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7 Great Wilderness Areas and State Parks Near Yosemite National Park

California Parks National Parks
by Suzie Dundas Apr 20, 2023

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but Yosemite National Park gets crowded: really crowded. The roads through the valley can be bumper-to-bumper through the summer season, campsite reservations often get taken minutes after they go online, and there’s a lottery system to get permission to hike the park’s famous Half Dome.

Fortunately, there are tons of protected wilderness areas and parks near Yosemite that are just as cool and have a fraction of the crowds. The seven parks below are great options if you’re doing a northern California road trip and looking for other places to stop, or if you’re staying outside of Yosemite and looking for somewhere else to go when the national park is too crowded. Most of the parks near Yosemite below also have camping, so you could pitch your tent at one of these parks and do a day trip to Yosemite if you can’t find a campsite within the national park. You’ve got lots of options.

Northern California is a beautiful part of the country, and it’s not like the only pretty parts of it are in Yosemite National Park. Check out the parks near Yosemite on the list below if you’re looking for something different — you won’t be disappointed.

The best parks near Yosemite

The parks below aren’t too far from Yosemite, but nearly all the roads around the park are windy, two-lane roads, so travel can be slow if you get stuck behind an RV or bus. Also note that Yosemite is huge, so distance from Yosemite doesn’t necessarily mean “distance from where you want to go in Yosemite.” Driving from the far end of the Yosemite Valley floor to the campgrounds on Tioga Pass can take an hour or more.

Also note that Tioga Pass road closes during winter, so it’s usually open from mid-May to November. That means you can’t cut through Yosemite to reach parks like Mono Lake or Bodie in the winter. Instead, you have to drive around the entirety of Yosemite, making the drive take about six hours instead of 45 minutes.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

tufa formations at mono, one of the best parks near yosemite

Photo: Bill 45/Shutterstock

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve is in Mono County, just 13 miles east of Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The lake is a stunning natural wonder, known for its towering tufa formations that rise from the waters of Mono Lake. Tufa are calcium carbonate spires and knobs that form when calcium-rich spring water mixes with the lake’s alkaline water, and they’re easy to recognize: they look like giant termite piles, except they’re snow white.

One of the most popular trails in the park is the South Tufa Trail, an easy, one-mile loop trail passing the most impressive tufa formations. Another popular trail is the Panum Crater Trail, a moderate 2.5-mile round-trip hike that offers stunning views of Mono Lake and the surrounding mountains. Visitors to the reserve should also be sure to check out the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center, which has really interesting exhibits and information about the region’s geology, ecology, and human history.

Oh, and it’s pronounced “Moh-no,” not “Mah-no.” (It rhymes with “oh no.”)

  • Address: 1 Mono Lake Access Road, Lee Vining, CA 93541
  • Hours: Varies, but roughly dawn to dusk
  • Cost: $3 per person
  • Distance from Yosemite: 13 miles (via Tioga Pass Road, which is closed from roughly November to early May)

Bodie State Historic Park

bodie - other parks near yosemite national park

Photo: Flystock/Shutterstock

Bodie is a fascinating and incredibly well-preserved ghost town that offers a glimpse into the California Gold Rush and the era of the Wild West. Bodie was once a bustling mining town with over 10,000 residents in its heyday. Today, the town stands as a ghost town, preserved in a state of arrested decay, offering visitors a unique look into the past. There are more than 100 buildings still standing, many of which are still furnished. The town went bust so quickly that many residents left within a year, leaving almost everything they owned behind.

Visitors can take self-guided tours through the town and explore the many preserved buildings, including homes, saloons, and shops. The park offers a variety of tours, including a historic walking tour, a cemetery tour, and a sunset tour. The park also hosts several events throughout the year, including Living History Days, where visitors can experience what life was like in the late 1800s. There’s also a massive mine and a few buildings that have been turned into museums. It’s very cool — plan to spend at least 90 minutes there (and be prepared for a rough drive on a dirt road to get there).

  • Address: Bodie State Historic Park, Bodie, CA 93517
  • Hours: April – October, 9 AM – 6 PM. November – March, 9 AM – 4 PM
  • Cost: $8 per person
  • Distance from Yosemite: 40 miles (via Tioga Pass Road, which is closed from roughly November to early May)

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

parks near yosemite - calaveras

Photo: Sam Spicer/Shutterstock

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is in the middle part of the Sierra Nevada, northwest of Yosemite. This park is famous for its giant sequoias, some of which are more than 300 feet tall and at least 1,200 years old, making it an excellent destination for nature enthusiasts (or anyone who wants to feel dwarfed by how amazing Earth is).

The park has seven maintained trails through the groves of giant sequoias, including the North Grove Trail, which is the most famous (and crowded). It’s a 1.7-mile loop through a forest of sequoias and gains less than 100 feet of elevation, so it’s pretty easy. The South Grove Trail is another popular hike, featuring giant sequoias even taller than those in the North Grove. It’s a roughly five-mile round-trip hike and gains about 75 feet of elevation, so plan on about three hours to complete it.

  • Address: 1170 E Highway 4, Arnold, CA 95223
  • Hours: Daily, 8 AM – 5 PM
  • Cost: $10 per vehicle for day use
  • Distance from Yosemite: 40 miles

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park is a living museum about the history of the railroad in California. You can hop on the historic train for a six-mile ride through California Gold Country, explore the roundhouse and shops, and learn about the history of rail transportation in the state.

What’s pretty cool about the park is that it’s been a filming location for more than a few movies you’ve probably seen, including “Unforgiven” (1992) and “Back to the Future” (1990), plus western TV shows like “The Lone Ranger.” The park is only open from April to October, and because it operates as a public/private partnership, you do have to pay for the train rides. Fortunately, they’re only $20, which includes park admission.

  • Address: 18115 5th Ave, Jamestown, CA 95327
  • Hours: Daily, 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM
  • Costs: $5 per person for entrance to the park, additional fees for train rides
  • Distance from Yosemite: 45 miles

Don Pedro Lake State Recreation Area

state parks near yosemite national park - don pedtro

Photo: vivoo/Shutterstock

Don Pedro Lake State Recreation Area is a popular summer destination in the Sierra Nevada foothills. With 160 miles of shoreline and a surface area of about 13,000 acres, boating, fishing, water sports, and swimming are all options. You can rent boats from two marinas around the lake — Lake Don Pedro Marina and Moccasin Point Marina.

This is one of the best parks near Yosemite given its extensive shoreline, which means you’ll be able to find a place to yourself to hang on the beach — something that’s not always possible in the poplar swimming areas in Yosemite. Parking is also never a problem, which you certainly can’t say about anywhere in the Yosemite Valley.

  • Address: 10201 Bonds Flat Rd, La Grange, CA 95329
  • Hours: Open daily from sunrise to sunset
  • Costs: $10 per vehicle for day use
  • Distance from Yosemite: 46 miles

Folsom Lake State Recreation Area

parks near yosemite - folsom

Photo: Michael Vi/Shutterstock

Folsom Lake State Recreation Area is a popular outdoor day trip from Sacramento and is certainly a closer drive than Yosemite if you’re in the city. It’s one of the biggest parks near Sacramento, covering 19,000 acres and stretching across two counties in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The park is especially well known for wildflowers in the spring, including lupines, poppies, Indian paintbrushes, and California goldfields.

The lupine is a particularly photographic and popular sight, and they’re usually found in patches near the lake. The flowers have tall spikes of blue and purple flowers that grow sometimes waist-high. The best trail for spotting lupines is the Beeks Bight Nature Area Jedi Trail (5.3 miles). Expect to see plenty of lupine photo shoots if you visit on a spring weekend. Fortunately, the park has 95 miles of trails, so you’ll have plenty of other options if you don’t feel like watching influencers in the wild. You can also rent boats on the lake from Folsom Lake Marina, and campsite reservations are usually always available.

  • Address: 7755 Folsom-Auburn Rd, Folsom, CA 95630
  • Hours: Daily, dawn to dusk
  • Costs: $12 per vehicle for day use
  • Distance from Yosemite: 130 miles

John Muir Wilderness

Jm wilderness parks near yosemite

Photo: Melissamn/Shutterstock

Named after the famous naturalist and conservationist, John Muir Wilderness is a stunning natural south of Yosemite in Sierra National Forest. It covers more than 650,000 acres of pristine alpine lakes, glaciers, meadows, and mountain peaks (including Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States). The area is known for its incredible hiking and backpacking opportunities, with more than 2,000 miles of trails. You can also access parts of the famous Pacific Crest Trail from the John Muir Wilderness.

The area offers a range of hiking options, from easy day hikes to challenging multi-day backpacking trips. The most popular trail is probably the John Muir Trail (the JMT), a 211-mile trail that most people take about three weeks to do. A good shorter alternative is the Rae Lakes Loop, a 40-mile loop with views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and several alpine lakes.

This isn’t really a park near Yosemite — technically, it’s a wilderness area. But you still need permits. If you’re doing the JMT from the north, you’ll get your permit from Yosemite, or if you’re starting from the south, you’ll get it from Inyo National Forest. You don’t need to reserve a permit for day hiking, but you will need a wilderness permit for any overnight camping on any trail.

  • Address: John Muir Wilderness, Sierra National Forest, California
  • Hours: Year-round, but limited access in winter
  • Costs: Fees for camping and backpacking permits
  • Distance from Yosemite: Various; the JMT runs into Yosemite, so it depends where you’re starting from

Where to stay to visit parks near Yosemite

alternatives to yosemite parks near yosemite june lake

June Lake, roughly 25 miles south of Yosemite on the eastern side. Photo: Tsuguliev/Shutterstock

Since these parks are spread across northern California, where to stay isn’t quite as black and white. If you’re planning a trip that includes Yosemite as well as other parks to the west, you may want to stay in Merced, about 70 miles west of the park. That makes it easy to go to Yosemite for the day but also puts you a quick drive from the other parks. If you’re going to Mono or Bodie, you’ll want to stay to the east of Yosemite, likely around Lee Vining, or even as far south as June Lake, if you want to be somewhere with a few more restaurants and bars.

Of course, camping is always an option (though make sure you get reservations ahead of time, if needed).

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

El Capitan Hotel (Merced)


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El Capitan is themed after Yosemite National Park and named, obviously, after one of the park’s most famous rock faces. The hotel is reasonably priced with new, clean rooms and decor like historical photos and cute pine tree wallpaper. It has a bar and a gym, rooms are big and comfortable, and it’s dog-friendly, in case Fido is exploring parks near Yosemite, too. Rates start at a reasonable $127 a night.

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Yosemite View Lodge (El Portal)


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Yosemite View Lodge isn’t the fanciest hotel around Yosemite National Park, so you may be a bit surprised to see the high starting price. But it has outdoor hot tubs, an on-site restaurant and, most importantly, unbeatable access to the park: it’s just half a mile to the park entrance. So, theoretically, you could stay here to explore Yosemite, parks to the west, and parks to the east, provided (a) Tioga Pass Road is open and (b) you don’t mind cutting through the park to get there.

From the lodge, it’ll be about a 2.5(ish) hour drive to Mono Lake — but it’s an absolutely gorgeous drive, at least. And you can always grab dinner in Yosemite on your way back. Rooms start around $249 a night but can get much steeper in the busy summer months.

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Double Eagle Resort and Spa (June Lake)

If you want to come back to a bit of luxury after a day outdoors (and a hot tub and on-site bar, too), check out Double Eagle Resort and Spa. It’s 12 miles south of Yosemite’s Tioga Pass entrance and close enough to June Lake to check out the town’s offerings. It’s a peaceful, old-school hotel, offering both standard hotel rooms and private cabins on a small lake. Rates start at $299 a night.

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