Scenic Stops On A Yosemite to Lake Tahoe Road Trip

Ready for the ultimate Yosemite to Lake Tahoe road trip? We’ve got you covered!

Notorious for its world-class rock climbing opportunities, Yosemite National Park is also famous for its ancient sequoia trees, impressive granite monoliths, and roaring waterfalls that spew over cliff sides. And more than that, the breathtaking scenery that comes with these natural wonders!

Then, we have Lake Tahoe, reputed for its crystalline turquoise waters that functions as one of the purest lakes known on the planet.

People flock from all over the world to reach these two main attractions, and that’s why we’re creating the ultimate road trip to explore these two natural wonders along with other enigmatic natural and historical attractions to cherish with the family. 

Thankfully, the distance from Yosemite to Lake Tahoe isn’t bad, and with all the top attractions along the way, the family will be begging for the next attraction to take on together! 

Distance From Yosemite To Lake Tahoe

A non-stop route from Yosemite National Park to Lake Tahoe totals about 235 miles. This route takes CA-120 W to CA-4 E. Follow this path, then turn onto CA-49 N, continuing on this road until you hit CA-193 W and then hit US-50 E to Lake Tahoe. 

Our recommended scenic route, with stops at some of the top attractions and activities, spans 287 miles. On the scenic route, leaving Yosemite National Park:

  • Take CA-120 until you reach the Rainbow Pool.
  • Follow CA-120, then take a slight right onto CA-49 N to Jamestown Road to find Columbia State Historic Park.
  • Leaving the park, use Parrotts Ferry Road to turn right onto CA-4 W, continuing along the path to find Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
  • For the next attraction, head down CA-4 W to CA-49 N to merge onto CA-88 E, then onto Pine Grove Volcano Road to Black Chasm Cavern National Monument.
  • Follow Pine Grove Volcano Road back out of the national monument to Ridge Road, drive the path to turn right onto CA-49 N to CA-16 W, then turn right onto Latrobe Road to reach Empire Ranch Road to Auburn Folsom Road to Newcastle Lavender Farms.
  • Next, use Auburn Folsom Road to get onto I-80 E to find Donner Memorial State Park.
  • And then, finally, leave the park and follow CA-89 S to end the road trip at Lake Tahoe

How Long Do I Need If Driving Yosemite To Lake Tahoe?

With mountainous driving, the non-stop route from inside Yosemite to South Lake Tahoe takes around 4 hours to reach the end destination. Plus, we recommend taking at least two days to experience Lake Tahoe to get the most out of this fabulous family lake vacation trip

USA Yosemite to Lake Tahoe Road Trip - How Long do I Need if Driving Yosemite to Lake Tahoe

For the scenic route, stopping at the recommended attractions, it takes around six and a half hours to complete. Therefore, to enjoy each attraction and activity to the fullest on the scenic route, we advise taking at least four days to visit each. 

Note that with seasonal road closures, the route will take longer in winter.

Best Time Of Year To Drive From Yosemite To Lake Tahoe

If you’re trying to avoid the crowds at Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe, the best time of year to visit is March to May and September. These months are less crowded than the summer months of June, July, and August.

Of course, the summer months are also an excellent time to take a Yosemite to Lake Tahoe road trip. Just be prepared to experience more people at these top attractions and a lot more time crawling along than driving. 

Best Stops On A Yosemite To Lake Tahoe Road Trip

Yosemite National Park

Touted as one of the world’s most iconic and best climbing spots, Yosemite National Park is a hot spot for rock climbers. They travel from all across the globe to take on numerous challenges, including Half Dome and El Capitan.

USA Yosemite to Lake Tahoe Road Trip - El Capital

The wall of El Capital is the largest continuous wall in the U.S. and a mecca for rock climbers. Yosemite National Park presents opportunities for beginners to safely try rock climbing in the park, thanks to the Yosemite Mountaineering School!

Another popular attraction at Yosemite National Park is Tuolumne Meadows, a scenic meadow along the Tuolumne River. It has one of the highest-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada range, drawing in visitors to picnic and stroll through the meadow while basking in the rugged mountain backdrop.

  • Climbers should be aware of the summer lottery system for using the Half Dome Cables. Late snowfall this year (2023) may delay opening.

Rainbow Pools, Stanislaus National Forest, Groveland

Natural swimming holes, the Rainbow Pools are a part of the Stanislaus National Forest and Tuolumne River east of Groveland. This spot is popular for swimming, picnicking, hiking, fishing, and simply relaxing in the glorious scenery!

The large natural pools, sometimes called Rainbow Falls, are a well-known swimming hole featuring a small waterfall. The Rainbow Pools attract families, friends, tourists, and locals alike to dip in the water. 

No hike is required to reach the swimming hole as it is situated near the parking lot and is free to access. There is a picnic area with tables, restrooms, and other spots to set up to bathe in the sun or enjoy a picnic with the family surrounded by the scenic Rainbow Pools.

Columbia State Historic Park, Columbia

A National Historic Landmark District, Columbia State Historic Park is also called Columbia Historic District, as it encompasses and preserves the historic downtown area of Columbia, California. Nearly 30 buildings are included in the historic park and district, all constructed during the legendary California Gold Rush.

USA Yosemite to Lake Tahoe Road Trip - Columbia State Historic Park

Previously known as the “Gem of the Southern Mines,” Columbia, California, more than one billion dollars in gold (today’s value, not the value back then!) was mined in this area. And while other mining towns were abandoned to the fate of becoming ghost towns, Columbia remained standing, never fully abandoned.

Because of this, Columbia State Historic Park can dedicatedly preserve the historic gold rush town to personify and image to visitors what a California gold rush mining town would look like back in the day! 

Visit a historic saloon. Watch a performance at the Fallon Theatre. Ride a stagecoach. Take a photograph dressing up in old fashion clothes with the family. There’s so much to do and see at Columbia State Historic Park!

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Dedicated to preserving two special groves of the world’s largest trees, giant sequoia trees, Calaveras Big Trees State Park is a fulfilling attraction to stop at during this road trip from Yosemite National Park to Lake Tahoe. 

The park was first established in 1931 to protect the North and South Groves. Stop at Calaveras Big Trees State Park to see the magnificence of the towering sequoia trees and ancient volcanic formations, prosperous meadows, and the rushing waters of Stanislaus River. The trails at the park allow a refreshing opportunity to bask in the beauty of nature and to stand amongst the giant sequoia trees.

Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark

Designated in 1976, the Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark protects an awe-inspiring display of unique helictite formations. 

USA Yosemite to Lake Tahoe Road Trip - Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark

Visitors can experience an educational and unforgettable tour of the Black Chasm Cavern to see these stunning formations and learn about the early history and geology of the cave. The abundance of helictites in the Black Chasm Cavern is exceptional, hence its designation as a National Natural Landmark. 

A tour of the Black Chasm Cavern National Natural Landmark includes a walk through the three chambers in the upper levels, where extravagant formations grow and, within the second chamber, an eye-catching blue lake surrounded by the helictites.

Newcastle Lavender Farms

Family-owned and operated, Newcastle Lavender Farms is a striking attraction, settled perfectly amongst the Northern California foothills. The lavender farm was planted in 2016, and the family’s mission is to promote sustainability and natural beauty in the area. 

You and the family can walk amongst fragrant blooming lavender at Newcastle Lavender Farms. Harvest your lavender or buy handmade lavender products. Snag some pictures or enjoy a photo shoot with the vibrant purple background of blooming lavender with the family to remember the trip. 

Donner Memorial State Park

Settled stunningly in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Donner Memorial State Park is a well-known alpine park that offers plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy with the family!

USA Yosemite to Lake Tahoe Road Trip - Donner Memorial State Park

The park holds a rich and somber history that can be learned more at the Visitor Center, where exhibits educate visitors on the local area’s history. For example, the infamous Donner Party was caught in a terrible storm in the winter of 1846-1847 and had to resort to cannibalism. The Pioneer Monument was also constructed to honor California emigrants that traveled west in the mid-1800s. 

In the great outdoors of Donner Memorial State Park, take on various activities, such as camping, fishing, boating, hiking, and more! 

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in the continent and the largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada, the second-deepest lake in the United States. 

Lake Tahoe boasts more than a few top attractions you don’t want to miss out on with the family—for example, Emerald Bay State Park, which protects the National Natural Landmark, Emerald Bay.

The park is home to natural stunners such as Eagle Falls and architectural wonders like the 38-room mansion Vikingsholm, one of the best examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States. 

Our complete family guide to Lake Tahoe coming soon!

Accommodation in Lake Tahoe

There are numerous spots you can stay around Lake Tahoe on both the California and Nevada sides of the lake. If you want the closest point to Yosemite, look at South Lake Tahoe, or for more small town appeal, try Zephyr Cove or Kings Beach to the north.

More Tips for Road Tripping Yosemite to Lake Tahoe

  • Pack warm clothes if you plan on going from Yosemite National Park to Lake Tahoe in the less tourist-crowded months of March to May or September. It can get chilly at night and during the day in March and April. 
  • Pack plenty of water to stay hydrated!
  • Also, pack and wear sunscreen to protect the skin from potential sunburn while traveling through the parks and attractions at and around Lake Tahoe. 
  • For a neat idea, we recommend packing a cooler full of drinks and treats (don’t forget reusable utensils to enjoy them!). Much of the trip’s attractions require spending time outdoors, and there’s no better way to cherish the spectacular views and fresh air than enjoying a cute picnic with the family in nature! 
  • To avoid traffic jams, redlight cameras, and blocked roads, we recommend downloading the app Waze on your phone. This app keeps track of real-time data to make a safe and quick route to your desired destination. 

Where To Next – More Road Tripping Ideas In California & Nevada

Although short relatively to some of our scenic US driving itineraries, the drive from Yosemite to Lake Tahoe is packed full of interesting stopping points.

If you want to continue your journey through northern California and Nevada, you may also be interested in:

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