about your personal gear, and we will handle the rest. We want to ensure your trip goes smoothly, and there’s nothing worse than setting up camp and realizing you forgot an essential item, so let us take care of all the camping necessities with our available added extras, such as a kitchen kit, bedding, or camp chairs. 

Yosemite is Bear Country: Bear sitings are common in the park, and there are important steps you can take to help avoid unwanted wildlife encounters.

Important navigational tools: Make sure to charge your mobile devices as they can help you navigate the area, and you can never have too many portable chargers. Downloading offline maps is always a good idea before heading out to a new place; you never know if you will have service when needed. For whatever reason, Apple Maps does not work great inside the park, so we recommend using Google Maps to get around. 

Service is extremely spotty in Yosemite, and taking a wrong turn on a trail is easy. Before heading to the park, decide how you will navigate the park without reception. Whether you use a hiking interface with an offline mode, like AllTrails, or carry detailed trail maps, it is important to plan ahead to avoid costly mistakes. 

Vehicle for transportation: Whether traveling with friends, looking for a romantic getaway, or traveling with family, we have the perfect camper van rental for your trip. Our camper vans are ready for almost any adventure and offer additional protection and comfort compared to tent camping, with built-in kitchenettes and queen-size beds. You’ll know you made the right decision when you wake up feeling well-rested and sheltered from the chilly morning mountain air.

The San Francisco location offers all five of our vehicles: the Mavericks, Mesa, Del Mar, Santa Cruz, and the Jeep Camper, with the capacity to sleep up to five with the addition of the rooftop sleeper.

Before you head out, make sure you know what features your rental comes with and stock up on essentials. Take a moment and locate the hazards, headlights, and other safety features in case you need to operate them at any point. 

 

Bay Area to Yosemite National Park Roadtrip Stops

This trip will take you from our Bay Area hub to the picturesque Yosemite Valley for 360-degree views of awe-inspiring granite cliffs, waterfalls, lakes, and wildlife. You will first stop in Yosemite Valley, and then continue up to 8,000 feet to experience the park from above the clouds before bringing you back down to sea level.

San Francisco to Yosemite National Park

Starting out at our San Francisco hub, you will travel 160 miles east to Yosemite National Park. Eastbound traffic can be brutal during rush hour, so try not to leave between 4 and 6 p.m. If unavoidable, we recommend running errands or stopping for dinner in the East Bay area while waiting for the traffic to subside. For your first stop, we recommend staying in Yosemite Valley for easy access to the famous views of the valley.

Campsites in Yosemite National Park

There are 13 campsites within the park which, if you plan far enough in advance, allow you to maximize the time you can spend exploring. You can read our blog on finding camping in Yosemite here.

Lower Pines: There are three campsites with ‘Pines’ in the name. This one is our favorite because it is the smallest of all three sites. The three ‘pines’ campsites are near the Merced River, where visitors can take in the dramatic glory of Half Dome and El Capitan. Reservations can be made up to five months in advance. Amenities include flush toilets, cell reception, free shuttles, and proximity to Curry Village.

Upper Pines: This campground is open year-round and near the Merced River in Yosemite Valley. This campsite is conveniently located near the park’s main features. It is located biking and walking distance from many trailheads and services. It is also right on the shuttle line. 

Camp 4: This campsite can be booked just a week from your arrival date, which is perfect for a last-minute trip. It is centrally located in Yosemite Valley, walking or biking distance from many attractions, and situated right on the shuttle line.

Things to Do on Your Way to Yosemite National Park

Tunnel View: On your way into the valley, you will pass by one of the most iconic views of the Yosemite Valley. Pull over to take some pictures and take in its beauty. Many people think that this is the best view of the valley, but if you park right before entering the Wawona tunnel and walk along the raised sidewalk in the tunnel, you will experience an unusual view of Yosemite. Bring a headlamp, and about a quarter mile down the tunnel, you will see an opening on the right side. Here you will have unobstructed valley views all to yourself. Note – this is not an official hike, so proceed with caution. 

Yosemite Valley: Spend some time walking around the valley and take in the unadulterated beauty of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls.

Place to Eat in Yosemite Valley

Degnan’s Kitchen
9015 Village Dr, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389
Located inside the park, this is a great place to stop for a quick bite or a delicious sandwich to enjoy on the trail. They serve deli sandwiches, salads, breakfast, coffee, and more and are available to customers from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. 

Village Grill
9011 Village Dr, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

A relaxed grill in Yosemite Village serving burgers, sandwiches, and shakes. Enjoy your meal on their expansive patio near the Visitors Center and Village Store.

Orange farm produce in California

Spend the Day in Yosemite Valley

There is so much to do in Yosemite that you will have difficulty picking your daily activities. If it is your first time in Yosemite National Park, we recommend stopping at all of the vista points and admiring the valley’s natural features. If you are visiting in the peak season, make sure you get an early start to your day to beat the crowds and the traffic so you don’t spend much of your day circling the parking lot.

Things to Do In Yosemite Valley

Lower Yosemite Falls and Upper Yosemite Falls: The trail to Lower Yosemite Falls is a 1.2-mile loop and perfect for any ability level, with lots of shade and a small amount of incline. For those looking for more adventure, continue past the lower falls to upper Yosemite Falls. The trail to the top of the falls is a strenuous 7.6-mile out and back, but the view of the powerful water cascading over the cliff makes every step worthwhile.

Vernal Falls, aka Mist Trail: The trail to Vernal Falls is three miles, with the option to continue on to Nevada Falls to make the trip 7 miles round-trip. There are many stunning viewpoints throughout the hike, you may have to work a bit for them, especially if you decide to continue on to Nevada Falls, but it is fun the whole way, and you will thank yourself later. 

Taft Point and Sentinel Dome: Taft Point is a moderate 2.2-mile hike with panoramic views of Yosemite Valley. Situated right on the edge of 2,000ft granite cliffs. This is one of my favorite views of the valley, and the hike is suitable for all ability levels. If you are hunting for unobstructed views of Half Dome, continue for another two miles on to Sentinel Dome.

Optional Second Day in Yosemite Valley

If you have the time, we recommend spending two days in Yosemite Valley to see everything you want. There is so much to experience, and you don’t want to miss any of it. Or, if you would rather continue your journey, head up to Tioga Road (weather-dependent) for some serious alpine views.

Additional Things to Do in Yosemite Valley

Glacier Point: Visitors can either hike up to Glacier Point or take the shuttle. The hike is a strenuous nine mile hike with extreme elevation gain but offers amazing views of the valley all the way up to the point. If you wish to take the shuttle to the top, you can hike from the top all the way down, providing a less strenuous experience. There are two shuttles daily, and the tour takes about four hours roundtrip. 

Mirror Lake: If you are looking for a relaxing activity. Pack a picnic lunch and head over to Mirror Lake. You can follow the Valley Loop Trail or just wander around the lake. This is also a perfect post-hike activity after an intense adventure. 

Half Dome: This is the most iconic hike in Yosemite. It is 14 to 16 miles round trip, and permits are required to access the cables. This very strenuous hike takes hikers anywhere from 10 to 14 hours and should only be attempted by those who are confident in their hiking ability. 

El Capitan: El Cap is a good alternative if you wanted to do Half Dome but didn’t secure a permit. At 19 miles and a 5,000ft elevation gain, this hike is not any easier than Half Dome. It offers incredible views of the valley, and at 10-12 hours long, it should only be attempted by experienced hikers.

Yosemite Valley to Tioga Pass

If you have the time or have already been to Yosemite before and you are looking to venture out of the valley, we recommend making the trek up Tioga Road. The crowds are thinner up here, and at 8,000 feet, the views are astounding. If you choose to explore the high country, we recommend waking up early as it is about 1 hour to 1.5 hours from the valley, depending on your destination. There are plenty of campgrounds along Tioga Road if you decide to pack up camp for a change of scenery.

Things to Do Around Tioga Pass

Tenaya Lake: If you were hoping to visit an alpine lake, Tenaya Lake is a must-stop. There are very view easily accessible lakes in Yosemite, so if Tioga Road is open during your visit, make sure to add this to your itinerary. Its bright blue water, surrounded by towering granite domes, is absolutely breathtaking. Tenaya Lake is the largest lake in the front country and a popular destination for picnicking, canoeing, and swimming. 

Tenaya Lake Trail: A 2.5-mile loop with minimal elevation gain and maximum views. For hikers who want to explore more of the High Country, including Clouds Rest and Polly Domes Lake, there are two trailheads – Sunrise Lakes and Murphy Creek- allowing visitors to adventure out into the wilderness. 

Olmstead Point: Just two miles west of Tenaya Lake along Tioga Road, this rocky lookout point offers a unique view of Half Dome. This is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset as the fading light lights up the face of Half Dome.

Campgrounds Near Tioga Pass

Tioga Lake Campground: This is a first-come, first-serve campground located on Tioga Lake. If you were hoping to secure a lake-front campground, ensure you arrive bright and early, as there are only 13 campgrounds. 

White Wolf Campground: About an hour from the valley, this campground is located off Tioga Road between Tuolomne Meadows and Crane Flat. 74 sites and easy access to trailheads lead to Lukens Lake and Harden Lake, among others.

Place to Eat Near Tioga Pass

Tioga Gas Mart & Whoa Nellie Deli
22 Vista Point Dr, Lee Vining, CA 93541

This one-stop shop for travelers serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a gas station, deli, and gift shop. 

Basin Cafe
349 Lee Vining Ave, Lee Vining, CA 93541

Located in Lee Vining on Tioga Road, stop here for a delicious breakfast or lunch to fuel your adventures for the day.

Yosemite to the Hub

On your way back to the hub, stop by Tunnel View to watch the sunrise over the valley. Get an early start to ensure you can drop your rental off on time to avoid any late fees. Our dropoff window is between 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Tunnel View Yosemite National Park by campervan

Why Rent A Camper Van for A Yosemite Road Trip?

Renting a camper van instead of a traditional RV to explore Yosemite National Park is the perfect way to maximize your time in the park. Here are a few reasons why. 

Compact and More Mobile: Escape Camper Vans are much smaller than RVs. This makes navigating the curvy mountain roads of Yosemite much easier. Plus, if you plan to drive in the park, parking is limited, and the parking lots (especially in Yosemite Valley) are small and very crowded. Parking an RV in a busy lot is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Furthermore, if you plan on staying in dispersed campsites, reaching the more remote and secluded area in a camper van is much easier than in a large and cumbersome RV.

Easy to Drive: Driving an RV can be nerve-racking for someone who doesn’t regularly drive large vehicles. Escape Camper Vans are similar to driving a minivan or other large family vehicle. The compact size means parking is much easier, and you don’t need a special license, better handling on windy roads, and better fuel economy. 

Cozy and Convenient: We firmly believe that the only thing you should think about when planning your trip is which stops to make, and you shouldn’t worry about bringing the right gear. That’s why our camper vans are designed to be fully contained. All camper van rentals from Escape Camper Vans are outfitted with a kitchenette featuring a sink, refrigerator, stove, and all the essential camping gear. We want you to be able to focus on the experience, not the logistics. Nothing is more satisfying than setting up your bed in under a minute and sitting around the campfire instead of wrangling with difficult-to-set-up tents. 

No need for electric or sewer hookups: Renting a camper van means you don’t need to search for campsites with electric or sewer hookups. Our Del Mar, Mesa, Santa Cruz, and Mavericks all have a solar panel and a dual battery system. However, for those with devices needing power, add our electric kit to your rental, which you can hook up to an external power source. 

Versatile and Adventure-Ready: Escape Camper Vans are crafted with adventure in mind. Explore our available additional features, such as solar showers, rooftop tents, and canopies, which can significantly enhance your trip experience. 

Choosing a camper van for your San Francisco to Yosemite road trip offers a user-friendly and convenient way to experience the beauty of this area without compromising on comfort. Escape Camper Vans allow you to fully immerse yourself in the experience without the stresses of renting a larger vehicle like an RV.

Half Dome Glacier Point Yosemite National Park view from rooftop sleeper on campervan

Reserve with Escape Camper Vans for your Yosemite Road Trip.

Yosemite National Park is one of the most famous National Parks, and for good reason. The lakes, waterfalls, magnificent cliffs, and seemingly endless opportunities for learning and adventures make this a trip that everyone will enjoy. There is so much to experience in Yosemite, and you are just a few clicks away from booking the adventure of a lifetime with Escape Camper Vans.

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