If you’re not from California, a Los Angeles to Yosemite road trip might evoke romantic images of palm trees on the California coast fading in the rearview as towering pines and breathtaking mountains rise ahead of you. But anyone who’s done this drive knows it is mostly barren landscapes and the rank aroma of the local livestock farms.
However, if you’re willing to add an extra hour to the journey, there’s another route that harbors some surprising beauty and gives you something more exciting than “lunch in Fresno” to do on your way north.
The lesser-known eastern route from LA to Yosemite doesn’t just offer better views; it’s dotted with some unique and interesting stops that will turn what is usually a grind of a drive into a delightful California road trip. Read on for the best stops to make on your way to Yosemite National Park.
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Planning an LA to Yosemite Road Trip
When you look up directions from LA to Yosemite, most maps will instruct you to go via CA-99 N. This is by far the most direct route, but driving through California’s Central Valley is notoriously boring.
For longer road trippers looking to make a bigger adventure out of this trip, there’s always the option of driving the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). On this route, you can go along the coast and see towns like Pismo Beach, Big Sur and Monterey before heading inland.
The PCH is, without question, the most alluring way to get anywhere in California. But seeing as it’s a 10-hour trek that is largely out of your way, it’s not a practical choice for most travelers.
For a more interesting drive than CA-99 without the commitment of a coastal road trip, the best route to Yosemite from Los Angeles is the eastern drive. Simply put “Tioga Pass Entrance” into your GPS app (which is northwest of Yosemite Valley in Mariposa County) and it will lead you east of the mountains and up US-395 N.
While it adds about an hour to the trek and is still a lot of brown, this scenic drive from Los Angeles to Yosemite features gorgeous mountain vistas, one of the best views entering Yosemite, and the opportunity to bypass the infamous stinky-cow region of the western route.
Depending on snow levels, you might have to take CA-99 instead. But road closures are rare outside of winter and while you don’t pass as many large cities as you do on the traditional route, gas stations and rest stops are easy to find the whole way up.
If you need to rent a car for this trip, you can browse Rentalcars.com which aggregates prices across many providers. Alternatively, you could also rent an RV or campervan from Outdoorsy if you prefer to save on accommodation costs in California or continue your road trip from Yosemite to San Francisco or even onto the Oregon Coast!
How Far is Los Angeles to Yosemite?
The distance from Los Angeles to Yosemite via the traditional CA-99 route is 279 miles and takes about 5 hours. In contrast, the US-395 N route is 334 miles. The extra miles bring the Los Angeles to Yosemite drive time up to nearly 6 hours.
This drive can easily be done in a day with just a few stops at some of the most interesting locations, or it can be drawn out with time spent exploring some of the National Forests and other landmarks that dot the eastern route. No matter how long you take to do the drive, make sure to check out some of our favorite stops along the way.
Best Los Angeles to Yosemite Road Trip Stops
Good Neighbor Restaurant
With a seemingly endless menu and fantastic service, it’s no wonder Good Neighbor Restaurant has become a local favorite. They serve breakfast until 3pm, so even if you get a late start, this mom-and-pop diner in Studio City is the perfect place to fuel up before the long drive ahead.
And hey, if you’re lucky, you might even spot some A-list celebrities… they’ve been known to frequent this hidden gem, which I take as a ringing Hollywood endorsement.
As you leave Los Angeles, you’ll pass a small botanical garden just before entering the more mountainous region of the drive. The internationally renowned botanical collection at Descanso Gardens is worth a visit year-round.
One of the benefits of Southern California’s eternal sunny weather is the chance for year-round blooms, making this garden a colorful stop no matter when in the year you’re doing your road trip.
Whether it’s blooming tulips in Spring or the bright yellow and orange ginko trees in Autumn, Descanso Gardens offer an awe-inspiring opportunity to get up close and personal with some of California’s most impressive flora.
While you’re there, make sure to check out the Boddy House for a dose of 1930s California history and look into what exhibits are on rotation at the onsite Sturt Haaga Gallery.
Angeles National Forest
One of the highlights of taking US-395 N for your road trip between Los Angeles and Yosemite National Park is the opportunity to drive through the Angeles National Forest. You’ll wind through the rolling green hills and gaze across sun-drenched canyons for 30 glorious miles.
There are plenty of pull-offs along the drive that are well marked and fantastic opportunities for views and photos, but if you want to get more personally acquainted with the Angeles National Forest, there are two great stops to choose from: Monkey Canyon and Switzer Falls.
Monkey Canyon is a lesser-known local swimming hole directly off the highway. Though the Monkey Canyon Trail is only 0.2 miles, it’s a steep scramble and not recommended for beginners. Between the graffiti-covered rocks and the frequency of trash on the route, it might seem like an odd recommendation.
But this swimming hole is a local secret and the chances of running into other hikers are fairly small. This means if you don’t mind the scramble and aren’t afraid of heights, you’ll be rewarded by a 30-foot ladder that leads you into a private swimming hole surrounded by wildflowers and a towering canyon.
If the risky descent of Monkey Canyon Trail isn’t quite your speed, the more popular Switzer Falls is a great option. It’s a little further out of the way than Monkey Falls, but it’s a much easier out-and-back trail that ends in a 50-foot waterfall.
You’ll have a chance to swim here too, just be aware that you’re much more likely to run across fellow hikers and will have to share the water.
Whether you choose to take one of these trails or simply absorb the beauty of Angeles National Forest from one of the overlooks, it’s definitely a highlight along the drive.
Charlie Brown Farms
The one perk of driving up CA-99 is the farm stands that dot the Central Valley. However, choosing the eastern route does not necessitate skipping the farm stand experience.
About two hours into your drive (your GPS will say an hour, but let’s be honest about LA traffic), you’ll hit a little town called Vincent. Just a ten-minute detour will take you from there to Charlie Brown Farms.
This old-western style landmark started as a fruit stand in 1929 and has since evolved to include a vintage candy and toy shop, fudge, soda pop, barbeque, and a miniature dinosaur park. Is it kitschy? Absolutely. Is it worth it? 100%.
In addition to getting a taste of that Central California old-school aesthetic, you’ll have the opportunity to shop for local fruits and vegetables. And believe me when I say you haven’t had real California avocado until you’ve bought it straight from the farm.
Nearly halfway into your road trip, you’ll begin what is undoubtedly the best portion of this scenic route: driving along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. If you’re taking your time with this road trip and are willing to head an hour out of your way, it’s worth it to check out Lake Isabella at the southern end of the mountain range.
Lake Isabella is a popular spot for camping, water sports, and all things lake life. But what makes it a great stop on this route is that it’s your first breath of the Sierra Nevadas. For road trippers who aren’t in a rush, it’s a great place to spend the night.
It’s almost halfway between LA and Yosemite, so it’ll break up the drive nicely, and there are plenty of spots to camp or rent a room. That way you can take your time playing in the water, enjoying a picnic, and soaking in the unique beauty that is the southern peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
Death Valley National Park
Famously referred to as the hottest, lowest, and driest National Park, Death Valley is truly one-of-a-kind. It’s also just an hour east of US-395 N.
For serious road trippers, I highly recommend adding a few days for Death Valley. Of course, you can make it a two-hour detour and say you’ve seen it, or spend the night and call it good, but the strange and wonderful beauty of Death Valley deserves as much time as you’re willing to give it.
With two days in Death Valley, you’ll be able to see all the major landmarks and even squeeze in a few hikes. Make sure to walk the salt flats at Badwater Basin, enjoy the view from Zabriskie Point, and take in the sandy dunes of Mesquite Flats.
I would recommend two days if you can swing it, but it’s still worth a visit if you can only give it a day. For those on a longer California road trip, three to four days in Death Valley allows you to see all the major sites, do some hikes, and even explore the more remote regions and backcountry roads.
I especially love combining Death Valley with this road trip because of the sheer contrast between the desert plains of Death Valley, the bustling city of LA, and the striking mountains of Yosemite. It really demonstrates what makes California such a special state.
Four hours into the drive you’ll hit Alabama Hills and if you ignore everything else I suggest, promise me you’ll stop here.
The rounded boulders and desert landscape are reminiscent of Joshua Tree National Park while the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains loom in the background. For a quick glimpse of the area and a chance to stretch your legs, check out the Mobius Arch Loop, a 20-minute walk featuring the unique flora and strange geology of the region.
While there, make sure to stop by the Eastern Sierra Visitor Center for a view of Mount Whitney, a relaxing walk through the native plant garden, and interactive exhibits that tell you all about the unique landscape that makes up Alabama Hills.
If you want to add a day to your trip, there are plenty of great camping spots around Alabama Hills as well.
Just before you hit the entrance to Yosemite, you’ll pass Mono Lake, an absolute must on your drive.
There are plenty of activities to do, so if you skipped Isabella Lake and are looking for a place to get your feet wet, you could easily kill a few hours at Mono Lake. But at this point, you’ll be within throwing distance of Yosemite, so if your feet are getting itchy and you’re ready to be in the park, it’s still worth the detour just for a quick visit.
The distinct rock formations around Mono Lake’s shores, known as Tufa, make it feel a bit like visiting a lake on another planet. Plus, with the views of the snowcapped mountains in the distance and the crystal-clear blue waters, what’s not to love?
From there, you’ve only got 20 minutes left in your road trip! The Tioga Pass Entrance is one of the most stunning ways to enter Yosemite and a great place to start your journey.
Where to Stay on the LA to Yosemite Drive
If you want to make some (or all!) of these stops, it may be a good idea to find a good place to stop along the way. Planning to stop for a night near Lake Isabella makes for an excellent halfway point between LA and Yosemite. If you’re wondering where to stay, have a look at these suggestions:
Sequoia Lodge – If you’re looking for a clean, comfortable hotel that will make a great halfway base on your road trip, then this hotel is a good option. Located within easy reach of the lake, they have a range of rooms available (all equipped with kitchenettes) and there is seen a barbecue area available to guests.
Private Rental – If you’d prefer your own place while on your road trip, then consider a private rental near Lake Isabella. This rustic cabin is just one of countless options available in the area. Click here to browse Lake Isabella private rentals
Little Valley Inn – Located in the town of Mariposa close to the entrance of Yosemite, this quaint inn is the perfect place to base yourself when exploring this incredible natural area. They have a number of lovely rooms available and there is also a buffet breakfast on offer each morning.
Mariposa Lodge – Another comfortable and well-reviewed option in Mariposa, this lodge is also the perfect base to ensure you’re well-rested before exploring Yosemite. They have a number of wonderful rooms on offer, a swimming pool on site and they even allow pets if you happen to be traveling with a furry friend.
Private Rental – Finding a private vacation rental is another fantastic accommodation option in Yosemite. There are a myriad of fantastic options available – like this cosy hilltop cabin – you’re sure to find something that suits your travel style and needs.
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Yosemite hotels!
Planning a road trip from Los Angeles to Yosemite National Park is only a difficult task when you consider how much there is to see along the way!
Are you planning a trip from LA to Yosemite? Have any questions about this drive? Let us know in the comments!