How to see Yosemite with no car
So the great news is that you're thinking about going to Yosemite, do it - it's simply incredible. Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful places Journecology is lucky enough to have visited, and we knew the moment we stepped off the bus that we'd be coming back again and again and again. You're likely here because you don't have a car, or you're green minded and want to save on emissions, great! Let me take a few moments to let you know what's possible, and what isn't, to help you plan without a car.
Yosemite takes a while to get to, no matter what your transport, but it is totally possible to get here entirely by public transport from San Francisco in about 6 hours. Apologies if you are not starting out in San Fran, that's what our knowledge is limited to, but if you are, great read on!
Take the BART to Richmond station.
At Richmond station walk on the underpass and arrive immediately at the AMTRAK station.
Take the AMTRAK to Merced (book this beforehand to save money).
At Merced wait in the lonely bus depot until the YARTS bus arrives, a driver will come in and announce the arrival.
Take the YARTS bus to Yosemite Valley, stopping at various points along the way (pay on the bus, includes park entrance fee).
Make sure you check the timings, on the way connections overlap nicely and almost work in sync. However on the return journey we found it a bit more tricky, just be sure to check first.
There are some 'Yosemite Coach' operators on google, but they don't actually seem to stop in the park unless you have paid a huge sum for an entire holiday package. The only other on we saw drops people off for a couple of hours before heading back to San Fran, who want's to do that!? The only public system is the YARTS bus, and it will save you A LOT of money. We calculated that the public transport version was about twice as cheap as any alternative, coming in at around $100 return all in.
WHERE TO STAY
If you have no car, without a question of a doubt stay within Yosemite Valley, there are no two ways about this. Other accommodation will claim it's close to lots of great sights, but after driving past I realised what a terrible mistake that would've been - you will not see anything 'famous' without taking a 40 minute hitchhike, or the odd YARTS bus, it's just not worth it. Pay the little bit extra which contributes to a set of great eco-lodges, and stay at the Yosemite Valley Lodge, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel or one of the campsites in Yosemite Valley.
Everything in Yosemite Valley is within walking distance, you have a store, information centre, post office, medical centre, restaurant, bar and reception area nearby. Best of all there's a free shuttle bus system which will take you around the valley floor and to the start of the main trails - you don't need to drive anywhere! A word of caution, the bus has a shorter route in low season so if you want to go further you may need to think outside the box.
TO THE TRAILS!
As before, the shuttle bus will get you to the base of most major trails in low season, and a few more in high season. To save me writing them out here's a PDF map!
We also wanted to see Bridalveil Falls and the famous Tunnel View landscape. For that we hitchhiked. We've hitchhiked may times before and it's something that I'd say works well in the majority of cases, there is definitely an art to it which maybe I'll cover in a later post. You are extremely unlikely to find any malicious people in the park, so I'd say it's a pretty safe bet. We had to wait about 1 minute for our first ride, but 30 minutes for the way back - even so that 30 minutes was a lot quicker than a 2 hour hike in the dark!
In the summer, you can drive to Glacier Point and walk back down (I'm not sure what you'd do with the car...) but we decided to walk up and down the Four Mile Trail which took most of the day, it's well worth it for the views though, I'd recommend walking at least one way.
It's totally possible to see a lot of the main sights in Yosemite National Park without taking a car. Furthermore, you can backpack, camp, and stay out in the wilderness if you want to adventure further. It also reduces traffic, emissions and road damage to wildlife (a matter that the park takes very seriously). What a car does give you is ease, and a bit more flexibility, particularly in the low-season or if you have heavy equipment. It also gives you the possibility to continue on to other national parks in the region with ease. Having not been in high season I can only imagine that the park is rammed with cars and the roads fairly busy, so perhaps maybe think about trying without next time! Either way, you're going to have an amazing time in Yosemite!