Yosemite National Park is a favorite Sport Touring destination. That’s in part because the surrounding area is loaded with great motorcycle roads. For example, California State Route 108 from Sanora Junction takes a wildly winding path west toward Modesto through the Stanislaus National Forest. A little farther south try Big Oak Flat Road (CA-120) from Modesto east toward Yosemite. And that’s just a taste, there are plenty more good roads in the surrounding hills. But let’s take a look at riding inside Yosemite National Park.
Best Route Through The Park
Yosemite is expansive, containing several distinct scenic areas. A route running northward from Wawona through the Yosemite Valley and then to the east from Big Oak Flat through the Tuolumne Meadows takes riders past the most popular attractions without the need for long hikes.
Start by entering the park through the South Entrance on CA-41. Once in the park the road becomes Wawona Road. Stop in at the nearby Mariposa Grove Welcome Center for information about current road conditions and other park highlights.
From there follow Wawona Road as it climbs through forest along the western edge of the park on pavement that clings to the granite hills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Wawona Tunnel is one of many highlights. Completed in 1933, this 4,233 foot long tunnel cuts through a sheer granite mountain side above the Merced River Valley. Pull off at the scenic overlook on the east end of the tunnel for picture taking. Next stop – Yosemite Valley.
Southside & Northside Drive
East of the tunnel, Wawona Road hands off to Southside Drive which in turn connects with Northside Drive creating an opposing pair of one-way roads around the Merced River in the Yosemite Valley. This part of the ride passes under “The Nose” of the infamous 3000 foot tall El Capitan and other must-see sights and vista points.
Heading west out of the Yosemite Valley, Northside Drive merges with El Portal Road. One could follow El Portal out of the park onto CA-140, and it’s a good riding road to be sure. But taking that route would mean missing some of the very best roads and sights in the northern reaches of the park.
Instead, take Big Oak Flat Road off El Portal Road to explore north Yosemite. Don’t miss the Tioga Road junction. Tioga Road, a National Scenic Byway, is widely recognized as the most visually stunning ride in the park. But be aware, Tioga Road typically reopens in late spring.
When to Ride
Yosemite is a busy park during the prime summer months. The most enjoyable time for motorcycling is the latter part of May and the weeks between mid-September and mid-October. Check the Yosemite National Park website for current road conditions, park maps and other activities.
Three Must-See Attractions in Yosemite
Covering an area of over 1200 square miles, it’s no wonder visitors often spend days wandering the 800-plus miles of hiking trails in Yosemite. Sport touring riders on the other hand can experience the inspiring natural beauty of the park with barely a step on a hiking trail. Here are a few of the top sights to be seen.
A ride to Glacier Point consolidates views of several Yosemite favorites into a single stop. Ride twisty Glacier Point Road 16 mile through alpine forest past Badger Pass Ski Area al the way to the scenic vista point from which short walking trails lead to stunning views.
Among the most noteworthy, look for Half Dome to the northeast. This elliptical granite rock formation rises 5000 feet above the Yosemite Valley (2000 feet more than El Capitan) and is one of the most popular sights in the park. Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in the park, is also visible. The Falls are most spectacular in late spring. And finally, enjoy views across meadows, cliffs, and rock formations into the Yosemite Valley.
For more breathtaking views make a stop at Washburn Point less than a mile before arriving at Glacier Point on Glacier Point Road. The Washburn Point overlook offers views of Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls and the Sierra Mountain crest.
Allow a couple hours to enjoy the ride and the views for both vista points.
Located in the Yosemite Valley, El Capitan is a major granite rock formation characteristic of the geology found in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is the largest vertical granite face on Earth towering more than 3000 feet above the valley floor.
It’s no wonder El Capitan attracts the best rock climbers from around the world, each intent on proving their skill on the climbing route known as The Nose. The formation, including The Nose, are visible from El Capitan Meadow off Northside Drive shortly before the road merges with El Portal Road.
The Yosemite Museum, located in the Yosemite Valley next to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, was built in 1925. The building design adheres to what was then the new Rustic Style architecture that was adopted for structures in America’s National Parks.
The museum displays both permanent exhibits and annual rotating exhibits which illustrate important cultural, artistic, historic and geological aspects of the park. Other national park visitor education programs are modeled on the approach that originated here in Yosemite.
Contrast the historic museum building with the nearby Ahwahnee Hotel, a National Historic Landmark designed by the same architect responsible for the Grand Canyon Lodge. Like the museum, the hotel is an example of Rustic Architecture. And with historic paintings, stained glass, and wall hangings decorating the lobby, this place is a museum of its own. Access the Ahwahnee Hotel from Ahwahnee Drive off Northside Drive not far from the junction with Southside Drive.
Ride Sierra Nevada History
Spending days or even weeks exploring Yosemite National Park is an easy thing to do. But sport touring riders who balance great riding roads with amazing scenery of historical significance can take in the highlights in a single day. A long day to be sure.
Riders planning tours in the western United States, will find the park an easy destination to include. Located in Central California less than 40 miles from the Nevada state line, Yosemite is not far out of the way on a ride through California, Nevada or even Utah.
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