This Mountainside Road Trip Route Is A Must-Do When Visiting The West Coast

The West Coast of the United States attracts tourists from around the world who hope to experience a taste of the exciting cities, rugged mountains, and beautiful beaches the region is known for. There's an unlimited number of amazing things to do and see. Whatever you do, ensure that you carve out some time in your itinerary to immerse yourself in the iconic majesty of Yosemite National Park. The world-famous park can be visited year-round by car, and a road trip is the perfect way to travel through the gorgeous landscapes along the way.

Nestled among the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Central California, Yosemite was founded in 1890 and remains one of the most popular parks in the United States. More than 3.5 million visitors make the trip annually,  making it the 6th most visited National Park in the USA. Outdoor recreation enthusiasts love exploring more than 750 miles of hiking trails or attempting to summit some of the world's most famous rock climbing routes like the 3,000-foot El Capitan.

Within the 747,956 acres of epic wilderness, you'll see massive waterfalls, giant groves of sequoias, and granite cliffs stretching endlessly into the sky. The scenery within the park is breathtaking, but some of the best views take place during the road trip to the park's eastern entrance along Tioga Road.

Experience a jaw-dropping and thrilling mountain drive

Tioga Road is a stretch of Highway 120 that climbs through the Sierra Nevada Mountains en route to Yosemite National Park. It's one of the most beautiful drives in the Western United States, on par with the classic trip along California's Pacific Coast Highway, and it's a drive everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. Each twist and turn in the road brings awe-inspiring views you'll never forget until you eventually reach Tioga Pass, the highest highway pass in California.

The Tioga Road route is about 46 miles long and takes most travelers just under two hours to complete if they're driving straight through without stopping. While completing the drive in under two hours is possible, you'll likely want to stop and enjoy the vistas. Budget plenty of time to fully appreciate the natural beauty. At its highest point, the Tioga Pass is an impressive 9,945 feet in elevation.

The winding drive through the mountains has some steep drop-offs along the shoulder, so it may get your heart rate pumping if you struggle with heights. There are various points of interest throughout the drive, such as Olmsted Point, which has some of the best views of Half Dome — one of the most beautiful places in Yosemite. Tenaya Lake is a great place to pull off for a picnic or a swim on a warm day, and Tuolumne Meadows is an excellent stop for day hikes.

Planning your road trip to Yosemite

While Yosemite National Park is open year-round, if you want to experience the Tioga Pass Road trip, you'll have to plan the timing of your trip carefully. During the fall and winter, heavy snowfall is common in Yosemite. Expect anywhere from several inches to several feet of snow throughout the season. In 2023, the park received a record-breaking 15 feet from one storm. These thick snow blankets make the Tioga route impassable.

The road closes for the winter sometime in November and reopens when the snow melts in late May or early June so park officials can clear the pass safely. During the winter, the eastern entrance to Yosemite closes completely. In 2023, record snowfall delayed the opening of Tioga Pass until mid-July, so even if you're planning a summer trip, you must check the Yosemite National Park website in advance to ensure the roadway is open.

Flying into major airports with plenty of flights is the best way for budget travelers to experience Yosemite. The drive from San Francisco International or Oakland International to Tioga Pass takes under six hours. If you're looking to enter the park through the eastern entrance along Tioga Road, consider flying into Reno/Tahoe International for a shorter drive of about three hours. For optimum comfort and convenience, there is also a small regional airport called Mammoth Yosemite Airport, located one hour from the Tioga Pass route, with private flights operated by Advanced Air.