Yosemite National Park is a perfect escape for families. Take a break from the city and get lost in this park full of amazing scenery, great waterfalls, world-renowned rock climbing paths, and much more.
Being a big national park, I understand that accessing it may be an issue, especially for first-time visitors. So how many entrances does Yosemite have?
Yosemite National Park has five entrances. Four of the entrances are located on the western side of Yosemite, while the fifth one is on the eastern side of the park. The roads leading to each entrance boast unique attractions along the way.
Keep reading for more information on each Yosemite entrance, including points of interest to check out with the kids!
1. Big Oak Flat Entrance
The Big Oak Flat Entrance is the most suitable for anyone driving from the Bay Area to Yosemite.
This is the most direct route to Yosemite, and it’s open all year round. Remember to bring chains if you will use the entrance during winter!
Driving through the Big Oak Flat Entrance is not boring since there are several things you can do on the way.
What to do at the Big Oak Flat Entrance
- Big Oak Flat Information Station
Stop by the Big Oak Flat Information Station if you visit Yosemite. This is where all the information about the park is available.
You will find maps and books here that you can buy. Use the restrooms at the station too.
On your way to Yosemite, you will find a small quaint town called Groveland. The town is 24 miles from Big Oak Flat Entrance and is full of life.
Enjoy some live music performances at the Groveland Hotel, a landmark in this town.
Head downtown and find the Iron Door Salon, the longest-operating saloon in California. There’s no need to carry cash because this town also has several banks with ATMs.
Don’t forget to taste some of the Californian cuisines in the restaurants here.
The Big Oak Flat Entrance also features several moderate and strenuous hiking trails.
2. South Entrance
The South Entrance is ideal for visitors from Los Angeles and San Diego.
You will drive for six hours from Los Angeles and eight hours from San Diego.
The South Entrance is accessible through highway 41 North, and you will drive for an hour to reach Yosemite Valley.
What to do at the South Entrance
- Fish Camp
On this route, you will find a tiny town called Fish Camp.
It has several lodging options, so you can consider it for a night’s stay near Yosemite.
The other resort on this route is Tenaya Lodge which is the best for families looking for unique dining experiences.
Oakhurst is another bustling town 13 miles from Fish Camp, and it’s a haven for various activities.
It’s also home to many motels and restaurants and a perfect place to enjoy a night’s rest with family.
Many gold panning activities take place here and you will come across bookstores and several art galleries.
Take an early morning hike at the Lewis Creek Trail that leads to a beautiful waterfall before setting out for other activities.
- Ride a Train
If your family loves riding trains, create some time and go to the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad and board a steam engine train.
You can enjoy three different types of railway rides here. They include an hour-long ride, a shorter 30-minute excursion, and a three-hour evening ride including a barbeque dinner, campfire dancing, and entertainment.
3. Arch Rock Entrance
Arch Rock Entrance is the fastest route visitors from San Francisco can use. The route is also an alternative to Big Oak Flat Entrance, so you can use it if coming from the Bay Area.
Take the I-580 East to I-205, then connect to Highway 140 East. Getting to Yosemite Valley from here takes 25 minutes.
What to do at the Arch Rock Entrance
Midpines is a property that overlooks the gorgeous Sierra National Forest. It’s also 25 miles from Yosemite Valley and 10 miles from Mariposa.
Near Midpines is the Upper Bear Creek, which features several swimming holes, and Merced River, where you can kayak, fish, or swim.
- El Portal
El Portal is the closest town to Yosemite and is home to administrative offices, the park’s employees’ housing, and nonprofit organizations.
You will also find the El Portal Market, campgrounds, and fantastic picnic areas in this town.
When in Yosemite, you should never worry about gas because it’s available 24 hours in El Portal.
Mariposa is one of the oldest southernmost Gold Rush towns, and it has the most redwood groves, making it the perfect place to hike.
Check Mariposa out if you’re searching for a charming old town with nightlife vibes.
Don’t leave Mariposa without tasting the local delicacies at the Happy Burger Diner, a restaurant with the largest menu in California.
The other areas you can access through the South Entrance include Glacier Point, Wawona, Mariposa Grove, and Yosemite Valley.
4. Hetch Hetchy Entrance
You will find the Hetch Hetchy Entrance on the far northern side of Yosemite National Park.
This road is ideal for those who want to go to the park’s quieter areas and is accessible through Evergreen Road and Highway 120.
The road boasts some of the most spectacular hiking trails in Yosemite.
What to do at the Hetch Hetchy Entrance
- Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
One of the must-see things on this road is the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. It is the main water source for over 2.4 million San Fransisco businesses and residents.
Additionally, this reservoir also supplies the region with hydroelectric power.
Visitors are prohibited from swimming and boating in the reservoir because it’s a source of drinking water. Those with a California fishing license are allowed to fish in the lake.
- Mark Twain’s Cabin
This replica of the original cabin where Mark Twain spent the winter is worth your time. Numerous vineyards surround the cabin and the Railtown.
This is also where you will find engine No.3, the locomotive featured in many TV shows and over 100 movies.
5. Tioga Pass Entrance
Are you visiting Yosemite from Death Valley, Las Vegas, or the Lake Tahoe area? Enter the park from the eastern side through the Tioga Pass Entrance.
As an FYI, this road is usually closed from November to May. Also, most facilities along the route are closed during winter.
While on this road, you may also experience poor cell phone service.
What to do at the Tioga Pass Entrance
- Mono Lake
Exploring Mono Lake is one of the best things to do along Tioga Pass.
Remains of ancient volcanoes surround this lake, which is a beautiful sight to behold.
Mono Lake has had no outlet for over 760,000 years. Its water is so alkaline hence no fish can survive in it.
This is also a perfect place for birdwatching, and you may spot strange animals that are not found anywhere in the world.
There are self-guided nature trails where you can enjoy a walk.
- Lee Vining
Lee Vining is a small charming town nestled between Mono Base National Forest Scenic Area and Yosemite Park.
There are approximately 200 residents living here, and most businesses are locally-owned. Enjoy dinner here and find a lodge for a night’s rest.
Which Yosemite entrance is the least crowded?
The Tioga Pass Entrance is the best route for anyone who wants to avoid crowds. It’s usually not busy in the early mornings and late afternoons.
Another alternative is the Hetch Hetchy Entrance leading to the quiet side of the park.
Useful tips for visiting Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Park can sometimes be congested, making it difficult for visitors to enjoy their visit.
Here are some important tips to help you make the most out of your time in the park.
Make a reservation before driving to the entrance gate
Yosemite started using a reservation system to tame the crowds and keep visitors safe. You will need a reservation if visiting the park during peak hours.
Those spending a night at Yosemite or holding a wilderness permit don’t need an additional reservation. Show your permit, and you will be allowed into the park.
You don’t need a reservation if you enter the park during the off-peak hours.
Use the shuttles
Yosemite Valley Shuttle Service ferries people into the park for free, so don’t bring your car if it’s not a must.
The operation time for the shuttles is from 7:00 a.m to 10:00 p.m, but the times may change depending on the route.
All the information about the shuttle services is available at the park’s main gate.
Stay safe in Yosemite
Yosemite is home to a large number of deer and bears. You, therefore, need to keep an eye on wildlife and avoid getting close to them.
Also, remember that the park has areas with higher elevations, so drive carefully.
Moreover, if you will be in the park during the summer, stay near a river or in the higher elevations because Yosemite can get very hot.
Yosemite National Park has five entrances. The entrance you use depends on where you are coming from.
Start your adventure early by stopping at your entrance and enjoying the beautiful sites and towns it boasts. You won’t regret it!