Here are the best stops for a Las Vegas to Yosemite road trip. There are a lot of places you could stop off, but these are the ones you absolutely cannot miss.
From the dazzling Las Vegas start to the natural wonders of Yosemite end point, your road trip spans a whopping 334 to 560 miles. As short as five and a half hours or an elongated eleven, the drive from Las Vegas to Yosemite is a treasure trove of stunning landscapes and historical towns.
Take stops to admire the sandy excess of Death Valley or Sierra Nevada’s monumental mountain ranges. There are plenty of activities to stretch your legs, including tours through memorial sites.
From personal experience and research, there are two main routes that you can take. Depending on weather conditions, opt between:
- U.S. 95 through State Route 266, cutting through Bishop and Mammoth Lakes along the 395
- U.S 15 to Barstow, driving West of Sierra Nevada via the California valley
Every first-timer has to experience the former! Not only is this the most scenic Las Vegas to Yosemite road trip route, it has the best stops for photo ops.
Road Trip from Las Vegas to Yosemite National Park
Map of the Las Vegas to Yosemite road trip. I couldn’t get the map to do the quick route between the Tioga Pass and Yosemite but you can see where you need to go, when it’s open. I have an alternative route below for when the Tioga Pass isn’t open, in winter.
1. Las Vegas
Once you’ve had your fill of Las Vegas’ neon-strips and casino fervor, fill up the tank and set off for a much more nature-centric drive to California. Remember to take photos as desert landscapes slowly give way to greener pastures!
2. Death Valley Junction
Sitting at the intersection of SR 190 and SR 127 is Death Valley Junction. Also known as Amargosa, it’s the first stop of the incredible journey between Las Vegas and Yosemite. Situated in Mojave Desert, the dry little town hosts nothing more than several historical buildings – the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House.
A strange, isolated place with plenty of haunting stories, I dare you to peek into the remaining white stucco structures. You might find it hard to believe, but the stage once hosted ballerina and Broadway dancer Marta Becket for 40 years.
3. Death Valley National Park
Straddling California and Nevada is America’s hottest and driest national park – Death Valley National Park. It’s home to North America’s lowest point – the Badwater Basin salt flats – as well as the sunset array of rocks at Titus Canyon. While mostly composed of sand dunes and desertscape, it features a thick weave of pine trees that are lovely to hike in the fall.
Following the main road (US-190), you will pass by these main attractions:
- Zabriske Point
- Badwater Basin
- Devil’s Golf Course
- Furnace Creek
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes
Given enough time, I highly recommend spending a day or two in the area!
4. Panamint Springs
Anyone committed to a Las Vegas – Yosemite road trip should definitely spread their adventure across a few days. Nearing the exit of Death Valley is Panamint Springs; an all-inclusive resort experience. While it is no frills and no thrills, the popular stop is famous for stargazing. It’s also a convenient base for Death Valley explorers.
5. Lone Pine
Continue along the US-190 onto US-136 to reach the cozy town of Lone Pine. Nestled at the heart of Owens Valley, it is framed by the Inyo Mountains on the east and Sierra Nevada on the west.
With Mount Whitney, the highest point in USA outside of Alaska, and Alabama Hills within arms’ reach; no wonder Lone Pine played backdrop in many classic movies! Be sure to check out the Museum of Western Film History after a homey brekkie at a local spot.
6. Manzanar National Historic Site
Not far from Lone Pine along the US-395 is Manzanar National Historic Site, a slightly more somber memorial to remind us the weight of war. One of the ten American concentration camps, it once held over 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
Sparsely populated but teeming with character, Bishop is one of the best stops between Las Vegas and Yosemite. You’ll be busy photographing all the artsy elements in this town until the lure of the mountains are too strong to ignore. A paradise for all mountaineers, skiers and even mountain bikers, it’s the gateway to Sierras dramatic high country.
Lake Sabrina is a bird-watcher’s favourite but its dusty fall blush is riveting for all photographers. Bishop is also home to the world’s oldest tree – Methuselah, turning 4,853 years old as of 2021. Good luck trying to find it however, because its exact location has been taken off the web for protection.
8. Mammoth Lakes
If you’re upset about not being able to hunt down those ancient bistlecone pines in Bishop, Mammoth Lakes will tide you over. This California icon is another huge step closer to your Yosemite finale, just 40.5 miles away from the east entrance!
The ever-changing scenery truly makes road tripping through this region a year-round goal.
Drive into the town, ready for some pampering at their (ski) resorts. In the winter, Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain welcome floods of skiers. For summer visitors, Mono Lake is a must-visit, boasting limestone towers. Those with extra time should also visit the basalt columns known as the Devils Postpile National Monument, California edition!
There’s so much to see in town and on hikes; I really suggest staying at least a night.
9. Tioga Pass
As you’re pulling into the final stretch of your road trip from Las Vegas to Yosemite proper, reward yourself with sweeping alpine meadows along Tioga Pass. The highest highway pass in California, the drive way carves its way through the mountains – many powdered with snow at their peaks. It’s a stunning welcome to Yosemite National Park, pristine lakes shimmering below.
Due to its high elevation however, the Tioga Pass does experience snow through November to June. Make sure you check whether it is closed or not before taking the route.
10. Yosemite National Park
Alternative route from Las Vegas to Yosemite in winter
While the Scenic Route (or more specifically Tioga Pass) is closed during the winter for safety reasons, it doesn’t mean your Las Vegas to Yosemite road trip isn’t feasible!
Drive along the Sierra Nevada western edge instead for an alternative trail of attractions.
Calico Ghost Town
The ghost town of Calico is the first major stop on this route! Once a silver town established in 1881, it was abandoned over time as the 500 mines dried out. The $8 entrance fee is totally worth it – most buildings have been restored into campsites, shops and restaurants.
You can go off-road on ATVs and dirt bikes, or hike through the rugged terrain. For a more historical tour, explore Maggie Mine or take the Calico Odessa Railroad.
You can’t miss the yellow and blue banner that spells out ‘Bakersfield’. While a small town, it’s a great place to stretch your legs. There are trails nearby that take you through the borders of Sequoia National Forest, as well as plenty of community parks.
I recommend visiting its museums for an educational blend of nature and history. The California Living Museum offers exhibits on the state’s flora and fauna, and a reptile touch tank. For geology and paleontology displays, the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History will occupy you for an hour or two.
Just an hour away from Yosemite, the city of Fresno is the perfect base for those planning on staying for several days. Blending an urban setting, access to nature and hidden architectural gems, you can easily compromise between spending time outdoors and in.
The 1900s Forestiere Underground Gardens is an unexpected find! Where else would you find subterranean passages and courtyards? If you prefer to stay above ground however, Fresno Zoo features a cool stingray touch pool. Sprawling Woodward Park is also a great alternative, especially its Shinzen Japanese Garden.
Consider Mariposa Grove a sneak peek of Yosemite’s natural wonders!
500 mature Redwoods tower above gentle trails in clusters of thick trunks and leafy canopy. It’s on the way to the park’s main entrance; definitely worth the visit.
Questions about driving from Las Vegas to Yosemite
If you have any questions about the Las Vegas to Yosemite road trip not listed here, just let me know in the comments below.
How far is Las Vegas to Yosemite?
The shortest route is approximately 334 miles from Las Vegas to Yosemite. That’s a 5.7 hour drive, non-stop. With so much to see in between, I highly recommend taking your time!
If possible, let your road trip pan out over a week so you can indulge in longer hikes and stargazing.
How’s the drive from Las Vegas to Yosemite?
The road trip between both places is pretty popular so most vehicles will have no problem at all. Because you do experience pretty extreme elevation changes, pack layers to accommodate for any temperature changes and drive slower so your body can acclimatise. It’s also important to bring enough water along, especially in the summer – the desert can get hot.
Is the entry fee into Yosemite worth it?
Yes, Yosemite has a standing entry fee – $30 per vehicle. Also yes, Yosemite is definitely worth it!
Colossal granite walls aside, you don’t have to be a rock climber to love the place. From the monolithic El Capitan to shiny Mirror Lake and the cozy reaches of famous Yosemite Valley Lodge, you’ll love it all.