It’s no secret that Yosemite has some breath-taking views and spectacular scenery, but you may not know about the beauty that can be found on the way. Whether you’re interested in the fascinating history of the Gold Rush, quaint country towns or sophisticated wineries, the four different routes to California’s show-stopping national park have something for everyone.
Historic saloons, gold-panning & sarsaparilla
This route is the shortest route from the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento; an easy and scenic drive that neighbours historic towns such as Sonora. Praised for its 19th century specialties, Columbia, situated in the heart of the Californian Mother Lode, is a living Gold Rush town. It encompasses all of the sights, smells and sounds of a 19th century mining town; walk down the street and you’ll be sure to smell a whiff of coal smoke coming from a nearby blacksmith’s. Sip locally-made Sarsaparilla, pan for gold or head down to the portrait studio to dress up for a Gold Rush-inspired photo. The shops, restaurants, and saloons of this quaint town make an excellent day out for everyone.
Bird-watching, photography and stunning scenery
Travel to Yosemite through the nearly 10,000-feet long Tioga Pass and you’re sure to be amazed. The remnant of an ancient inland sea, Tioga Pass has left behind spectacular natural formations known as ‘tufa towers’. As you wind into high country, this route offers spectacular views of the nearby Mono Lake. And if that wasn’t already reason enough for you to take a visit, the millions of birds that flock to the lake surely is. This route is a top destination for keen photographers or those looking for beautiful scenery; you’re quite literally surrounded by millions of photo opportunities. Once you’ve climbed Highway 120 from Lee Vining and into Yosemite, you’ll find access to amazing trails and pretty summer wildflowers at Tuolumne Meadows.
Delicious food, craft ales and wine tasting
Head into Yosemite via this route and you’ll be sampling excellent food, wine and beer. Travelling through rolling foothills, take a detour to trace the magnificent Madera Wine Trail which houses over a dozen vineyards with tasting rooms that allow visitors to taste the wines made on-site. The nearby South Gate Brewing Company offer small-batch ales- head down for a drink or take an informal tour to find out about their history. And on this route you’re spoiled for choice with food; just before Yosemite’s south entrance lay Michelin-starred restaurants boasting haute cuisine with a French country estate atmosphere.
Or, wind your way to the minute town of Fish Camp, with a population of only 59 people, and see the delights of giant sequoia trees in the Mariposa Grove. For train-lovers, the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad offers a must-see narrated steam train ride through rugged forests.
When taking this route to Yosemite, Glacier Point is a must- see. A short, paved and wheelchair-accessible trail off Glacier Point Road takes you to this scenic spot, an exhilarating view 3,214 feet above the Yosemite Valley.
Charm, farmlands & premium wines
Highway 140 spans across the wild Merced River. Travel into the authentic Gold Rush town of Mariposa and be sure to take a trip to the nearby village of El Portal, located on the west boundary of Yosemite, to look out over the tumbling waters of the Merced. A quaint, small village with a population of just under 500 people, El Portal offers an insight into rural living and has spectacular riverfront views.
Mariposa itself has a rich history; perhaps visit the 1854 courthouse (which is still being used today) or take a trip to the California State Mining and Mineral Museum to see a 14-pound ‘nugget’ of crystalline gold, discovered in the American River in 1864. For a more contemporary side to Mariposa, be sure to visit nearby restaurants which offer stylish dining, local wines and Californian craft ales.
When you get there
Yosemite Valley itself is a busy and thriving environment; once you have arrived there are countless activities that you can take part in, ranging from horseback riding to birdwatching. Open all year, it is world-famous for its impressive waterfalls, cliffs and impressive rock formations.
First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park spans across nearly 1,200 square miles; within this you can find vast wilderness areas, enormous sequoias and glorious meadows. Take a tour with a park ranger and learn about the rich history of Yosemite National Park. Their extensive knowledge of the park offers an interesting insight into the wildlife and nature that populate Yosemite. Be sure to take a camera, there are some incredible sights to be seen during your visit to Yosemite, and maybe even some bears!