Even More Moutain Roads (Lake Tahoe to Yosemite)

It was time to leave Lake Tahoe. Yosemite National Park was the next and final stop of the Northern California Road Trip. Due to finding lower-priced fuel (thanks to the Gas Buddy app) we took a detour into a small town called Minden. The detour route was a pleasant surprise due to NV-207 (aka Kingsbury Grade Rd). The NV-207 was an excellent driving road carved into the mountains. You get a dramatic change in scenery from the elevation (NV-207) to flat farmlands into a small town (NV-88).

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A sizeable pull-out section on Kingsbury Pass to enjoy the scenery and weather.
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Perfect weather, dry roads, and curvy mountain roads. The Trifecta of driving conditions.

The Pit Stop Stragedy

The plan, a full tank of fuel and stock up on food. Yosemite and surrounding areas are rural you are better off stocking up before you arrive. The road trip pit stop resembled a racing pit stop in its efficiency. A short time later back on the road.

Now onto US-395 south to Yosemite. The drive highlighted by the roadside Mountain View BBQ restaurant, a must-stop due to the delicious food and scenic rest stop. We choose a picnic table under the shade of a tree. No better way to stretch your legs and relax than mountain views, a sunny day, and a constant breeze.

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That is the tree, picnic tables, and Mountain View BBQ, a perfect location for rest and food.
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Inside the Mountain View BBQ, reminiscent of some Route 66 roadside attractions.

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A Yosemite Warning

Continuing on US-395 will eventually take you to CA-120, the road that takes you into Yosemite National Park. Some National Parks can be tricky planning what time to go. The more famous the park, the more tourists, so that can be off-putting to some. The best way to deal with large crowds, in general, is to remember they help fund the park. National Parks preservation is important, and the large crowds help. Be it a National Park or a famous Route 66 roadside attraction. If you do not have a positive mindset when you see large groups, you are in for a long day.

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Yosemite Tunnel View was popular, and the crowds grew every 10-15mins

Best Times & Weather

In the early morning (before 8 am), you notice the park’s attendance is less, and it becomes the perfect time to explore. Part of our R&D (research and development) was to comfortably camp in the car. The in-car camping helped get an early start exploring the area. Yosemite is immensely popular you will never feel like the park is all to yourself. In the early morning hours, it gives you at least a glimpse of that feeling. There is different weather in Yosemite in early October. Near the east entry of Yosemite, temperatures are in the 30s (F) elevation is anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level with snow in some areas.

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Snow on the ground near the east entrance of Yosemite National Park.

The dramatic change comes as you drive to the westside on the Tioga Pass, the elevation drops and the temperatures rise to the 60s (F) in a short amount of time. So from being bundled up with, pants, inner-layers, and jackets to shorts, a t-shirt and maybe light hoodie weather in a matter of an hour (depending how many stops you do along the Tioga Pass).

Getting Inside Yosemite

The roads leading in or out (depending on how you entered) before the Yosemite Entrance are free and worth the trip alone. In our case US-120 east entry to Yosemite (near Mono Lake). After days of driving mountain roads, it never gets old for this Floridian car guy. At times you do wish it were your project (fun) car, tuned for better handling and braking than a rental car. Once you reach the Yosemite entrance, you pay $30 per car. Your receipt is your entry pass for seven days.

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East entrance to Yosemite National Park, notice the snow on the Park Ranger station’s roof.

The Most Scenic Road in Yosemite

The US-120 is also the Tioga Road (aka Tioga Pass) the most scenic road to drive on in Yosemite. Tioga Pass closes for winter so plan accordingly. The Tioga Pass is worth the entry pass alone, so it is highly recommended for any car enthusiasts to drive it before it closes for the winter. Yosemite is an interesting mix of more secluded areas near the east entrance and busy, large crowd areas towards the west. The main sections like the Visitor Center, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls are on the westside.

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The Tioga Road just past Olmsted Point.
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Olmsted Point Parking area with mountain fog rolling in.
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Almost anywhere you stop in Yosemite is a great photo-op. I “climbed” this mountain for this pic (it was just a few boulders and rocks).
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Climbers were walking towards the area they are about to scale up.
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The climbers disappeared on the other side of the trees.

Yosemite and the Tioga Pass are a great way to end a road trip. The mix of nature and driving roads that rival World Rally Championship stages are a treat for anyone driving any car. Exiting through the west side of the park on CA-120 rewards you with canyon carving roads, bridges, hills, and valleys. The canyon disappears to flat farmland. Then, white clouds with a deep blue sky create a haze of mountains you traversed in your rearview mirror.

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One of the bridges in the canyon road leaving Yosemite National Park

Three Lasting Thoughts

First, The dressed rehearsal (i.e., in-car camping for more freedom and saving money on road trips) taught us valuable lessons for the next Sexto Elemento project car. We in-car camped a couple of times, and it helped save money. Not only did it save money but also gave more freedom to explore. You can immediately explore a location the next day without any hindrance. With a hotel, you have to get ready to leave. With in-car camping, you are “already there” or very close in our case Yosemite National Park. If planned accordingly you could stretch your budget days or weeks with in-car camping. Sometimes the only way to learn is to try something new and make notes along the way. Oh and we learned a lot, a future blog post will include all our findings and best tips. Whenever we gain knowledge so will you.

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Our view of Mono Lake, near Yosemite from our “campsite.” A great view to wake up to.

Second, California is a special place, and it is always a place to think about when planning an epic road trip. California has something for everyone like beautiful landscapes be it mountains, beaches, valleys or deserts it is diverse just like its people. For someone who enjoys road trips, be it with a project car or a rental car you can have endless trips up and down California’s diverse terrain and roadside stops.

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A random stop in Yosemite National Park.

Finally, there is a reason California is a top destination for American car culture from its car shows, motorsports, cruises, mountain roads leads it to be a perfect state for road trips and car culture. Nothing better than cruising with California’s terrain and roads flirting with you outside the driver side windshield, and the radio playing your favorite road trip tunes.

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