It is very rare for a US National Park to be visited and explored without a car. Not having a car can be a hindrance for tourists to enjoy the natural beauty that the America has to offer. Yosemite National Park is one of the very few national parks that can be enjoyed by everyone without having or renting a car. It is very possible for tourists to come here via public transportation and to discover the area via its own shuttle service. If you are planning a tour of Yosemite and worrying about not having a car, then worry no more, this article is just right for you. Here’s our guide to Visiting Yosemite Without a Car.
Yosemite National Park is not the first US National Park, that title belongs to Yellowstone, but, it paved the way for the creation of national parks. It was the first area to be set aside for preservation to prevent exploitation. Yosemite pride itself with granite cliffs, waterfalls, green meadows, rivers and lakes, and wildlife. With its impeccable and incomparable beauty, it has become one of the most visited national parks in the world.
Hiking is the main activity at the park. For a better appreciation of its beauty and vastness, one must hike. Day hikes are abundant and available for all types of hikers, amateur or professional. Water rafting, biking, rock climbing, walking, and camping are also some of the activities you can enjoy while on the valley. You can stay at the park for a week and you wouldn’t run out of activities to do. In fact, just sitting there and looking at the view are totally worth of your time. To say that Yosemite National Park is beautiful is definitely an understatement.
Yosemite Valley is the center of the park and is where most tourists spend most of their time. The valley is surrounded by beautiful granite cliffs, rock mountains, meadows, and there is no shortage of mighty waterfalls. Outside and a gain in elevation of the valley are some other equally impressive attractions, like, Glacier Point, Tioga Road, Tuolumne Meadows, Hetch Hetchy, and Mariposa Grove.
If you are going to Yosemite National Park without a car, it is important that you book your accommodation inside the Yosemite Valley. Staying inside the valley proves to be convenient and most attractions are within walking distance or accessible via the parks shuttle service. Just a reminder, accommodations inside the valley are booked months in advance, so, plan ahead.
Getting to Yosemite National Park by Public Transportation
There is no direct bus or train to Yosemite from either Los Angeles or San Francisco, so, transfers are required. It may sound complicated, but, believe me it is very easy.
If you are coming from Los Angeles, head to Union Station and take the bus to Bakersfield Station Building The journey is almost 3 hours, so try to get some sleep. From Bakersfield Station, take the train (AMTRAK) for a 1-hour and 49-minute ride and get off at Fresno station. From Fresno station, take the YARTS to Yosemite Valley. After a more than 3 hours of beautiful landscape you’ll finally arrive at Yosemite Valley.
YARTS stands for Yosemite Area and Regional Transportation System and is the sole public bus transit in Yosemite. Remember that if you take the YARTS, you do not have to pay for the national park entrance fee.
If you are coming from San Francisco, take the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) from any stations in San Francisco to Richmond Station. From Richmond Station, head to AMTRAK train station and take the train to Merced. The train ride is under 2 hours and 40 minutes. From Merced, take YARTS to Yosemite Valley.
YARTS stops at the village accommodations, such as, Yosemite Lodge, Half Dome Village, and The Majestic Hotel.
TIP: Book your trip to Yosemite via AMTRAK. All transfers are in one ticket, very convenient.
Yosemite Valley Shuttle System
Now that you’ve finally arrived at Yosemite Valley and wanting to immediately explore the area, the free shuttle service of Yosemite Park is there waiting for you. The valley shuttle runs all year round, with additional stops during summer, and is from 7 am to 10 pm. The bus runs every 10 to 20 minutes during peak hours, and every 30 minutes during non-peak hours.
If you are not fond of walking, take the shuttle to your preferred destination. There are stops around the valley, so make sure you make an itinerary to know where to go. TIP: The bus stops in numerical order, so you do not want to take the bus from bus stop #3 if you are going to bus stop #2, that will take a while.
Here’s a sample map for you.
And here are the famous attractions that you can visit via the free shuttle bus: The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, The Ansel Adams Gallery, Visitor Center, Lower Yosemite Falls, Half-Dome Village, Happy Isles, Sentinel Meadow, and Cooks Meadow. During Summer, additional stops at El Capitan Picnic area and Four-Mile trailhead.
It was mentioned above that in order to better appreciate Yosemite, you must go hiking. That was true, hidden treasures and wonders are seen when you go deeper the wilderness. Plan for a day hike. Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls trails starting point are easily accessible via the free shuttle service. Same goes with Mist Trail and Four-Mile hike. Mist trail is recommendable for everyone as it is the most popular. Two waterfalls and amazing vistas are what await you during the hike. Try it and you’ll most definitely won’t forget it.
Tunnel View and Glacier Point
Tunnel View and the Glacier Point are two most popular attractions and viewing points in Yosemite that give an spectacular panorama of the valley. The views from here are what you usually see on postcards and pictures everywhere. Sadly, if you do not have a car, this ain’t accessible. But, there is a way to see it. Join the fee-based Valley Tour.
Fee-Based Valley Tour
Valley tour is a two-hour tour of Yosemite Valley covering all of the most important attractions. The tour includes the Tunnel View and the Valley view. $20 for the day tour and $35 for the twilight tour is more than worth it. Rangers are well-versed with Yosemite’s history that can add value to your experience. If you are lucky, your ranger can sing some American folk song for you during one of the stops. The tour is highly recommendable.
Glacier Point tour is four hours and will bring you to stops on the valley and then, Bridalveil Fall, Tunnel View, Valley View, and the Glacier Point. It costs $49 for the roundtrip and $25 for a single trip. A single trip is ideal if you would like to hike the Panorama Trail. The Panorama trail starts at the Glacier Point, traversing Nevada Fall, John Muir Trail and Mist Trail. One day is well spent if taking this hike.
TIP: Take the valley tour and hike the Mist Trail. You can almost get everything covered, except, the Glacier Point.
Cons of Not Having a Car
There are cons in not having your own car while visiting Yosemite, but it is far lesser than the pros.
One, you cannot stop to places you find interesting if it is not a proper bus stop or not part of your tour. Second, you might miss the beauty of Stargazing at the most beautiful spot, the Glacier Point. Third, you do not have the monopoly of time. Fourth, no road trips and fifth, going to outskirts are hard, albeit possible, and time consuming.
The cons are very negligible, because, for every activity that you can’t do, can be replaced with something as fun and as memorable.
There you have it, we’ve proven that visiting Yosemite National Park without a car is undoubtedly possible. For budget travelers, knowing that you’ll be able to enjoy a place of great beauty without having to spend a dime on rental fee and parking fee is comforting. Like I haven’t said enough, Yosemite is one of a kind and should be enjoyed by everyone. Would really love to go back there.
Further Readings on Yosemite: