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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the top questions and answers we receive daily at the visitor center in Oakhurst.

Where are the waterfalls and how can I see them?

Several waterfalls can be seen in Yosemite Valley, depending on the season. Generally, the best time of year to view Yosemite's waterfalls is spring to early summer, when snow-melt and run-off are at their peak. The two most visited are Bridalveil Fall, which is located at the entrance to Yosemite Valley on Highway 41 (which becomes Wawona Road in the park) and Yosemite Falls which is located in the valley near Yosemite Lodge. Vernal and Nevada Falls can be seen from Glacier Point or by hiking the Mist Trail from Stop 16 of the valley shuttle bus system.  Many other waterfalls, including some that are only active during the spring, can be seen throughout different areas of the park. Learn more about Yosemite's many waterfalls in our helpful guide. 

What are the main points of interest in Yosemite Park?

Main points of interest include waterfalls, Half Dome, Mirror Lake, El Capitan, Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadow, Wawona, Tunnel View, Olmstead Point, Tenaya Lake, Hetch Hetchy and three groves of Giant Sequoias. Some attractions are seasonal.

Where are the Giant Sequoia Trees?

Mariposa Grove, the largest of the three groves in Yosemite, is near the park's south entrance on Highway 41. The two other groves are Tuolumne Grove, near Crane Flat off Highway 120, and the Merced Grove, west of Crane Flat and also off Highway 120. These groves require some hiking ability, as the first Giant Sequoias are a mile from the parking area. Discover more information from the National Park Service regarding Giant Sequoia Trees in Yosemite.

Nelder Grove, off Highway 41 just south of Oakhurst, is another area to see Giant Sequoias. This grove is located seven miles up Road 632/Sky Ranch Road.  Access can be impacted by road conditions and weather. Click here for for current conditions at Nelder Grove.  

Another place to see Giant Sequoias, including the largest tree in the world, is in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks about 2.5 hours south of Oakhurst. Learn more

Where is the famous Wawona Tunnel Tree?

The most famous tunnel (drive-through) tree is located in the Mariposa Grove (re-opening June 15, 2018), just up from the southern entrance to Yosemite. This tree fell during the heavy snow winter of 1968-1969.

Is GPS a good way to get directions in the area?

No, GPS is not the most effective method, especially in the mountain areas. Consult maps or come to the Visitor Center to get the best directions. You can actually get lost using GPS.

Can I drive my car into the Valley?

Yes, but we recommend you use the FREE Yosemite Valley shuttle system while you are in Yosemite Valley.

You can also take a private or public guided tour around Yosemite - see Tour information here.

YARTS - Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System is also available seasonally along Highway 41 and Highway 120.  The route runs year-round on Highway 140.  Visit the YARTS website here.

When do I need tire chains?

There are 3 levels of chain restrictions in California: R1, R2, and R3.

R1: Chains, traction devices, or snow tires required on the drive axle of all vehicles, except 4WD or AWD
R2: Chains, traction devices required for all vehicles except 4WD/AWD with snow tires.
R3: Chains or traction devices required for all vehicles.

“Snow Tires” includes all season radial tires (most autos come with them). That means that most autos need only put chains on in R2 conditions, and most AWD/4WD autos need only put chains on in R3 conditions. However, this is the legal minimum. It is a good idea to put them on anyway. Remember that 4WD/AWD does little or nothing to help you stop.

R3 conditions are rare. The CHP typically closes the road when conditions reach that point.

The speed limit under R1, R2, or R3 conditions is never more than 35 MPH. Even if you are on dry pavement, if you are going 35+ MPH under chain restrictions, you are risking a ticket.

You are advised to carry chains in your vehicle when entering the Sierra Nevada foothills and mountains from November 1st through May 1st and you are required to carry them in your vehicle whenever chain controls, of any level, are in effect for the area you will be driving in.

Where can I find a good place to fish?

In general, fishing is poor in Yosemite Valley and much better in the high country, in Bass Lake and other surrounding lakes and streams in the Sierra National Forest. Many lakes in the forest are regularly stocked. Those 16 and older must have a valid fishing license, including in Yosemite National Park.

Can I take this rock (pinecone, leaf, flower, etc.) home as a souvenir?

No. All natural objects found in the national park or national forest should remain where they are found as integral parts of the ecosystem. Please leave them for others to enjoy.

When are the wildflowers the best?

Mid-March into April in the foothills outside the park and mid-June into August in Yosemite's higher elevations. This can change, however, depending on the weather.

What does the word Yosemite mean?

"Yosemite" is derived from a Southern Miwok word "Yehemite", which translates to "Some among them are killers," which is believed to be how Mariposa-area native peoples referred to the people who lived in Yosemite Valley. Many southern Miwok people in Yosemite intermarried with the Paiute people from the eastern Sierra. Traditionally, Paiute and Miwok were enemies. Thus, when Mariposa Indians referred to people in the Valley, they commented that some among them (the Paiute) were killers.

How cold does it get in Yosemite?

In Yosemite Valley during the winter, average daytime temperatures are 30-55 degrees and 20-35 degrees at night. In mountain areas, layering is the best approach to adapt to temperatures that can vary greatly from morning to evening.

How long does the park stay open?

The park is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Entrance stations, however, are not staffed 24 hours a day. If your entry fee is not collected when you enter, you will pay as you exit.

Will I see a bear or other wild animal?

We sincerely hope not. As thrilling as it is to see a bear, the ones that gravitate to populated areas of the park are endangered. The National Park Service works hard to keep our wild bears wild. However, there's an excellent chance of seeing lots of other wildlife: mule deer, coyotes, marmots, several species of squirrel and numerous birds such as Stellar's Blue Jay, Black Headed Grosbeaks and possibly various birds of prey.

Is there a pet policy?

If you choose to bring your pet to Yosemite, please abide by these regulations: 

Pets are only allowed in:

  • developed areas
  • on fully-paved trails and roads except trails signed as not allowing pets. (Pets are not allowed off the Valley Floor, including the trail to Vernal Fall)
  • in campgrounds (except Tamarack Flat, Porcupine Flat and walk-in campgrounds, such as Camp 4.)
  • The only trail where pets are allowed to hike with their human companions is the Wawona Meadow Loop Trail.

Pets are not allowed: 

  • on unpaved or poorly paved trails, or trails marked as not allowing pets
  • on unplowed roads covered in snow 
  • in Wilderness areas
  • on shuttle busses
  • in concessioner lodging areas
  • in any group or horse camps

Human Companions must restrain their pets at all times on a leash not more than six feet long or be otherwise physically restrained.

  • Leashed pets may not be left unattended in a vehicle or otherwise.     
  • For the courtesy of other visitors, human companions are responsible for cleaning up and depositing animal waste in trash receptacles.

More information on pet policies inside Yosemite National available here.

What is there to do outside of Yosemite?

There is  so much to see and do throughout Madera County: California's Gateway to Yosemite. Bass Lake, many museums, the Fossil Discovery Center in Chowchilla, the wineries of the Madera Wine Trail, Golden Chain Theatre, and Art Galleries are all popular attractions. For more, visit our Attractions page.

Where can I get WiFi?

There are several locations you can pick up free WiFi Internet access, and many of our lodging properties offer high speed Internet.

Other locations include: 

Transportation Info

Here are some local and regional tour companies that offer guided day tours of Yosemite: 

Once inside the Valley, there is a FREE hop-on/hop-off shuttle, which is the easiest way to navigate the many sights available there. 

Road Conditions

For Yosemite National Park Road Conditions: call (209) 372-0200

For California Highways: call (800) 427-7623

Drive time and mileage to the Visitors Center in Oakhurst

FROMMileageDrive Time
Bakersfield155 miles2.5 hours
Chowchilla58 miles1.25 hours
Fresno48 miles50 minutes
Las Vegas438 miles7 hours
Los Angeles275 miles4.5 hours
Madera46 miles45 minutes
Merced67 miles1.25 hours
Monterey195 miles3 hours
Sacramento170 miles3 hours
San Diego380 miles6 hours
San Francisco213 miles4 hours
San Jose180 miles3 hours
San Luis Obispo155 miles3 hours
Santa Barbara282 miles5 hours
Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
Visit Yosemite - Madera County
Oakhurst Visitor Center, 40343 Highway 41, Oakhurst, CA 93644
(559) 683-4636
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Summer Hours - 7 days a week: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
Winter Hours - Monday thru Saturday 8:30 am to 4:30 pm

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