The hardest, most difficult and challenging cycling climbs in and near Yosemite National Park are, in order of difficulty 1. Tioga Pass, 2. Old Priest Grade, 3. Glacier Point, 4. Wards Ferry Road South, and 5. Hetch Hetchy Dam Climb
Yosemite Valley - El Capitan center left; Half Dome center.
BREATHTAKING! Enough said. Actually, we’ll say some more. Yosemite National Park may be THE jewel of the US National Park system, and in our opinion, is best and most efficiently seen by bike. The criticism with cycling Yosemite is the danger that can occur with distracted tourists driving fifth Wheels/RVs. However, we experience these dangers daily on our roadways and we feel that the freedom available to the cyclist navigating the park (stopping almost anywhere we choose, crossing to the opposite side of the road, going as slow as we like, etc.) outweigh the potential cycling hazards inherent at all tourist destinations.
Photo - from upper left clockwise:
Center upper photo is from Tunnel view of El Capitan (left) and Half Dome (right).
Photo Upper left: From Panorama Trail
Center and bottom photos are from Washburn and Glacier Points
Yosemite was the third National Park to be established (Yellowstone in 1872; Sequoia Sept. 25, 1890; Yosemite Oct. 1, 1890), but it served as the catalyst for the formation of the US National Park system. Galen Clark (“Guardian of Yosemite”), and other explorers and naturalists lobbied President Lincoln to protect Yosemite Valley, leading to Lincoln sign the Yosemite Grant in 1864. Later, naturalist and environmental philosopher John Muir successfully encouraged congress to establish Yosemite a national park in 1890.
Yosemite National Park is made of 748,436 acres and spans four California Sierra Nevada counties (Toulumne, Mariposa, Mono, and Madera). On average, over 4,000,000 people visit Yosemite annually (a record 5,000,000 visited the park in 2016). The park was designated UNESCO World AHeritage Site #308 in 1984 with the following description:
Yosemite National Park lies in the heart of California. With its 'hanging' valleys, many waterfalls, cirque lakes, polished domes, moraines and U-shaped valleys, it provides an excellent overview of all kinds of granite relief fashioned by glaciation. At 600–4,000 m, a great variety of flora and fauna can also be found here. More
There are four entrances to Yosemite National Park: (a) Northgate - Groveland - Highway 120 [Old Priest Grade], (b) Southgate Highway 41 - Oakhurst [seasonally closed; nearby Top 100 Beasore Road], (c) Eastgate - Lee Vining - Highway 120/395 [Tioga Pass - seasonally closed], and (d) Westgate - Highway 140 - Mariposa [Glacier Point].
CYCLING YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK: TOP BIKE CLIMBS IN YOSEMITE
The distance of the 5 bike climbs in and around Yosemite NP from Yosemite Valley.
Cycling Glacier Point
Ride 25 miles gaining 4,585’ at 2.4% average grade.
The high point of the climb is a couple miles before Washburn and Glacier Points, but we strongly recommend continuing the journey to the end, which includes riding your bike the short distance (100 yards or so) from the Glacier Point Gift Shop and Store to Glacier Point. There is no water from the Valley floor for 24 miles to the Glacier Point Store, so come prepared with plenty of water and provisions for the several hour, 24 mile journey. There is a gift shop and store at Glacier Point. A word of caution: At mile 1.5 we enter the 0.8 mile long Yosemite Tunnel, a serious hazard to consider if you are traveling this route by bike from Yosemite Valley. The tunnel is 0.8 miles at about 5% grade, so you will be in a cycling danger zone for five to ten minutes.
Cycling Tioga Pass
Ride 12 miles gaining 3,172’ at 5% average grade.
Tioga Pass is the beginning of the 75 mile journey from Highway 395 westbound into Yosemite Valley. The eastern Park (Eastern Gateway) entrance is right at Tioga Pass at almost precisely the 12 mile mark of the climb. The crux of the climb begins at mile four and the next five miles average 7.4%, compared to the 4.6% average for the full climb.
Cycling Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite National Park
Ride 6 miles gaining 1,332’ to elevation 5,126’ at 4.1% average grade.
Cycling Hetch Hetchy
Ride six miles gaining 1,330’ at 4.1% average grade.
This is a fairly mild climb in Northwestern Yosemite National Park. The climb begins at the O'Shaughnessy Dam and ends a few miles north of the park’s only entrance that does not access Yosemite Valley -- the road dead ends at the dam. The steepest mile is just under 5% average grade so this road bike climb is more for the beauty of the Hetch Hetchy area than it’s difficulty.
View of John on the dam with Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in the background.
Cycling Old Priest Grade -- one of the steepest bike climbs in Northern California.
Ride 2.5 miles to 2,480’ gaining 1,630’ at 12.4% average grade.
While technically not in Yosemite NP, Old Priest Grade is an epic bike climb only eight miles west of the Northgate entrance to the park, and is well worth doing on your way to Yosemite if you are entering from the west.
6.2 miles gaining 1,834’ at 5.5% average grade.
The turn off to the Wards Ferry Bridge climb (Deer Flat Road) is 25 miles from the western entrance to Yosemite NP. Wards Ferry is an isolated, tough and very unique bike climb near the Old Priest Grade climb. The centerpiece of this climb is Graffiti Bridge - I cannot tell you how surprised I was to happen upon this bridge in what seemed like the middle of nowhere - shocking, actually. Although I do not generally respect or condone graffiti, this actually seemed more like a unique and interesting major art project (other than some vulgar paintings) and I enjoyed it so much I visited it a second time a year after my initial discovery.
If you have the time, you will not regret riding this epic bike climb.
ROAD AND TRAFFIC
Roadway Surface and Traffic Report for Yosemite NP: Roadways are all awesome, but traffic is terrible in the valley and a bit dicey on Highways 120 and 140 surrounding the park. The roadways are as pristine and well maintained as you will find. Traffic in the Yosemite Valley, particularly during peak times such as summer, is intolerable (if you are in a motor vehicle!). There are a great deal of RVs, campers, and fifth wheels (many of them rented -- an additional hazard) and there is no question this is cause for bicycle safety concerns. Because of these factors, it is advisable to use tail lights and bright clothing on your cycling journeys throughout the park.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN YOSEMITE VALLEY
El Capitan - An incredible feature of the Yosemite Valley Floor.
Sentinel Rock -- Yosemite Valley.
Hiking Yosemite Falls -- Strenuous hike
7.2 miles round trip gaining 2,700’
Yosemite Falls is North America’s tallest waterfall.
Not our photo, sent to us by one of our crazy friends!
Top of the Yosemite Falls.
Easy hike -- ½ mile gaining 80’.
2.4 miles round trip via Mist Trail -- gain 1,000’.
5.4 miles round trip via Mist Trail -- gain 2,000’.
Hike to the top of Half Dome from Yosemite Valley -- very strenuous hike
Permits required, Application period is March 1 to March 31
From Happy Isles Bridge: 17 miles round trip gaining 5,460’.
Washburn Point -- Panorama Trail
Very strenuous hike -- 8.5 miles one way, gain 3,200’.
AWESOME VIEWPOINTS IN YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Half Dome at sunrise -
Center photo - Tunnel View
All other photos: Washburn and Glacier Points
Viewpoints throughout Yosemite are listed on the National Park Service website at the Viewpoints Page.
Half Dome from Glacier Point.
Nevada and Vernal Falls from Glacier Point.
Hetch Hetchy Dam.
Entering the Valley on Highway 120.
PJAMM’S 2017 YOSEMITE ADVENTURE
Ride Valley Floor to Glacier Point
Hike Panorama Trail from Glacier Point to top of Half Dome
Yosemite Valley Floor to Glacier Point: 25 miles gaining 4,815’
Glacier Point to Half Dome to Happy Isles: 20.4 miles gaining 4,844’
Before sunrise on PJAMM’s June 28, 2018 bike/hike
Bike Yosemite Valley Floor to Glacier Point + hike to Half Dome.
Roadway Surface and Traffic Report: There is no bike lane along this route, although the lane is standard highway width, affording fairly safe travel. The roadway is excellent throughout this ride. Traffic is moderate and includes many RVs and trucks pulling trailers, but fewer of these big vehicles after we turn onto Glacier Point Road at mile 9.2.
Washburn Point just before sunrise.
Panorama Trail to Half Dome.
That’s just rubbing it in! Tayler ran the entire route.
He started about three hours after the old guys and finished . . .
well, let’s just say . . . ahead of the old guys!
Eee Gads -- the infamous “Cables”.
Those are not ants . . .
Hayley -- On Top of the World!
Team PJAMM after descending Half Dome.
Yosemite NP Entrance Fees: As of June 2015, the fee to enter the park on a bicycle was $15. We purchased the $80 All-Parks Pass which gives us access for the year into all National Parks.
The map below features: (a) all of the major climbs in and around Yosemite, (b) a few "rides with elevation" that are options for those intending to cycle Yosemite, and (c) lodging options. The spreadsheet below the map provides detail regarding climbs, points of interest and lodging in and around Yosemite.
Transportation: Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (YARTS) provides bus service into the park from the surrounding area. Take your bike onboard at no additional cost. Bus fares include a ticket into the park. For more information go to YARTS.com.
Lodging options (as of June 2015): Options range from the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee Lodge) with 123 rooms starting in the mid-$300's, to Yosemite Lodge starting at $89, Curry Village (tent cabins) starting at $129, to camping in the park (13 campgrounds, seven reservation, six first-come-first served). For more information see National Park Service - Eating & Sleeping in Yosemite. There are also several lodges in the park (but out of the valley floor) and just outside the park (e.g., Tuolumne Meadows Lodge on the way to and from the eastern entrance, Tioga Pass Resort just outside the east gate, and Evergreen Lodge At Yosemite, on the way to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, just outside the western edge of the park.
Gas stations in the park: At the western side of the park is Crane Flat Gas Station, and at the eastern side of the park is Tuolumne Meadows Store and Gas Station. Yosemite Groceries and Supplies.
For further information, see also www.Yosemitepark.com
Getting around in Yosemite Valley: Free shuttle runs from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in Yosemite Valley.