We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.
We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

Which Yosemite National Park hotels are on sale?
mm/dd/yyyy mm/dd/yyyy
See hotels
Old Lyme...
Level Contributor
14 posts
20 reviews
Save Topic
Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

We will be driving from SF to El Portal to stay two nights and visit Yosemite. It looks like driving directly between the two will take about 4 hours, which will eat up a lot of the day. Since we would not arrive at El Portal until the late afternoon at the earliest, are there any suggestions for places to stop along the route so that we can make the most of our "travel day?"

We have been reading that stops in the gold rush junction (Sonora, Jamestown) might be good. Any preferences between these towns on things to visit for a couple hours before continuing on to Yosemite?

San Francisco...
Level Contributor
3,974 posts
154 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

Are you there later in the summer? If so, the Merced River passes through El Portal so hanging out by the river is nice. If you go to the section near the Cedar Lodge, you might see rafters going down the river. If you can get there say around 2pm you can even go on a rafting trip since the loading area is around El Portal.

However, given it is 1/2 hour to Yosemite Valley and given the entrance fee is good for a week, i normally drive to Yosemite and stay for a few hours.

Mariposa on the way is a good place to stretch legs and visit. The Mariposa visitor center with bathrooms is usually staffed during the summer. There is a section a few miles past Mariposa where you can view spectacular wildflowers in the spring. The US forest service briceburg visitor center is also worth a quick stop if you are interested in wildflowers or want to explore this area right by the Merced River more blm.gov/ca/…mercedriverrec.html

Fortaleza, CE
Level Contributor
9,183 posts
377 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

You're getting a late start from SF, I gather, and feel you're getting to El Portal late in the day. You want to make the drive even longer because you feel that, by late afternoon, you wouldn't have time to go into Yosemite the same day? That isn't clear to me. I don't see why you wouldn't visit Yosemite Valley that first afternoon/evening, since it's only about 1/2 hour from El Portal, unless it's in the winter when you'd run out of sunlight early.

Google Maps says 3 1/2 hours from SF to El Portal, but, of course, that's a rough estimate and traffic could make it much longer. Columbia State Historic Park is interesting, and would give you some time on Hwy. 49, though, of course, make it less likely you'd get into Yosemite that day. http://goo.gl/maps/loaSJ If only you could get an earlier start from SF, you could see someplace like Columbia and still see a bit of Yosemite that first afternoon and evening. I like many Gold Rush towns, including Mariposa, but that you can quickly see on the way to Yosemite. You can stretch your legs anywhere. I'd want to spend every minute in Yosemite I could.

Edited: 1:26 pm, May 18, 2013
Old Lyme...
Level Contributor
14 posts
20 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

We plan to leave San Francisco in the morning (hopefully by 9:30), but we figure by the time we get out of the city that we wouldn't arrive in El Portal until around 2:00 pm if we drove straight there. We will be driving in July on a Friday, and we have read there can be heavy congestion getting into Yosemite in the afternoons with limited parking. Since we are planning on doing the "Grand Tour" at Yosemite the following day (our full day there), we are unsure if it is worth it to venture the 1/2 hour from El Portal into Yosemite valley on the same day when we expect to cover the valley on our tour the following day.

That's why we were wondering what we should do on our travel day, whether it would be worth it to spend the time exploring neighboring towns (like the gold rush ones) instead of going into Yosemite in the late afternoon.

Fortaleza, CE
Level Contributor
9,183 posts
377 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

What "grand tour"?? You think you'd see the entire park, including all that there is in Yosemite Valley (not all visible from cars and shuttles), Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, etc. in one day? I wouldn't hesitate a minute: if you can get to El Portal by 2:30 (not late afternoon, after all), I'd head straight for Yosemite. If the ranger at the entrance says parking in the Valley is a mess, head go Glacier Point or even Tuolumne Meadows, or somewhere else. Look at the park's Web site. There are tons of things to do, and the more time you have, the better. Nothing against places like Columbia, etc., but for most people, one full day in Yosemite isn't nearly enough, especially since to get around you may have to wait for shuttles, etc. And there's so much to see outside of the Valley, which is by far the most crowded area. www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/index.htm

Mightn't there be crowded roads, etc.? Sure, but if you don't want crowds at all, don't go to Yosemite at that time. If you're already as close as El Portal, I certainly wouldn't hesitate to drive the short distance into the park because of fear of traffic, etc.

Edited: 2:35 pm, May 19, 2013
Fortaleza, CE
Level Contributor
9,183 posts
377 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

p.s. I'd go into the Valley even if you can leave El Portal by dinnertime. Summer evenings are nice in Yosemite Valley. And there isn't much at all to do in El Portal itself.

Old Lyme...
Level Contributor
14 posts
20 reviews
Save Reply
6. Re: Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

The Grand Tour covers Yosemite Valley sights, plus Tunnel View, Glacier Point, Wawona, Big Trees. It's a full day guided day tour that combines the Valley Floor Tour, Big Trees Tram and Glacier Point tours into one. We figured this would be a good way to hit the highlights of the park given the short period of time.

Washington State
Destination Expert
for Yosemite National Park
Level Contributor
57,001 posts
113 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

The Grand Tour is all day on a bus. It works for some visitors.

I'd recommend leaving SF as early as possible and entering via the Big Oak Flat Entrance. Then spend the afternoon in Tuolumne Meadows. Drive back down Hwy 120 and head to Hwy 140 to exit the Park and go to El Portal.

Fortaleza, CE
Level Contributor
9,183 posts
377 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

Taking advantage of the first day to see Alpine-like Tuolumne Meadows, which you wouldn't otherwise see, and which is quite different from Yosemite Valley, etc. is a good idea. TM is one of my favorite parts of the park. Even great views down Yosemite Valley, from the opposite direction of the classic Tunnel View. #7 gives a good route.

Edited: 12:44 pm, May 20, 2013
San Francisco...
Level Contributor
661 posts
Save Reply
9. Re: Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

Another option for that first half-day: visit Hetch Hetchy. It's about an hour in each direction. (or if you drive from SF to HH then to El Portal you can save some driving). You can check out the dam and walk as long as you like. The flat trail the leads to a couple waterfalls. No crowds, ever.

Edited: 11:44 pm, May 20, 2013
Old Lyme...
Level Contributor
14 posts
20 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: Places to stop betwee San Fran and Yosemite (El Portal)

Wow lots of ideas flowing!

The thing about driving from SF to Tolumne and then to El Portal is that it I see it is about 6 hours of driving time total for the day (without considering stops). That is a bit more driving than we would like.

Does anyone know more about the Grand Tour? We knew it would be on a bus (that's how you would be able to get around to all those places) but do they make frequent stops and let you out to explore at all? Does the tour include the Valley floor open air tram ride or is that just offered for the "Valley Floor" tour and and the Grand Tour just has you seeing the sights on a bus? The tour description on http://www.yosemitepark.com/grand-tour.aspx is kind of unclear in that regard.