San Francisco to Yosemite National Park: 12 Ways to Travel

Jill on a windy day at the Golden Gate Bridge

by Jill Loeffler  •

Published: April 4, 2023

There are several ways to travel between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park. Driving on your own or taking a one-day guided tour are two of the most popular options.

The great part is that there are also many other options as well. These include taking a multi-day tour, flying to a nearby airport, taking a shuttle from SFO, or taking public transportation such as a bus or train.

The fastest of these will take about 4 hours. The slowest will take about 14 hours.

Yosemite National Park is a Northern California gem with various hiking trails and outdoor activities. You can explore Yosemite Falls, check out Half Dome, or soak in the beauty of El Capitan.

You can visit Yosemite for just a day or extend your visit out to a week or more.

For each of my recommendations, I've included tips, an estimate for the one-way journey, and other details to help you decide which one is best for you.

Half Dome in Yosemite with Clouds Above It

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1. Drive via CA-120

The most popular and direct route from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park is via 120 to the Big Oak Flat entrance. It's a fun way to enjoy a Yosemite road trip.

This route takes about 4 hours to reach the park entrance and another 45 minutes to reach Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Valley Vista Point

You'll leave San Francisco over the Bay Bridge on highway I-80. You'll then follow the signs for I-580 E and take this all the way to I-205 toward Tracy/Stockton. You'll then take I-5 N for one mile until you reach the CA-120 exit toward Manteca/Sonora.

You will then follow the signs to stay on CA-120 E until you reach the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park.

This is also the route you want to take to reach the Hetch Hetchy entrance, which is a little farther north and not as trafficked. Instead of taking CA-120 all the way in, you'd take a left about 10 miles earlier onto Cherry Lake Rd/Forest Rte 1N07. It's then another 20 minutes to reach the reservoir.

On your way, you will pass through Oakdale, Groveland, and Buck Meadows.

>> Find some of my favorite things to do in Yosemite

2. Drive via CA-140

Smokey Day from Tunnel View

The second option is to take CA-140 into Yosemite National Park. This is an option for those that might be staying in or want to visit the historic town of Mariposa.

This route takes about an extra half hour, and you will enter Yosemite National Park through the Arch Rock entrance.

This route starts out the same as the one above. You'll leave San Francisco via the Bay Bridge and then follow signs to I-580 E. You'll then take I-205 E toward Tracy/Stockton, merge onto I-5 N for 1 mile, and then exit onto CA-120 E.

You'll then exit off CA-120 onto CA-99 S toward Modesto/Fresno and take that for 55 miles until you reach Exit 186B for CA-140.

You'll find yourself in the town of Merced where you'll turn left onto CA-140 E/Yosemite Pkwy. From this point, the park entrance is about 1.5 hours away. It's another 30 minutes from this entrance to reach Yosemite Valley.

>> Fun things to do near Yosemite

3. One-Day Guided Bus Tour

Half Dome from the Floor of Yosemite Valley

If you don't want to drive and only have a day to explore, then I'd recommend taking a one-day tour from San Francisco to Yosemite.

This tour makes for a long day, but you'll get the chance to relax and enjoy yourself as someone else does the driving.

Pickups at a few designated locations around San Francisco start at 6:30 am, and you'll leave San Francisco a little after 7 am.

You'll then be driven to Yosemite, with a short stop at a local produce stand in the Central Valley along the way.

Once you arrive at Yosemite National Park, you will enjoy a 1.5-hour guided tour on the bus. It will include information on the history of this famous national park and views of its most iconic landmarks, including El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, Sentinel Dome, and more.

The bus will then stop, and you will have 3 hours to explore Yosemite Valley. You can have a picnic lunch or enjoy one of the local restaurants in the valley (find some recommendations here).

You can do a short hike, check out the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, visit the Ansel Adams Gallery, admire Half Dome from the valley floor, or do a little shopping in Yosemite Village.

You will then return to the bus for the 4.5- to 5-hour drive back to San Francisco. The full tour takes about 15 hours, so you'll return to San Francisco around 9 or 10 pm.

This tour is an easy way to get a quick overview of this fantastic national park. It's offered most days of the week and starts at $209 per person, which includes park admission.

>> Find out more about this guided tour

More Great One-Day Tours from San Francisco to Yosemite

4. Two-Day Yosemite Tour

Side of El Capitan in Yosemite

If you want to spend a little more time in Yosemite National Park, then you will love this two-day tour. This one starts with an early morning pickup from your San Francisco hotel.

Once you reach Yosemite National Park, you'll first get to check out Tuolumne Grove, home to one of the park's giant sequoia groves.

After you explore this fantastic area of the park, you'll continue to Inspiration Point, which offers stunning views of Yosemite Valley. From there, you will continue to Yosemite Valley, where you will get to spend the rest of your stay exploring as you wish.

Admission to the park is included, but accommodations are not, so make sure to book a room at one of the Yosemite Valley hotels or campsites (learn more here).

Since you'll have plenty of time on your own to explore the park, you can choose from various activities, including hiking, rafting, biking, and rock climbing. On Day Two, you'll meet up with the tour bus based on an agreed-upon time and location.

This one starts at $279 per person and is offered most days of the week. 

>> Find out more about this two-day tour option

>> More about visiting Mariposa Grove

5. One-Way Shuttle Transfer from SFO

El Capitan through fire burned trees

If you plan to head to Yosemite National Park from San Francisco for a few days or more, you can also take the one-way shuttle transfer from San Francisco airport.

It's a great option for those that don't need a car for their stay in Yosemite National Park.

Even though this is a transfer service, a nice addition is that, from June to September, they make a stop at Tuolumne Grove on the way in. That way, you can explore this area of giant sequoias on your own for a while before they drop you off in Yosemite Valley.

You can book a one-way transfer from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park and the return trip based on the day you plan to return to SFO.

The one-way trip takes around 7 hours with bathroom and meal stops along the way. The advantages of this option are the price (starting at $149) and the guaranteed daily departures.

Even though it's considered a "transfer" and not a full tour, the knowledgeable driver will tell you about the are and stop for photo ops.

>> Find out more about this shuttle transfer option

6. Train + Bus

Hiking Guide Sign in Yosemite Valley

If you don't want to rent a car, you can take public transportation from San Francisco to Yosemite. This is a good option for those that plan to spend several days in Yosemite.

It includes two transfers. You will first need to make your way from San Francisco to one of two Amtrak stops in the East Bay, which takes about half an hour. 

From the East Bay, the train ride to Merced is about 3 hours. From there, the second bus transfer is another 3 hours.

With transfers and waiting, this option can take upwards of 7 hours in total. The estimated total cost each way starts at $64 ($42 for Amtrak plus $22 for the YARTS bus). 

Option 1: Emeryville Station

Amtrak runs a bus bridge from downtown San Francisco over to the Emeryville Station (the closest station to San Francisco).

Called Amtrak Thruway Connection, this bus leaves from Salesforce downtown and runs from around 6 am to around 10 pm. You'll want to confirm the exact times it leaves San Francisco to be sure you can make it to Emeryville before your train leaves.

This bus bridge is included with your ticket.

Option 2: Richmond BART Stop

The second option is to take BART (the Bay Area subway system) from downtown San Francisco to the Richmond stop, which is shared with the Amtrak train system.

This BART train runs every 15 to 20 minutes.

Once you arrive at the BART Station, follow the signs to get to the Amtrak train stop within this station.

Transfer to the Bus at Merced for Both Options

You will then take Amtrak to the train station in Merced. From here, you will transfer to the YARTS Merced Highway 140 bus.

It picks up at the Merced Amtrak Station five to six times a day, depending on the season. Most of the pickup times are in the morning, with one in the evening, so you'll need to coordinate your arrival with this bus.

The bus has three stops in Yosemite Valley. You can get off at the Yosemite View Lodge / Laurel Cottage (inbound only), Curry Village, or the Yosemite Valley Visitors Center.

During high tourist seasons, reservations for this bus are recommended. Walk-ons are welcomed only as space permits.

7. Greyhound Bus

Pine Trees Near Yosemite

You can also take the Greyhound Bus to Merced and then switch to the local YARTS bus to get into Yosemite. This is the least expensive option on the list.

You'll start by picking up the Greyhound Bus in San Francisco at the Salesforce Transit Center in downtown San Francisco. You'll follow the instructions on your ticket and the signs to find the bus when you arrive.

When you get to Merced, you will then transfer to the YARTS Highway 140 bus (at the Merced Transpo stop), which will take you to Yosemite Valley.

The bus ride from San Francisco to Merced takes almost 4 hours. The bus ride into Yosemite National Park takes another 3 hours. So, it will take anywhere from 7 to 9 hours for this option with transfers.

One thing to note about traveling by Greyhound is that they have a direct route to Merced and one that includes a transfer. Make sure to book the one that is direct as the route with the transfer will take you more than 8 hours (and then you'll have another 3 hours on the bus into Yosemite National Park).

This bus runs every day of the week and the total cost each way starts at $42 ($20 for Greyhound and $22 for the YARTS bus).

8. Drive + Bus from San Francisco to Yosemite

Mariposa Grove Trail

You can also drive to Groveland, Merced, Fresno, or any of the YARTS bus stops and take the bus in from there.

This option allows you to leave the driving into Yosemite National Park to someone else so that you can soak in the beauty all around you.

It's a great option if you plan to stay for a night or two in the area. You could drive to a hotel in one of the historic mining towns the first day, stay the night, and then grab the bus into the park to explore the next.

This option will vary depending on where you decide to stay, but it will take roughly 2 to 2.5 hours for the drive and then another 2 to 3 hours on the bus.

9. Three-Day Guided Bus Tour

Green Route Around Yosemite

This tour is similar to the two-day tour but includes one additional day for you to explore on your own.

It will pick you up in San Francisco, take you to Yosemite to explore the giant sequoias, and then drop you off in Yosemite Valley. On the drive to and from, your guide will tell you everything you want to know about the history and geography surrounding you, and make stops for meals (which you can purchase separately).

You will then explore on your own the rest of Day One, all of Day Two, and then meet back up with the bus at an agreed-upon time and location on Day Three.

You will need to book your own accommodations. If they are outside of Yosemite Valley, you will need to arrange your own transportation to get to and from the meeting point.

Although neither accommodations nor activities are included in the tour, your guide will be on hand throughout your stay in the park. They can help you arrange climbing, rafting, or fishing adventures in the spring and summer, or snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and other cold-weather adventures in the winter months. 

This tour starts at $279 per person.

>> Find out more about the three-day tour

10. Four-Day Guided Bus Tour

Deer in Yosemite

This tour includes four days of exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Yosemite National Park.

Day One will include the drive from San Francisco to Yosemite, with time in the afternoon to explore the trails and fantastic views around Yosemite Valley. You'll finish off the day relaxing with some drinks at your rustic mountain resort.

Day Two will include a hike and lunch among the Giant Sequoias before heading up and over Tioga Pass to see Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows. You will spend the night in Mammoth Lakes.

On the morning of Day Three, you can either visit the Ansel Adams Wilderness area or Devil's Postpile National Park. You can also do some hiking or mountain biking.

You will then get back on the road and head north to Lake Tahoe with a stop along the way at the historic Bodie Ghost Town. That night, you'll stay in Lake Tahoe.

Day Four starts with exploring the lake on a kayak, paddleboard, or the shoreline by bike. You can also enjoy one of several other activities, including hiking, a gondola ride, or some gambling at a local casino.

You'll spend the entire day in South Lake Tahoe and will return to your hotel in San Francisco around 9 pm.

This tour is offered once a week in the summer months from June through September. It's a pricier option, but covers a lot of ground and does include lodging unlike the tours mentioned above.

>> Find out more about this four-day tour of Yosemite and the Sierras

11. Fly + Drive from San Francisco to Yosemite

View of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Another great way to get from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park is to fly between SFO and Fresno.

From there, you can rent a car and drive the rest of the way.

United Airlines offers a direct flight from SFO to Fresno. The flight takes less than an hour and is an easy jump to this area near Yosemite National Park. It usually costs around $150 per person in the winter months and up to $400 in the summer.

You can then rent a car to drive into Yosemite National Park. It takes about 2.5 hours to drive from Fresno Yosemite International Airport to Yosemite Valley.

This entire trip will take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.

12. Fly + Bus from San Francisco to Yosemite

Backside of Ahwahnee in Yosemite

The final option to get from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park is to fly to Fresno Yosemite International Airport and then take the YARTS bus.

The flight takes about 1 hour. The bus will take another 4 hours.

You'll pick up the YARTS Highway 41 bus directly at the airport. It only runs three times a day, so you'll want to coordinate your flight and make sure you don't miss the bus pickup times.

This bus only runs from early May through early September. The estimated cost of the bus portion is $20 each way. You'll add that to the cost of your plane ticket, which can vary. 

This trip, in total, will take anywhere from 5 to 7 hours. 

Pinterest Pin How to Get From SF to Yosemite

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