yosemite national park sign with a black car passing by

yosemite national park sign with a black car passing by

Lake Tahoe To Yosemite: The Only Guide You'll Need


If you have a few days on hand for a road trip and want to visit two of the greatest places on earth (no exaggeration!), here’s a how-to guide for combining a trip to Lake Tahoe with Yosemite National Park!

How far is it from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite park?

The drive to get from Tahoe to Yosemite is a journey through some of the most spectacular landscapes in California, covering about 200 miles. It’ll take you about 4 - 5 hours, depending on the route taken and the number of stops you make along the way.

Lake Tahoe to Yosemite Road Trip Map

What is to see from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite?

This is considered to be one of the most scenic routes in the entire United States. You’ll pass through breathtaking mountain passes, dense forests, and stunning valleys. And there will be plenty of opportunities to stop and explore charming towns, visit historic sites and take in all that natural beauty.

Best Times To Visit

In order to truly experience and appreciate Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park, you’ll need at least four days (two for Tahoe, two for Yosemite). And the best time of year to take this combined trip is in early fall. When the weather is mild but the crowds are smaller. 

Discovering Lake Tahoe

lake on a cloudy sky with cars passing byShutterstock Image

Lake Tahoe is downright awe-inspiring. As you circle the lake, you’ll find:

  • Hiking trails through mountains and forests
  • Museums
  • Shops and restaurants
  • Beaches
  • Castles
  • Mansions
  • Walking and biking trails along the lake
  • Boat cruises
  • Water sports

Note: During peak season in the heart of summer, Tahoe is packed with tourists. Parking lots at many of the most popular spots will close their gates once they fill up. Be sure to get an early start. 

RELATED: Know Before You Go: Lake Tahoe

Exploring Yosemite

falls in yosemiteShutterstock Image

Once you’ve circled Tahoe, it’s only a 4 or 5-hour drive over to spectacular Yosemite National Park, where you’ll be able to immerse yourself in some mind-blowing natural wonders, including the iconic Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan.

We’ll get to the details of the best places to see in both Tahoe and Yosemite later on in this article. But first, here are some logistics in order to plan this two-in-one road trip!

Tips for planning a road trip from Tahoe to Yosemite

1. Choose your route

There are two main routes to Yosemite from Tahoe, each offering unique experiences along the way.

The first option is to take Highway 50 east from Tahoe towards Sacramento. Then head south on Highway 99 to Merced, before heading east on Highway 140 into the park.

The second option is to take Highway 89 south from Lake Tahoe, go over the scenic Carson Pass, then connect to Highway 120 into the park. 

2. Plan your stops

There are many charming towns and attractions to explore along the way. Like the:

  • Historic gold rush towns of Angels Camp and Sonora
  • The scenic Tuolumne Meadows
  • Giant sequoia groves of Calaveras Big Trees State Park

You can also stop at many viewpoints along the drive to see the stunning scenery of the Sierra Nevada mountains and valleys. 

3. Book your accommodations in advance

It’s important to plan your lodging, especially during peak tourist season, which runs from May through September. Yosemite offers lodging options from cabins to luxurious hotels and resorts. Or, you can choose to stay in one of the towns along the way, like Groveland, Mariposa, or Oakhurst.

In Tahoe, advanced reservations for hotels must be made far in advance if you want to secure lodging. Just make sure you plot your route in advance. So that you know which side of the lake you’ll be on when you’re planning to stop for the evening. This is to make sure your hotel isn't three hours away on the other side of the lake!

4. Pack and prepare

It’s important to take into account the weather and your planned activities. Bring comfortable clothing and footwear for hiking and exploring, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a cooler full of water and snacks.

From Tahoe to Yosemite, there are many attractions and places to see that make for great stops during your road trip. 

Where to start the tour?

My recommendation would be to start in South Lake Tahoe at the intersection of Highways 50 & 89 and circle the lake clockwise (with the lake on your right).

Book a hotel in Tahoe City on the north side of the lake, and then finish circling the lake the following day, ending up back in South Lake Tahoe to begin your drive to Yosemite.

Lake Tahoe Driving Tour Map

Shaka Guide’s self-driving audio tour app does the navigating for you, with a clockwise loop around the entire lake (and an option to begin at the place I recommended), so that you get to see the best of both the Nevada and California sides of the lake.

Best Places to See in Lake Tahoe

1. Vikingsholm Castle on Emerald Bay

huge castle brown door and trees around itShutterstock Image

Located on the southwest side of Lake Tahoe in California. This hidden gem can only be reached by hiking down a mountain to reach the Tahoe shoreline from high above it. It’s well worth the climb back up to see that castle, as well as the lake’s only island!

2. Balancing Rock at D.L. Bliss State Park

rock on top of another rockShutterstock Image

Located on the west side of Lake Tahoe in California. This is an improbable naturally-formed rock sculpture. A short nature trail leads you to this gigantic boulder that’s somehow resting atop a mere fist of granite. 

3. Tahoe City

river damShutterstock Image

This quaint and walkable town sits on the north side of Lake Tahoe in California. And it’s home to Lake Tahoe’s only outlet into the Truckee River, which is regulated by the adorable little Lake Tahoe Dam. Everything about this town from its lakeside path and pier to its local shops and restaurants, museums, and ‘Penny Bear’ statue, as well as the Truckee River Bike Trail, is the definition of picturesque.

4. The Tahoe East Shore Trail

trees near a shoreImage from Flickr by 

This paved walking and biking trail hugs the stunning turquoise waters on the east side of Lake Tahoe in Incline Village, Nevada. Tahoe’s iconic boulders rise up out of the crystal-clear lake, providing a scene that looks more like heaven than earth. A walk or bike ride along this path is a must.

Ready for a travel adventure like no other? Our exclusive audio tour of Lake Tahoe is your ticket to the ultimate travel experience.

5. Sand Harbor State Park Beach

beach with blue waters and trees on the shoreShutterstock Image

On a beautiful, sunny Tahoe day, walking the nature boardwalk that meanders along this beachfront on the east shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada is likely to use up all the cloud storage on your phone.

From the rock formations in the lake on the north end of the park, to the soft sand beaches and shallow waters perfect for paddleboarding, this shoreline rivals any tropical island for its beauty (although the lake water isn’t as warm).

6. Cave Rock

cave at the shore of lake tahoeShutterstock Image

This volcanic formation jutting over Lake Tahoe on the southeast side in Nevada warrants more than a short drive through its tunnel. Take the sharp turn to drive down to its base, and then look up to really get a look at nature’s masterpiece.

7. Nevada Beach

white sand beach with people sun bathingImage from Flickr by 

This is another absolutely stunning landscape of Tahoe on the south side of Lake Tahoe in Nevada, where tall, pencil-thin trees dot the shoreline, and it feels like the Sierra Nevada mountains are wrapping you – and the lake – in a giant hug. 

8. The Heavenly Gondola

town with mountains at the back covered with cloudsImage from Flickr by 

Open in the summertime for spectacular, birds-eye views of Lake Tahoe, and ride the Heavenly Village Gondola in South Lake Tahoe, California. You’ll glide up the mountain for a view of the lake like no other. Follow that up with a walk through Heavenly Village for some shopping and souvenirs!

Once you’ve circled Lake Tahoe and ended up back in South Lake Tahoe, it’s time to begin your road trip to Yosemite. Start by choosing which of the two routes (recommended above) you’re going to take. 

RELATED: Lake Tahoe Itinerary

Best Places to See Along the Way Between Tahoe and Yosemite

1. Mono Lake

lake with with rock formations at the centerImage from Flickr by 

Located just east of Yosemite, Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline lake with unique rock formations called tufa towers. Bird-watch is popular here, and be sure to check out the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center.

2. Bodie State Historic Park

Image from Flickr by 

A well-preserved ghost town from the gold rush era, you’ll get a glimpse into California’s past. Tour the historic buildings, learn about life in the gold rush era, and explore the surrounding countryside.

Next stop: Yosemite!

Details for Yosemite

Once you reach Yosemite, the best way to experience the park is by downloading the self-driving audio tour of Yosemite National Park with the Shaka Guide app. 

Best Places to See in Yosemite National Park

1. Tioga Pass

scenic road with mountain viewsShutterstock Image

This is a high mountain pass that connects the eastern and western portions of Yosemite. Stop at Olmsted Point for stunning views of Half Dome and the surrounding landscape.

Note: A road trip from Tahoe to Yosemite along this route is only possible in summer and fall when Tioga pass is open!

2. Mariposa Grove

walkpath with big trees besideShutterstock Image

This is a grove of giant sequoia trees located near the southern entrance of Yosemite. You can take a leisurely walk through the grove, which features some of the largest and oldest trees in the world.

3. Tuolumne Meadows

meadows with trees and mountain at the background during sunsetShutterstock Image

Located in the heart of Yosemite, you’ll find yourself in a high-elevation meadow surrounded by mountains and forests. Hike the many trails in the area, go fishing in the Tuolumne River or simply enjoy the natural beauty of the meadow.

4. Yosemite Valley

valley with trees between during sunriseShutterstock Image

This is the heart of Yosemite National Park, featuring some of the park’s most iconic landmarks, including Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan. Check out the trails, or simply enjoy the stunning views of the valley. 

Leave plenty of time for hikes, including the popular Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls.

Note: During peak tourist season in the summer, this park can become quite crowded, and some of the park’s most popular trails and attractions may require advanced reservations. (Check out Shaka Guide’s “Know Before You Go” on the app for details about reservations at Yosemite.)

So! Now you know, and I hope you go! Here’s to making memories that’ll last a lifetime, on a road trip like no other.

Ready to take a tour? Here's everything you need to know before you go and places to go!

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