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Yosemite National Park’s closest entrance from the San Francisco Bay Area—Highway 120 at Big Oak Flat – Reopens Just in Time for the start of Summer Travel

May 13, 2017 Destination North America No Comments Email Email

This week, travelers can again access the valley in Yosemite National Park directly from Tuolumne County’s entrance in Groveland, California via the newly repaired and reopened Highway 120. The route had been closed since mid-February because of severe road damage from intense winter rains. Because it’s only 133 miles from the San Francisco Bay Bridge to the National Park’s Big Oak Flat entrance, Northern California visitors save about 90 minutes by taking Highway 120 into the park over other routes into the park.

Waterfall season has been extended; Mother Nature says, “You’re welcome.”

What happens when a record winter snowpack couples with cooler than normal springtime temperatures? It means that waterfalls in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada will be gushing well into summer because the seasonal accumulation of more than 500 inches of snow in 2017 will melt more slowly. It’s downright ridiculous, the uncountable number of waterfalls and the sheer magnitude of the waterworks. Adjectives like epic, legendary, and once-in-a-lifetime are not hyperbolic.

Water, water everywhere … exploring beyond Yosemite Valley

Yosemite National Park hosted 5,028,868 visitors in 2016 and 95% of park visitors experienced only seven square miles (aka the Valley Floor). (Even more shocking is that the average time spent in this park is five hours.)  Tuolumne County’s lodging in historic Groveland, in Sonora and Jamestown, suggest an alternative: skip the Valley crowds and traffic and get a springtime surprise with another waterfall fix. Groveland is one secret for savvy travelers who base themselves to explore Hetch Hetchy Reservoir (one of the Park’s quietest areas where John Muir is easy to channel) and Wapama Falls (more akin to a series of waterfalls flowing like pitchers of margaritas). Both are insanely bursting with Instagram-worthy water levels.

For unparalleled local insight and trustworthy advice, every traveler to Yosemite via Highway 120 should stop at the new visitor center (www.visittuolumne.com) at 193 South Washington Street in downtown Sonora or at the Chinese Camp Visitors Center, open year-round, or at the Visitors Center in Groveland open daily starting on Memorial Day weekend and staffed with a National Park ranger. Lisa Mayo, Executive Director of the Yosemite/Tuolumne Visitors Bureau (Visit Tuolumne) says her county businesses were counting the days until the reopening, since tourism to and through the area, part of the gold rush era and steward to more than 60% of Yosemite National Park, is vital to its economy.  “We live and work among Mother Nature’s brilliant beauty and we know that sometimes there is a price to pay, but the rewards—this season’s unbelievable waterfall display—is one gift we are not taking for granted. We encourage visitors to plan to come now to experience the most significant waterfalls – and whitewater rafting – in more than 20 years.”  Several whitewater rafting companies in the area are preparing for a long season and thrilling trips.

Groveland offers affordable lodging options; stay in the area, rather than daytrip to Yosemite

The Sierra Nevada ethos of gracious hospitality remains a hallmark of Groveland hotels. Overnight accommodations continue to roll out the red carpet to travelers. From Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite (the first new lodge in the park area in 25 years – every room with a sunset view –  and one half mile from the park entrance) and its sister property, the Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite (with 88 cabins tucked into a pine forest).  In the town of Groveland, lodging options include charming Hotel Charlotte with its inventive Fork & Love restaurant, The Groveland Hotel, with its award-winning wine cellar, or the All Seasons Inn for a B&B option and lovely breakfast service.   On 62 acres about 3 miles from town is the Sugar Pine Inn for a deluxe cottage experience and a mountain top pool.  here are more reasons than ever to stay overnight in the area.  Visitors should note that Tioga Road, the portion of Highway 120 through the park from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass, and Glacier Point Road, are closed each winter due to elevation and snow, and this year could remain closed longer than the normal late May opening.

As if waterfalls, rainbows and Class IV rapids aren’t enough, the Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoias accessible by Highway 120. Visitors can stand next to these majestic trees to demonstrate size and awe. Who knew a new stretch of asphalt could be so exciting and noteworthy? The almost a million travelers traveling from Northern California who enter Yosemite through Groveland and Big Oak Flat every year, that’s who. Come for epic waterfalls, stay overnight for epic everything else.

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