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Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Travelling to and visiting Yosemite National Park. How to get there, what to see or do, and other Yosemite trip advice.

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Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby amigo » Wed Mar 28, 2018 1:08 pm

I'm flying into San Francisco on Aug 30 arriving at 1:15 pm and want to drive into Yosemite that afternoon. Ideally, I would like to get to Tuolumne Meadows to camp there that night so I can get an early hike of Clouds Rest on the Friday. However, this is Thursday before the Labor Day long weekend. If I arrive at (or near) the west entrance from Groveland around 5:00-5:30pm, should I expect a long lineup?

How long approx is the drive from the west gate entrance to Tuolumne Meadows?
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby Phil » Wed Mar 28, 2018 4:24 pm

The entrance lines can get pretty long (sometimes hours) around major holiday weekends. I doubt it'll be insanely long, but a wait wouldn't be out of the question.

BUT...your singularly biggest problem is where to spend the night without a reservation, both in lodging, and campgrounds, especially over Labor Day weekend. Seriously, try to put that together before you make any other plans involving a drive to the park. You're not allowed to sleep in the car or just camp randomly anywhere. I'm assuming that you're meaning that you plan on day hiking to Cloud's Rest? Realistically, I doubt you'll feel like driving all the way back to the Bay Area after that, so plan on finding a place for 2 nights.

Traffic dependent, plan on about an hour from the Big Oak Flat entrance to Tuolumne. More if there are lots of motorhomes or, God forbid, someone sees a bear and decides to stop in the middle of the road to get out of the car and take pictures...inevitably leading to 20 other carloads or people doing the same thing. Don't laugh, happens all the time.
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby amigo » Wed Mar 28, 2018 5:48 pm

I plan a day-hike up Clouds Rest on the Friday. I was hoping to get to Tuolumne Meadows in good time from SFO on Thurs evening, but I'm not sure if it'll already be busy then. If it might be very busy, I may try to stay somewhere before the Big Oak Flat Entrance on Thu night and get a very early departure Fri morning to avoid lineups and to get to the Sunrise trailhead before it fills up Fri morning.

After Clouds Rest, I'm heading to Mammoth Lakes. Does it sound like I'd best stay somewhere west of the Big Oak Flat Entrance on Thu night and get an early departure Fri morning to avoid crowds (say, by 6am or so)? I would guess the long weekend crowds should start Fri and not Thu?

Yes, I will reserve something ahead of time ... just not sure where yet. Depends on what expected traffic might be like.
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby Phil » Wed Mar 28, 2018 6:12 pm

Yeah, the onslaught will begin on friday, but lots of people try to beat it by coming in early. Places to stay along 120 would be Groveland and Buck Meadows. They jack their rates, so book early. Buck Meadows is only about a 30 minute drive to the entrance gate.

That said, you still might be able to book a reservation for a site in Tuolumne, or you could reserve or cross your fingers and hope for a walk-in site at one of the campgrounds west of there, in order of locations west to east just before or along Tioga Rd: Crane Flat, Tamarack Flat, Yosemite Creek (the last two, several mile drives in on sometimes rough roads), White Wolf, or Porcupine Flat. You might also find them more pleasant and with less of a sense of crowding than the Tuolumne campground, and with the exception of the first two on the list, none of them are so far away that it'll be too long a drive to or from the Sunrise trailhead up to CR. Personally, fwiw, I'm partial to White Wolf and Porcupine Flat.
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby amigo » Wed Mar 28, 2018 6:23 pm

Thanks for the info! Reserving a site at one of those campgrounds is not what I'm worried about right now. It's whether by 5-6pm Thu evening if the lineup to get past the entrance will be a traffic jam or not. If it's likely, I'll reserve a place in Buck Meadows or Groveland, then get a very early start Fri morning to get to Sunrise trailhead without any traffic.

But if it's unlikely I'd get a traffic jam getting into the Park Thu late afternoon/early evening, I'll try instead to reserve a campsite in the Park. I'm hoping people familiar with this can give me good advice as I'm from out east and don't really know how bad it gets and when.
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby Phil » Wed Mar 28, 2018 7:08 pm

I hate to sound glib, but those of us that know the park well enough to answer questions also know enough to be out of there no later than the Weds or Thurs before any major holiday weekend. Traffic and crowds make it somewhere best avoided, at all costs. Sure you don't want to rebook your flight for the weekend before or after and have the run of the park?

If your flight lands at 1:15, let's say you get lucky and get out of SFO about 2. Just getting up the 101 and over the Bay Bridge, then the 580 past Pleasanton, Tracy, then the 5 and 120 to Manteca and on to Oakdale in afternoon/rush hour traffic is going to be a nightmare, even on a good day. Realistically, you'll likely hit the entrance closer to somewhere between 8-9pm, so no worries, the line should be next to nothing, so go for a campsite and save the $200 or so per night they'll hit you for, on top of either paying it again (or more for weekend rates) or having to figure out where to stay the second night within the park anyhow. But, if you do stay in Buck Meadows, if you hit the road at about 7am, you'll sail right through the gate. Traffic usually doesn't get horrendous until around 10am, but remember, your early start to beat-the-crowds thinking is by no means unique. Sorry to not be able to give you a really concise answer, but it's a huge variable in both timing and in trying to figure out how people's minds work. It may seem like entrance station wait times is the biggest deal, but one thing I know for sure is, it's not.
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby AlmostThere » Wed Mar 28, 2018 8:03 pm

50% of Tuolumne Meadows campground is walk in, and I have been successful in getting a campsite by showing up at 5 am to get in line for it. They issue numbers (maintain your place in the queue) and tell you to come back at 2 pm after people have checked out of campsites - then you MIGHT get a campsite. That is on a non holiday Friday.

Thursday night before a holiday weekend? Yeah. I don't go the park on holiday weekends any more. But if I did, I would keep in mind the other campgrounds along TIoga Road, and snag the first site I came across whether it was at Tamarack, Porcupine or Tuolumne Meadows... And if none of them worked, go on to the ones outside the park on Tioga Rd, in the national forest. Having backup plans helps. Don't think there are not hundreds of other people thinking the same thing, that Thursday is early...

I'm definitely elsewhere on Labor Day. Backpacking, most likely in the national forest wildernesses. Those of us who lived through two miles per three hours in Yosemite time our visits differently.
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby amigo » Thu Mar 29, 2018 6:04 am

Thanks for the replies. Sounds like if I leave SFO by 2pm and take the San Mateo bridge, I should beat rush hour and get to Yosemite by somewhere around 6 pm.
Unless someone thinks I'm mistaken, I'll plan to head past the entrance point Thurs late afternoon. I will try to reserve a campsite at Tuolumne Meadows for that evening ahead of time (in April). On Friday, I plan to hike Clouds Rest, then take off to Mammoth Lake for Fri night (yup, will already have something reserved then).
I will be doing a one week backpack trip in the Bishop area starting Labor Day.
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby AlmostThere » Thu Mar 29, 2018 7:23 am

It sounds like you are counting a lot on luck... hope you get that. Rush hour in SF is unpredictable as are the accidents that stick you in a freeway parking lot for a few hours.

Good luck. You'll need it. Would not be surprised if you slept through Friday after getting wherever you land at 5 am.

Adventure is guaranteed....
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby Phil » Thu Mar 29, 2018 7:21 pm

AlmostThere wrote:Adventure is guaranteed....


Yep. Anybody that can do a 5-6 hour drive in 4 hours....I want to rub their belly and buy some lottery tickets.
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby AlmostThere » Thu Mar 29, 2018 7:55 pm

Phil wrote:
AlmostThere wrote:Adventure is guaranteed....


Yep. Anybody that can do a 5-6 hour drive in 4 hours....I want to rub their belly and buy some lottery tickets.


I bet they gave him the flying car I wanted.

Rats.

Sure would have been useful that time I left folks sitting at a trailhead while I sat waiting for wreckage to be cleared from the 580.
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby Phil » Thu Mar 29, 2018 8:51 pm

AlmostThere wrote:I bet they gave him the flying car I wanted.


I hear they now offer that as an upgrade at Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise...along with an exceptionally bitchin' map.
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby amigo » Fri Mar 30, 2018 5:30 am

Ok, very funny. I get the message. I guess I'm going to target staying somewhere BEFORE the Park on the Thu night. I just can't afford renting a flying car. Cheers!
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby Mooslee » Mon Aug 20, 2018 2:46 am

Hello all

I design multi day-climb up Clouds Rest on Friday. I was planning to get to Tuolumne Meadows in a great time from SFO on Thurs evening, yet I don't know whether it'll as of now be occupied at that point.
Last edited by Mooslee on Wed Aug 22, 2018 12:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Driving into Park Thurs prior to Labor Day

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Aug 20, 2018 7:33 am

Not sure what you mean... the evacuation caused by the fire is lifted, if that is the concern.
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