Plan a Perfect Trip From Sacramento to Yosemite National Park

Last Updated on August 30, 2022 by Snezana Grcak

Thanks to Shuttle Fare’s international team, planning a family vacation and driving from Sacramento to Yosemite National Park is child’s play. The distance is approximately 140 miles, and we’ll help you find the best scenic route and popular attractions on your way to the mountains. Discover the locations of top trails, waterfalls, lakes, historic gold-rush towns, RV campgrounds, hotels, and dining options. You’ll also learn how to avoid traffic, make online reservations, enjoy beautiful nature views, and have a great experience, whether you decide to travel in spring, summer, fall, or winter.

Pick the Best Route From Sacramento to Yosemite

You can take a few routes from Sacramento to Yosemite National park, and the average point-to-point driving time is 3 hours.

The first option is taking I-5 or Highway 99, switching to Highway 4 from Stockton and then to Highway 120 in Chinese Camp. Alternatively, you may drive south on Highway 99 to Merced and take Highway 140 to the park, but this is the longest and least popular route.

The second and our preferred option is driving on State Route 16 to Highway 49 before switching to the 120. It’s slightly longer than the first one but offers a scenic drive with many beautiful historical gold-rush sites en route. We’ll cover both courses and include the best stops to help you choose the most suitable one.

Yosemite Valley Sign

Route #1: Attractive Stops Along Highway 49

The exciting drive along Hwy 49 allows you to visit several old, gold-rush towns. Here are our top picks for those who want to check them out along their way from Sac to Yosemite.

  1. Amador City is a lovely small town with authentic buildings from the Gold Rush, historical landmarks, shops, the Amador Whitney Museum, and several dining options.
  2. Sutter Creek’s Main Street offers unique boutiques, shops, restaurants, and a famous walking tour covering over 60 historical buildings and sites.
  3. Mokelumne Hill is easily accessible from the highway and has charming Main Street, ideal for photographers looking to get Gold Country shots.
  4. Angels Camp also has cool antique shops and restaurants, but there are also winery tasting rooms, art galleries, and opportunities for various outdoor activities. It also hosts several amusing festivals.
  5. Calaveras Big Trees State Park is our favorite spot and definitely worth a short detour. It’s a 30-minute drive from Angels Camp and is open from 6 AM to 10 PM. Click here for more info and updates.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Route #2: Travel To Yosemite via Stockton

If you take I-5 or Hwy 99 from Sac and then switch to Hwy 4 from Stockton, you’ll get to your destination faster but won’t see as many cool places along the way. However, the Shuttle Fare team did a little digging to make your road trip more fun.

If you travel via Hwy 99, visit Lodi Lake before getting to Stockton. It’s a beautiful lakefront park with a lot of fun activities, including swimming, kayaking, and boating. There’s a $5 fee for vehicle entry.

Take a break in Stockton to stretch your legs, have lunch, and check out a few attractive spots. The Haggin Museum in Victory Park has peculiar artworks and displays of local vintage artifacts, and the park is ideal for relaxation. If you’re traveling with kids, don’t miss the Children’s Museum. The Black Rabbit on the Miracle Mile has delicious burgers and fantastic craft beers and cocktails. If you like Mexican cuisine, visit Octavio’s on Ben Holt Drive.

Red Hills Recreational Management Area is near the Hwy 49 and Hwy 120 intersection. Check it out if you’re into hiking or want to enjoy bald eagle sightings.

Yosemite National Park Passes & Attractions

You need to make a reservation if you plan to drive into the park between 6 AM and 4 PM by September 30, 2022. 

The Yosemite Annual Pass is $70, while other fees are listed below. Note that the weekly fees apply after September 30; if you plan on coming between late May and late September, these will be the prices for three-day passes.

Vehicle Type7-Day Fee (September–May)
Non-commercial car, RV, or van with up to 15 passengers$35
Motorcycle $30
Bicycle or non-commercial bus/van with over 15 passengers$20
Commercial tours$65–$300

Reservations are required for all campgrounds, too. Click here to find other essential details and camping locations.

Things To See & Do

Yosemite National Park covers nearly 760,000 acres, so there’s a lot to see, but we’ll give you a list of our must-see spots.

Yosemite National Park
  1. Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall on the continent, and the Yosemite Falls Trail offers spectacular views you cannot miss. It’s a must if you’re coming during spring when the waterfall is at its peak. Take the Valleywide Shuttle to the trailhead, hop off at stop #7, and follow the signs placed across the street.
  2. Glacier Point is another place that’s undoubtedly worth seeing. Glacier Point Road is closed in 2022, but you can get there via the Four Mile Trail and Panorama Trail. The first one is our favorite; it offers breathtaking views of the Valley, and you can take the free shuttle to get to the trail (stop #11). Note that these are strenuous hikes.
  3. Tunnel View doesn’t require any hiking and is unaffected by the Glacier Point Road closure. It’s outside the Wawona Tunnel and gives you a marvelous opportunity to see Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Fall.
  4. Tenaya Lake is arguably one of the most beautiful Yosemite lakes. It’s also an excellent spot for families with kids since it’s an easy hike. The best time for a visit is June through October.
  5. The Ahwahnee is one of the most popular lodging options that welcomes all tourists. Even if you’re not a guest, don’t hesitate to check out its rustic elegance, have a delicious breakfast, or grab a hot chocolate. It’s not just a hotel but also a remarkable historical monument.

These are just our top picks; check Yosemite National Park’s official website to discover all the magnificent places in the area. 

When To Visit Yosemite National Park

Even though the park is open throughout the year, most visitors opt for spring or summer visits. If you want to avoid crowds, October through April is the best time for a trip to Yosemite National Park. However, if you plan to see the waterfalls, peak runoff is usually in May or June, so you should plan a spring visit.

Also, some roads and trails are closed during winter due to snow and harsh weather conditions. Click here for up-to-date information on road or trail closures.