Trip itineraries in the Southwest often include both Yosemite National Park and Las Vegas, so people often ask me the best way to get from Yosemite to Vegas (or vice versa).
And it's a good question because you have two alternative routes:
- East of the Sierra Nevada ridge, via road US-395 (Mammoth Lakes).
- West of the Sierra Nevada mountains, via the valley (Bakersfield and Fresno).
Having made both drives, I recommend the first route - but only if you're going between June and October, possibly November.
That's because that route crosses the Sierra Mountains via the Tioga Pass, which is actually inside Yosemite National Park. This high-altitude mountain pass is covered in snow during wintertime.
Even during summertime, if you take the Tioga Pass and the eastern route, Google suggests a slightly shorter route via Oasis, CA, and then Beatty, Nevada.
Don't do that.
You'll miss out on some cool places on Road 395. Let me show you my two suggested routes so you can see for yourself. First, there they are in a snapshot:
On the left, you see the route west of the Sierra Nevada. This is open all year round, and during winter, this is the only option for getting from Las Vegas to Yosemite (or the other way around), so I like to call it "The Winter Route."
On the right, you see a suggested route that takes you through one additional national park (Death Valley) and a couple of other interesting stops. I call that one "The Scenic Route".
Let's look closely at both options, beginning with the scenic route, as this is my favorite.
Las Vegas-Yosemite: The Scenic Route
According to Google Maps, this drive to Yosemite from Las Vegas takes 5 hours and 32 minutes, and that's to the eastern entry point to Yosemite (near Lee Vining). I always add an hour for slower driving through scenic areas, bathroom stops, etc.
This 340.2-mile drive may add an extra half hour to your trip compared to the shortest route suggested by Waze or Google, but it also takes you past several unique and beautiful spots, including Death Valley National Park.
If you want to stretch your legs on your way to Yosemite, these locations won't take you too far from the road while encouraging you to indulge in California's natural beauty.
We drove this route from Yosemite to Las Vegas several years ago. We had left the park a couple of days before that and spent some time exploring the gorgeous areas around the nearby ski resort of Mammoth Lakes.
So, leaving Mammoth Lakes, we leisurely drove around and stopped for sightseeing, including scenic views of Death Valley National Park.
Leaving Mammoth Lakes at 10 AM, we finally arrived in Vegas at around 5 PM. So, this is doable in one day. Let's look into the stops along the way.
Enhance your road trip experience with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which is perfect for navigating and enjoying your favorite tunes on the scenic drive from Las Vegas to Yosemite.
1. Ashford Mill in Death Valley National Park
Located about 118 miles from Las Vegas, within the confines of Death Valley National Park, are the ruins of Ashford Mill. Established in 1914 by the Ashford brothers, this mill was part of a brief mining operation, processing ore from the nearby Golden Treasure Mine.
The operation was short-lived, ending in 1915, but the remnants of the mill provide a glimpse into the history of gold mining in the area.
The site of Ashford Mill offers visitors a chance to explore the remains of the mill and its office building, now just concrete foundations and scattered debris. It's a place where you can connect with the history of California's gold rush era.
This region is noted for its extreme temperatures, which once recorded the highest temperature in North America at 134 °F. It also features unique and dramatic desert landscapes, making it an excellent spot for photography or simply appreciating the natural beauty of the surroundings.
For those interested in learning more about the mill's history, informational plaques provide context about the mining operations that once took place here.
Get inspired for your visit to Death Valley with these 27 stunning pictures that capture the park's unique beauty.
2. Badwater Basin (Death Valley NP)
Driving to Yosemite through Ashford Junction will take you past another California natural landmark: Death Valley.
If you want to go two-for-one on your naturalist road trip, you'll want to stop at Badwater Basin. 30 miles from Ashford Junction, Badwater Basin sits on the southern corner of Death Valley National Park. It is also the lowest point in the surrounding county.
It costs $20 per noncommercial vehicle to enter Death Valley National Park. For that price, you'll be able to walk along salt flats that become beautiful - albeit temporary - lakes and ponds whenever rain rolls in.
Don't worry about the longevity of these bodies of water, though. The temperatures in and around Death Valley are frequently blistering enough that the lakes that do form at Badwater Basin will evaporate within a day of their formation.
We have a detailed post about the best things to do in Death Valley National Park. If you're driving in the fall, you may also want to hike in the area. And if you want to take even longer, you could do this as a day trip from Las Vegas (itinerary available here).
3. Furnace Creek Visitor Center (Death Valley NP)
If you're looking to do a spot of camping, Death Valley's Furnace Creek Visitor Center is the place to go. A mere 21 minutes away (and 15.2 miles) from Badwater Basin, this center houses 136 campsites with access to flushable toilets and an RV dump station.
Prices will vary based on the campsite you need, but each comes with a campfire ring or a grill.
You can visit the Furnace Creek Visitors Center website for more information about seasonally available campsites and prices and to schedule your stay.
While exploring Death Valley, don't miss these 11 Hidden Gems that few travelers ever see, adding more adventure to your journey.
4. Bishop, CA (Oldest Tree In The World)
While on your way, why not visit Bishop, home to another of California's natural wonders?
Some 2 hours and 52 minutes away from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (a reasonable 163 miles), you'll find some of the oldest trees in the world. Hypothetically, that is.
Methuselah, a tree registered at 4,851 years old in 2019, and the other bristlecone pines in the area have had their location erased from the Internet. Why? To preserve their safety and ensure that future generations can enjoy these historic relics.
There's more to Bishop than its historic forest, however. Find restaurants, boutiques, and hotels that make a day visit or overnight stay especially memorable. You can check out the town's website for additional information.
5. Mammoth Lakes
For a more accessible natural landmark, you can visit Mammoth Lakes. Just 40.5 miles and 46 minutes away from Yosemite, these sprawling lakes provide day visitors and passing drivers alike a stunning view of the nearby mountain passes and the lakes that form there.
The lakes are seasonal, and things look very different in fall. This is an excellent option for June, though.
You could also visit The Devil's Postpile National Monument. This is like a poor man's Devil's Tower. Having seen both places, the California version does pale compared to Wyoming's, but the hike to the Devil's Postpile is excellent.
Remember, you must allow enough time to explore the towns and the hikes of Mammoth Lakes. At least one day, possibly two, if you want to get on the trails.
You can check out the affiliated website for additional information.
6. Lee Vining
At the end of your trip, but just before Yosemite, comes Lee Vining. A stop in Lee Vining puts you right at the gates of Yosemite. Here, you'll be able to settle in at a luxury resort or in a nestled cabin and still reach Yosemite within 18 minutes.
The 12.7-mile drive will take you to the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite, where you can branch out into the park to find the natural landmarks of your choosing. If you stay the night but arrive early enough - you can visit Mono Lake.
Alternatively, you can drive into the park and hike along the Tioga Pass, then return to your motel at Lee Vining and go to Yosemite Valley the following morning.
Check out Lee Vining's website for more information regarding your lodging options and local deals affiliated with the Yosemite area.
Before planning your trip, check out our guide on the Best (And Worst) Times To Visit Yosemite National Park to ensure you choose the ideal time for your visit.
Yosemite-Las Vegas: The Winter Route
While Tioga Pass provides one of the most gorgeous passages into Yosemite, it's not open year-round. That's because, come November, snow accumulates on the road, making it impassable.
Tioga Pass is typically closed for drivers' safety between November and late May or early June. Highway monitors list the pass's openings and closings on their website so drivers can plan their trips appropriately.
So, if Tioga Pass is closed, what's the best way to get from Las Vegas to Yosemite? You'll want to travel along the California Valley, west of the Sierra Nevada ridge.
Calico is 5 hours and 300 miles out from Yosemite. Established in 1881, it once served as a California silver town, with 500 mines in and around the area. When the silver dried up, so did the population.
Nowadays, Calico is not so much a town as a part of the San Bernardino County Regional Park system. This ghost town is full of boutiques and restaurants to visit during the day.
You'll have the chance to camp at night thanks to the available San Bernardino park system's nearby facilities. For more information about this Yosemite pit stop, check out its website.
If you're considering more road trip adventures, explore our Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe road trip ideas, complete with itineraries and pictures
2. Barstow Outlets
Barstow, located just 12 miles from Calico, is a convenient stop on the journey to Yosemite, especially for those planning multiple-day trips to explore Calico. It offers accommodation options for travelers.
Apart from its proximity to Calico, Barstow is also known for its shopping attractions, including several outlet stores that provide a varied shopping experience.
Additionally, Barstow is notable for its place along the historic Route 66, adding a unique aspect to your visit. For detailed information on local attractions and available hotels, visit Barstow's official website.
2 hours and 52 minutes out from Yosemite (roughly 168 miles), you'll find Bakersfield, CA. This small town has a charm that makes it an ideal place to get out of the car and stretch your legs.
Depending on the time of year you visit, you may be able to catch the Kern County Scottish Games. These games celebrate Bakersfield's Scottish community with bagpipes and caber tossing, among other regional sports.
Even if you don't make it in time for the festival, you'll still be able to enjoy the restaurants, CIA historical sites, and down-home feel of California's oil capital.
For more information about Bakersfield's attractions, check out its website.
4. Fresno and Fresno Zoo
Fresno also serves as an excellent base of operations for folks wanting to spend several days exploring Yosemite. An hour and 16 minutes away from the park's gate, Fresno offers visitors an urban experience with many restaurants, cultural centers, and outlets.
However, Fresno's most exciting attraction is the Fresno Chaffe Zoo. It's a fantastic zoo, with a massive open outdoor enclosure for the giant African animals. You can read about our visit to the Fresno Zoo here.
5. Mariposa Grove
After Fresno, you'll be knocking on Yosemite's front door. If you want to visit an attraction closer to Fresno's urban center but still a part of the park, Mariposa Grove is your ideal stop.
Not at the heart of Yosemite, Mariposa Grove is home to one of its most impressive natural features: the Giant Sequoias.
On your way to the park's main entrance, you can ogle at the 500 mature giant sequoias growing undisturbed in this grove. Do note that pets are not allowed to explore the area with you, and no food services are available.
However, the local Depot can provide maps and souvenirs reflecting your time under the canopy.
Check out the affiliated website for additional information.
Want to see the other types of tall trees? Check out our post about where to see Redwood Sequoia trees in California.
Either route will get you to your destination: Yosemite Valley. Here, you can explore the cliffs, waterfalls, and meadows that have made Yosemite a California gem.
Whether driving through Tunnel View and Wawona Tunnel or walking through El Capitan Meadow, you can shake off your roadway weariness.
The valley and park have a standing entrance fee of $30 per vehicle, but the views are worth the cost. You can check out the affiliated website for additional information.
Yosemite is a world-class bucket list item, so I won't try to describe it all in a few paragraphs. After all, this post is specifically about the road between Las Vegas and Yosemite - not the park itself.
I do hope you find these suggestions helpful! If you've driven between Yosemite and Vegas and have tips to add or have any questions about the routes, please comment!
As you anticipate the breathtaking views of Yosemite, take a moment to explore these 21 Yosemite National Park Pictures for a glimpse of what awaits you.