San Diego is often considered the best city in America. A trip to what many would call the best national park in the United States is therefore certainly picturesque. If you’re looking for lush green forests, epic mountains and arid deserts in one place, consider a trip from San Diego to Yosemite National Park.

The journey from San Diego to Yosemite National Park takes about 6 hours and 30 minutes. Explore the rugged and beautiful Death Valley National Park and admire the Sierra and Yinho National Forests, relax at mammoth lakes or in the village of Yosemite.

To make sure you haven’t missed anything, read all the way and discover what this incredible route has to offer.

How far is it from Yosemite National Park to San Diego, and how long does it take to complete Route?

The car trip from San Diego to Yosemite National Park takes between 400 and 430 miles, depending on the route, and takes between 6 hours and 30 minutes to 7 hours, with fewer breaks and pit stops. If you leave early in the morning, it is theoretically possible to arrive at Yosemite in time for dinner.

Route Distance Driving time
Route
(via I-5 N and CA-99 N).
399 miles 7 hours 50 minutes
Death Valley Road
(over 395)
430 miles 8 hours and 20 minutes

However, the essence of the long journey is to admire the landscape. If you wanted to get to Yosemite quickly, you could fly to Fresno and continue from there, but if you would fly to Yosemite in one day or hurry, you would miss so many amazing landscapes along the way.

If you want an easier ride with more stops along the way, consider taking the I-5 through Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park – the journey will be a little shorter and access to the forests and parks will be much more direct. Moreover, the coastline between San Diego and Los Angeles is an adventure in itself.

If you leave San Diego and travel through Los Angeles, you will need a small form of transportation that can extend your journey by an hour or two. Because cities are so close together, reaching San Diego during rush hour probably means that you won’t feel much better in Los Angeles either.

A clear and sunny day on the empty road to the Iño National Forest, with beautiful views of the mountains of the eastern Sierra Nevada.
You can see the view if you take the highway 395 in the direction of Yosemite.

MarieKaz/Shutterstock.com

If you’re ready for a drive through the desert and want to see the Sierra up close, you can also take Route 395 – you’ll pass through forests, national parks, the legendary Death Valley and some unique little desert towns.

The disadvantage is that the mountainous terrain and the bad road conditions can force you to continue your journey, even more so than on the main road. Moreover, there will not be many direct roads leading to the many parks and forests you will pass.

Best route for a car ride from San Diego to Yosemite National Park

In most cases, an interstate highway is probably the best option to travel from San Diego to Yosemite National Park. You will not be able to cross the desert by car, but you will finally be able to visit more places and not just drive through them.

A huge sequoia and a car driving through the Sequoia National Park.
This view will make you stop and stretch your legs from your trip to San Diego to Yosemite National Park in Sequoia National Park.

Virrage Images/Shutterstock.com

If you want to make a difference, take Route 395 back to San Diego – the bird’s eye view of the Sierra Nevada is a welcome addition, and access to the Death Valley should bring you enough novelties to make your return journey more interesting.

Interstate Service Route (via Los Angeles)

Take the I-5 past Torrey Pines State Reserve and travel along the coast of San Diego to Dana Point, then follow the Interstate Highway to the heart of Los Angeles. Shortly after passing Los Padres National Forest you will arrive at Highway 99 and pass Bakersfield.

A few kilometres to the north you will see the beautiful Sequoia National Forest on your right, then Kings Canyon National Park and the Sierra National Forest. In the town of Fresno, take state road 41 and enter the town of Yosemite at the southern entrance, near the fishing camp.

Valley of death (Xvi 395)

From San Diego take the I-15 through Cleveland National Forest and follow the road between the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests and through Victorville. From there take the 395 and continue north to reach the natural sights on both sides.

After passing Yinho Core you will pass through the Sequoia National Park and the Royal Canyon, with the possibility of entering the Yinho National Forest through the Bishop. Further north, over the Mammoth Lakes, you pass the entrance to the Yosemite Tioga Pass, the highest traffic junction in the state. At the same time, this left side of the forest and park will contrast with the Death Valley National Park on your right.

Best stops between San Diego and Yosemite National Park

As with any scenic trip, you should consider dividing your trip into at least a few days to make the most of your experience. You have a long list of options, but these are some of the best places to stop at night:

Spend some time at the Hilton Double Tree (Bakersfield)

The Dead Centre is an ideal place to stop for a long drive, especially if it is a big city with good living conditions. Bakersfield has some good options, but DoubleTree is definitely one of the favourites.

The DoubleTree has a large communal pool, a colorful lounge and restaurant and a beautiful outdoor area with an attractive pergola, all to make you feel welcome and at home. In the Odyssey Club lounge on site you can enjoy three meals a day and great shows.

The location of the hotel is also very convenient, as you are just a short walk from the centre of Bakerfield. Not only does this hotel cover everything you might need, but given the level of service it is also very affordable.

Relaxation in the village house (mammoth swamps)

A serious candidate for California’s best city, Mammoth Lakes, is every tourist’s dream. There are many great hotels here, but the Village Lodge plays in its category – it’s one of the most expensive hotels in the area, but it’s worth it.

A man sits alone in front of a fireplace outside the Village Lodge in Mammoth Lakes, California.
A fireplace in front of the Village Lodge on the Mammoth Lakes, California.

Victoria Ditkovskaya/Shutterstock.com

The village is a winter idyll that perfectly captures the essence of a fantastic city. The Village Lodge is a double room with superior rooms, incredible balcony views and unsurpassed service.

After a day in Yosemite National Park or a picturesque village you can warm up your bones in the heated pool of the resort. Don’t you like crowds in communal areas? Make yourself comfortable in one of the 5 hot tubs on the site or win a personal workout if one of the 3 gyms is empty.

The best part of your stay is to be at the epicenter of everything that happens in Yosemite. Whether you want to ski, explore the incredible Yosemite Valley or just want to find a good restaurant and enjoy the night, you can be there from the lodge in no time.

Places of interest during a trip from San Diego to Yosemite National Park

With these two routes covering such a wide variety of terrain, it’s no wonder there’s something to see on the way from San Diego to Yosemite – take a week or two to take as many photos as you can. Here are some of the main attractions, so you can get started right away:

  1. Torrey Pines State Reserve – A beautiful park, technically a part of San Diego, rich in flora and fauna and with a beautiful Torrey Pines beach.
  2. Lunar State Beach – Ensignitas Beach is an ideal place for a summer holiday and a popular water sports centre in the area.
  3. Los Angeles – The City of Angels is a large and responsible cultural center that can host you for a few weeks.
  4. Los Padres National Forest – A beautiful forest with wild flowers, waterfalls and a long mountain range.
  5. Bakersfield is a convenient junction on the Interstate Route with several popular animal shows and many exciting parks.
  6. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks – from giant redwoods (including the world’s largest, General Sherman) to the highest peak in the neighbouring United States – you won’t miss the natural wonders you can discover here.
  7. Fresno – This city is located in the heart of California and is easily connected to all the forests and parks mentioned in this section.
  8. Sierra National Forest – A combination of mountains, lakes and pine trees of indescribable beauty. It’s one of the most picturesque places in California.
  9. Cleveland National Forest – Although ravaged by a cedar fire, the beautiful and varied landscapes of this forest have made it a destination for camping and hiking.
  10. Death Valley National Park – If you can stand the heat, Death Valley is the most incredible desert area you’ve ever explored.
  11. Bishop – Popular with tourists and travelers, it offers great mountain views and many accommodations along the way.
  12. Iño National Forest is the birthplace of Boundary Peak and the oldest trees in the world, this forest should not be overlooked.
  13. Mammoth Lakes – This town is famous for its ski resorts and is surrounded on all sides by breathtaking scenery.
  14. Monomer – The water of this huge, centuries-old lake is as beautiful as salt.

A view of the pine trees that frame the Yosemite waterfall in Yosemite National Park.
It’s going to be a long walk, but the view of the Yosemite Falls is worth it.

https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/yosemite-falls-national-park-hiking-cooks-1136338343

Best time to travel from San Diego to Yosemite National Park

From San Diego to Yosemite, there’s no bad time to travel – rain, snow or shine, the abundance of entertainment means Yosemite has something to do all year round.

If you want to avoid the hustle and bustle, consider visiting Yosemite in May or September – there is indeed no off-season for Yosemite, but these months are less crowded and the weather is generally very pleasant.

Although the park is beautiful in winter, you should not forget that Route 395 is almost closed at this time of year. Although the road itself is clean and accessible, the Tiogapass (Yosemite’s only eastern entrance) almost never opens after mid-November, and walking opportunities in the Death Valley will also be very limited.

It is always possible to travel on an interstate route, regardless of the season and weather conditions. If you want to take Highway 395, take a ride in September or October – the Tioga Pass should still be open and the temperature in Death Valley will be much more tolerant than in summer.

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