Which Entrance to Yosemite is Best for Your Trip?

There are five entrances to Yosemite National Park – so how do you know which entrance to Yosemite is best for your trip? Each entrance offers access to unique trails and sights, from waterfalls and the reservoir in Hetch Hetchy to the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area through the Tioga Pass Entrance. Plan your perfect Yosemite trip with these tips and see what entrance will work best for you! 

Yosemite Valley View (Santino T.).

Big Oak Flat Entrance

Best for seeing Yosemite’s most famous sights.

If you want to explore Yosemite Valley, the best entrance at Yosemite is the Big Oak Flat Entrance. Just minutes from Rush Creek Lodge, this entrance to Yosemite gives you access to explore Yosemite Valley’s famous sights like Tunnel View, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Falls. The valley is surrounded by bucket list climbs Half Dome and El Capitan, where hikers watch experienced climbers scale these granite summits (or undertake it themselves with the proper permits). 

You can also access Tuolumne Meadows through the Big Oak Flat Entrance of Yosemite National Park, following Tioga Road before the Tioga Pass Entrance of the park. Tuolumne Meadows holds a portion of the Tuolumne River, and is a popular spot in Yosemite for birdwatching, fishing, picnicking, stargazing, and photography. 

Yosemite Hetch Hetchy Wapama Falls Bridge (Kim Carroll 3-17.70)

Hetch Hetchy Entrance

Best for encountering fewer crowds.

The Hetch Hetchy Entrance of Yosemite National Park is the best entrance for those seeking an extra peaceful experience in Yosemite. The farthest north of all the entrances to the park, the Hetch Hetchy Entrance typically has fewer crowds. There are fish in the majority of the lakes for fishing. Hetch Hetchy is also one of the best entrances to Yosemite for hiking due to the long hiking season (early spring through the fall) and access to many of the park’s hiking trails. 

Not sure where to start? Let the experts at nearby Rush Creek Lodge guide you. You can enjoy a leisurely and fascinating 5 mile hike high above the shores of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on the Hetch Hetchy Wapama Falls Naturalist Hike while your knowledgeable guide shares history, science, and local lore you can’t find anywhere else. Learn more about our guided Yosemite National Park tours.

El Capitan (Kim Carroll).

Arch Rock Entrance

Best for access to the center of Yosemite National Park.

Arch Rock Entrance welcomes visitors to the park with a unique rock feature that passes over the roadway. Arch Rock consists of two house-sized boulders that form an archway large enough for visitors to drive through. You’ll be close to the center of the park and many iconic sights like Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and the Merced River when you use the Arch Rock Entrance. 

Arch Rock Entrance is a direct route to Yosemite Valley, reachable via a gorgeous 10-mile drive. You’ll be treated to views of Bridalveil Fall, Pohono Bridge over the Merced River, and the iconic El Capitan.

Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park.

South Entrance

Best for seeing the Giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove.

If you’re traveling to Yosemite to see the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, the best entrance to the park is the South Entrance. This popular place to visit in Yosemite National Park is just 8 miles from the South Entrance, giving you access to the grove without driving through the whole park. Just before the entrance, you’ll find the South Entrance Information Station – there you can grab a park map and pay your entrance fee. You can also hop the free shuttle to Mariposa Grove from the Welcome Plaza, just two minutes from the South Entrance. 

Inside the park, you can visit Wawona, a historic town that holds the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, historic buildings, and interactive experiences available during the summer. The historic town comes back to life with blacksmith demonstrations, horse-drawn carriage rides, and more.

Tioga Pass mountain range in Yosemite National Park.

Tioga Pass Entrance

Best for access to Tioga Lake and Glacier Canyon.

The Tioga Pass Entrance to Yosemite National Park is the best entrance for access to Tioga Lake, Glacier Canyon, and the Ellery Lake Lookout. This entrance to Yosemite is only open during the summer, and offers easy access to outdoor activities like Tioga and Ellery Lakes and the stunning Tuolumne Meadows. 

Glacier Canyon is less than a mile from Tioga Pass Entrance, and one of the most popular sights to see in Yosemite. This valley was carved by a glacier and now features stunning views of the surrounding cliffs and sparkling waterfalls. As you head deeper into the park, you’ll catch glimpses of Mount Dana’s towering peaks, see climbers scale Lembert Dome, and finally reach Tenaya Lake, an alpine lake surrounded by towering granite cliffsides.

No matter where you start in Yosemite National Park, you’re surrounded by breathtaking landscapes and opportunities for adventure at every turn. From cascading waterfalls and granite peaks to gentle rolling meadows and meandering streams, you can see it all in Yosemite National Park – save your precious exploring time when you stay nearby at Rush Creek Lodge, just minutes from two of Yosemite’s best entrances. 

Is One Day Enough in Yosemite?

Is one day enough to experience Yosemite, or does this stunning location require an extended stay? You can check iconic sights off your bucket list, like El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall, with just a day in Yosemite – but you can truly dive into the wonders of Yosemite National Park with a longer stay. 

Yosemite in One Day

If you only have a day to spend in Yosemite, you can pack plenty into your short Yosemite trip by visiting the park’s main attractions. Leave the planning and navigation to the professionals with a guided trip from Rush Creek Lodge, where your expert guide will lead you to and through the most iconic sights in Yosemite: the cool shadows of Yosemite Valley, sparkling Bridalveil Fall, and majestic El Capitan, to name a few. 

Families with children hiking in Yosemite National Park.

Benefits of Staying More Than One Day in Yosemite

While you can do a speedrun of the park in a day and come away with memories of the landscapes and experiences to last a lifetime, additional days in Yosemite allow additional exploration! Spending more than a day in Yosemite gives you the opportunity to explore the park’s unique and widely varied ecosystems, ranging from the low elevation Foothill-Woodland Zone all the way up to the 9,500+ foot Alpine Zone. 

When you stay longer in Yosemite, you give yourself the flexibility and freedom to adjust your plans based on personal preferences, weather conditions, and unexpected discoveries. If you find a place you love and want to explore deeper, you can spend more time there or easily return to the location another day. A longer stay in Yosemite also affords you the privilege to capture sunrises and sunsets in the park – a truly unforgettable experience. 

Photographers and light chasers wake before dawn for a chance to capture First Light, the early rays of morning sunlight cresting over the iconic mountains that brings folks from around the world to cross the experience off their bucket list. Just as popular is Golden Hour, when the sun begins to set over the park and bathes sights like Half Dome and the Valley in a vibrant orange light called the alpine glow – so beautiful that photos of this time in the park often look unreal. 

Miller Brother Jeep Tours in Yosemite.

Yosemite Activities Beyond the Main Attractions

Beyond Yosemite’s iconic main attractions, when you take an extended stay to Yosemite, you can dive deep into the park and explore the extensive trail network to discover new sights, like hidden waterfalls, peaceful meadows, and breathtaking viewpoints and overlooks. Not sure about striking out on your own? Let an experienced guide from Rush Creek Lodge lead the charge, showcasing Yosemite’s hidden gems and providing expert background knowledge about this magical location. Rush Creek Lodge’s guided tours give you access to lesser-traveled areas of the park, in addition to the classic sights like Half Dome, El Capitan, and other Valley icons, on half- and full- day excursions. 

Wild Flowers at Hetch Hetchy (Jamie A.)

Planning Tips for Longer Yosemite Stays

Planning a longer stay in Yosemite? We’re happy to have you! What you want out of your Yosemite vacation will determine the best time for you to visit. Mesmerizing fields of wildflowers return every spring, making for unbeatable landscapes and breathtaking views. Snowmelt is also highest in spring, making waterfalls rush at their top capacity. Visitors say that standing near one of these magnificent falls makes you feel tiny and powerful at the same time, a unique experience called a “Yosemite Moment” that, of course, can only be experienced in Yosemite National Park. 

Summer means the most open roads throughout the park and the most terrain available for exploring, weather permitting. Fall brings vibrantly colored leaves and mild temperatures, while Yosemite winters guarantee snowshoeing and tranquil landscapes. 

When visiting Yosemite, it’s important to plan ahead – if you’re not sure where to begin, check out this itinerary for week-long trips to Yosemite and adjust it to your liking. Permits are required to access certain areas of the park, like the iconic Horsetail Falls during Firefall season, and must be reserved in advance. There are a limited number of permits available, so don’t miss out! 

Rush Creek Lodge Villa Deck Cheers (Kim Carroll)

Yosemite Lodging Options

Where will you spend your time when you aren’t exploring the great outdoors? Rush Creek Lodge is often called a destination within a destination, offering a range of amenities and activities that often encourage guests to stay an extra day just to enjoy the property. Rush Creek Lodge is conveniently located just outside the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park, giving you quick access to the park and letting you spend more time exploring your surroundings.