Yosemite National Park by Rail

One of America’s first national parks, Yosemite National Parks is one of the most naturally beautiful places in the United States. Located three and a half to four hours from the San Francisco bay area by car, it is one of the most accessible national parks from a major American city. More than 4 million visitors enjoy this jaw dropping scenery every year. Many tour companies in San Francisco offer day-long tours from the Bay Area to Yosemite to explore the park quickly. For people wanting to explore the park for a longer time, visitors can rent a car from the city and drive it into the park. However, the combination of rental car prices and gas prices near the park make this a very expensive proposition. Instead, Amtrak California’s San Joaquin service provides service to Yosemite National Park in a more cost-effective manner.

Amtrak’s San Joaquin to Yosemite

Traveling between San Francisco and Yosemite requires a bus connection from San Francisco to Emeryville, a train from Emeryville to Merced or Fresno, and a bus from Merced or Fresno to Yosemite Valley.

Half Dome in Yosemite Valley

Leaving San Francisco, Amtrak provides a thruway bus service between San Francisco and the Emeryville station for all trains stopping in Emeryville. All bus services stop at the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco, but certain buses stop at other locations around San Francisco. Leaving Emeryville on a San Joaquin service, passengers can either ride to Merced or Fresno to connect to Yosemite. For more on the San Joaquin service, check out our Train Ride of the Week article on the San Joaquin service.

In both Merced and Fresno, there is a bus service between the station and Yosemite National Park provided by Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS), which can be booked through Amtrak.com. The bus between Merced and Yosemite National Park travels on Highway 140 travels year-round, while the bus service on Highway 41 between Fresno and Yosemite Valley is only available between May and September. (Along the Highway 41 route is the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad for railfans to enjoy.) If staying at a hotel outside the park, there are numerous intermediate stops at many of the hotels as well. A secret of booking is to book the train and bus separately. Amtrak’s website does not allow transfers of less than an hour, even though some connections in Merced are as little as 17 minutes. Both cities also have car rental locations if you wish to have more freedom to explore the park on your own.

Between the two buses and train connection, it takes approximately five and a half hours for the journey, adding only an hour and a half to the drive time. Also, it costs less than $50 for visitors.

Once In Yosemite National Park

Once you arrive in the Yosemite Valley, visitors can connect to the free Yosemite shuttle, which connects visitors to various points of interest around the park, particularly in the Yosemite Valley. There is also the Majestic Yosemite Hotel and the Yosemite Valley Lodge for guests spending the night in the park. If the Majestic is unavailable, a personal recommendation is the Yosemite View Lodge, located just outside the park’s western entrance on Highway 140. The hotel is also a bus stop on the Highway 140 bus service from Merced. Camping is also available in the park in designated areas within the park.

For the adventurous type, Yosemite offers numerous options to enjoy. Around the park are more than 800 miles of hiking trails, which are divided into five sections, known as Yosemite Valley, Wawona/Mariposa Grove/Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, Hetch Hetchy, and Crane Flat/White Wolf. Beyond hiking, visitors can enjoy rock climbing, which first came to prominence in the park. Between late spring and early fall, much of the park can be accessed for multiple-day backpacking trips. All overnight trips into the back country require a wilderness permit and most require approved bear-resistant food storage.

Mirror Lake

The most visited part of the park is Yosemite Valley. In the Yosemite Valley, visitors can marvel at the near vertical granite faces of the mountains and the waterfalls that are around the valley. One of the waterfalls is Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in America. Visitors can marvel at the rising mountains which were captured for posterity by the famous photographer Ansel Adams. The photography of Adams is preserved for visitors to enjoy behind the Yosemite Valley Visitors Center in the Ansel Adams Gallery. The Visitors Center also gives an insight into the Native American history of the Yosemite area.

If you only have a limited amount of time to explore the park, particularly in the summer, there are numerous private tours in and around the park. The best way to see the park in a short amount of time is Yosemite Private Tours. Dan Larsen takes visitors into the Yosemite Valley, to Washburn and Glacier Points, the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias, and the Wawona Hotel throughout the day. The tour cost includes the park entrance fee for visitors, as well as lunch. Visitors will get a number of hints and tips on photography from Dan, who knows where the best angles are and what to look for, while also learning about the history of the park. Dan will account for your interests, including concluding the tour with To The Trains by finishing the day at the historic Yosemite Valley Railroad display in El Portal. Yosemite Private Tours makes it easy to enjoy the best of the Yosemite National Park in a limited amount of time.

Yosemite was best summarized by Teddy Roosevelt, who said, “It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.” Yosemite National Park should be experienced by everyone to enjoy the stunning beauty of the park. However, the numbers of cars and the costs of driving to the area can make it difficult to fully enjoy. To lessen this headache, visitors can take the train from San Francisco to Yosemite, then utilize either YARTS or a private tour like Yosemite Private Tours to enjoy the park.

Helpful Links

Amtrak San Joaquin – https://www.amtrak.com/san-joaquins-train
YARTS – https://yarts.com/
Yosemite National Park – https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm
Yosemite Private Tours – http://yosemitecustomtours.com/index.htm