How To Tour Yosemite by Bike

Photo: Nancy Robbins/ Pedal Forward

Skip the traffic and take in the scenery: Here are 6 ways to enjoy the Yosemite Valley and the Sierra foothills without a car. 

With 4 million annual visitors, Yosemite National Park gets jam-packed in the busy season, where gridlock traffic can cause delays. But there’s good news for adventurous visitors: The bike paths remain uncrowded, offering up-close and personal views of the California park’s iconic waterfalls and granite walls. 

Here’s a little advice on navigating the park year-round from yours truly, a local climber and biking guide who’s spent nearly three decades exploring it: Avoid the park during weekends; and during the week, come in early and stay until late to beat traffic. Peak season—May to October—will always bring a line of cars, with many going 10 to 15 mph under the limit as they reach the entrance station. Once past the park gates, it becomes a flurry to find parking, where it’s common to see whole lines of illegally parked vehicles where families and out-of-towners have had enough of driving in circles and just pull over. 

Once your vehicle is parked, then the option is to huff it on foot or catch a free shuttle. Another option, however: Pack bikes and use them. Yosemite Valley is only 7 miles around, from Mirror Lake to El Capitan Meadow, which is reasonable for most riders, young or old. (The only exception is the road leading to Mirror Lake, which climbs a hill detailed below.) 

One catch: In Yosemite, bikes (including e-bikes, with some restrictions*) are only allowed on roads open to cars, which means dirt paths and singletrack trails are off-limits. There are, however, 12 miles of bike-specific paths with a speed limit of 15 mph. They parallel the main road that loops its way through the Yosemite Valley floor. There’s a free bike share program run by the Yosemite Conservancy with a limited number of bikes, plus a bike rental concessionaire that offers cruiser bike rentals in the valley on a first-come, first-served basis. Otherwise, you can reserve a rental bike through Pedal Forward in Oakhurst. 

“We have two types of guests,” says Jorge Negrete, co-owner of Pedal Forward, “people who rent bikes to ride in Yosemite and those who ride bikes in the Bass Lake and Oakhurst area.” 

He continues, “For the singletrack mountain bike trails outside of the park, people rent full-suspension mountain bikes. Guests also like the bikes we rent for the valley floor: a hybrid mountain bike that can climb the hills in the valley instead of just riding a cruiser.” 

Getting the most out of your visit is all about avoiding crowds. If I do visit on weekends, I make sure to arrive before 9 a.m., and leave around dark. And regardless of where I plan to go, I park and unload bikes at El Cap Meadow, which means I must ride on the road for a few miles before jumping on the bike paths, but that’s a small price to pay for not sitting in traffic later. 

The park service also recently announced that its reservation system is going away for 2023. This means vehicle traffic will not be restricted, and visitation will likely increase. That’s why now is the perfect time to get a bike and prepare for your trip to Yosemite.

“There is no better way to see Yosemite Valley than on a bicycle,” says Tony McDaniel from the Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau. “It’s easy to get around the valley on a bike. You’re doing it slower than in a car, so you’re enjoying it, and the flatness of it makes it really family-friendly.”

Here are six bike routes for riders of all types, from families on cruisers up to expert athletes or those on powerful e-bikes. 

A biker looks up at a Yosemite waterfall Photo: Pedal Forward

The Chapel to Camp 4 Loop - Yosemite Valley

This is a route for every rider that is perfect for families. My favorite spot to pick up the valley loop bike path is Swinging Bridge, located near and across from the Yosemite Chapel. Follow the path east toward Housekeeping Camp, which connects to Curry Village. From Curry, continue 2 miles to Mirror Lake via a paved road that gradually gets steeper. The hard work is worth it, though, as Mirror Lake provides one of the best viewing areas in the park to see Half Dome. From here, I like to reverse the Mirror Lake section, then continue west to the Ahwahnee Hotel to reach Yosemite Village and finally Camp 4. Covering 7.5 miles, this bike loop can be done in a few hours. 

This ride is ideal for cruiser bikes as it’s mostly flat. The only hill climb is to reach Mirror Lake, where gears would be helpful (and thus, the park’s rental bikes are not allowed).

Foresta Road - near the park’s west entrance 

A powerful (500-plus-watt) e-bike is recommended for this undertaking as it’s very steep and sustained. Otherwise, you need lungs and legs of steel to ride Foresta Road from El Portal to Foresta. Though the road is closed to vehicles due to rockslides and a fire that burned out the bridge near the top of the road, it’s spectacular riding (hiking too). Considered abandoned, this 6-mile, overgrown dirt path was opened in 1913 and then essentially forgotten after the 2009 Big Meadow Fire damaged bridges (which are still passable, but falling into disarray). Climbing up from the town of El Portal and crossing through the Stanislaus National Forest, the road gains 2,300 brutal feet of elevation to reach the town of Foresta within Yosemite National Park. Along the way, you pass concrete bridges that bend and curve with the hillside, including the one that crosses under Foresta Falls, Yosemite’s forgotten waterfall. (Dropping 200 feet, Foresta Falls is perhaps the least visited waterfall in the park, which makes it all the better if you like avoiding crowds.) Added adventure: The steel bridge near the summit requires clipping you and your bike into ropes to cross its wooden planks—not for the faint of heart. 

Blind Squirrel - near the park’s south entrance

Rated black diamond for experts only, this is a technical mountain bike ride. Descending nearly 1,000 feet over 3 miles, it’s Bass Lake’s version of Moab’s famed Slickrock trail. What sets it apart from the pack is its unique characteristic: It’s all granite. “Exquisite,” is how Negrete labels his favorite ride. “It comes down from Shuteye Peak,” he adds, “a white granite ride with beautiful views of Table Mountain, Bass Lake, and Oakhurst.” Shuteye, like Yosemite, is a climber’s paradise, containing a wonderland of rocks. Driving to the top requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle, but Negrete recommends grinding out the 5-mile approach from the parking area up to the start of the route, and using a full-suspension bike suitable for the descent. More info:

Mono Lake Loop Ride - near the park’s east entrance

Perfect for electric or manual-pedal fat bikes, the Mono Lake Loop is 40 miles in the Mono Basin National Forest at the junction of state Route 120 and U.S. Route 395. Here, loose sand and dunes surround a saline soda lake that’s more than 1 million years old. Containing trillions of brines and shrimp, Mono’s alkaline waters are marked by tower-like tufa rock formations, abundant wildlife, sand dunes and starkness best described as hauntingly beautiful. Bikes with fat tires riding at low-pressure reign supreme, as they smooth out the ride while holding traction. The starting point for this ever-interesting loop is at U.S. 395 and Cemetery Road. For après, visit the Whoa Nellie Deli/Mobil gas station, which offers incredible food, stunning views of Mono Lake, and even live music.  

Slaughterhouse Road to the Flume Trail - 30 miles from the west entrance

This 6- to 9-mile downhill ride is excellent for gravel, e-bikes or mountain bikes. Though an hour’s drive from Yosemite Valley, the scenery—like everywhere in the Sierra foothills—in nearby Mariposa, Calif., is beautiful. Here black oaks line the roads, steep knolls pepper the landscape, and mountains fill the skyline. Slaughterhouse is a gravel rider’s dream, extending from the west side of Midpines Summit, where the wide dirt road starts at Allred Road and begins its descent of close to 2,000 feet. Riders can either start at the junction of Allred and state Route 140 (longer) or at the corner of Allred and Slaughterhouse (shorter). After several miles of downhill, it connects with the Flume Trail, where a singletrack takes riders to the Stockton Creek Reservoir. From the res, continue along a dirt road to town—you pop out right above the Sticks coffeeshop—or extend the ride a few more steep and wildly scenic miles via the Stockton Creek Road. (The surrounding Stockton Creek Preserve hiking area is popular for families, dog-friendly, and moderately strenuous.) Though you can start this route in Mariposa and do it as an out-and-back—which requires a long, continuous climb to the top of Slaughterhouse, or a loop up to it via CA-140 with little to no shoulder—it’s best to arrange a shuttle to the top and complete it as a one-way, downhill joy ride.

Glacier Point Road and Tioga Pass Road

Since Yosemite doesn’t have bike lanes, road bikes must share the road with fast-moving vehicles. But during brief windows, each year, two roads (Glacier Point Road and Tioga Pass) open to foot- and bike-traffic only, and those are the best times to ride.

Bike Day for Glacier Point Road is April 25. From the 16-mile-long road that leads to Glacier Point (currently closed due to a massive road construction project, but projected to reopen in 2023), riders gain unobstructed views of Half Dome from thousands of feet above the valley floor without worrying about seeing a single car. The same goes for the 64 miles of riding on state Route 120 from Big Oak Flat to Tioga Pass, for a brief period in June, depending on snowfall and plowing. Climbing west to east takes riders past epic views of Half Dome, rolls past Tenaya Lake, and reaches 9,943 feet in elevation before dropping 3,172 feet down from Tioga Pass to Lee Vining. From east to west, road riders have rated the 12-mile ascent up Tioga Pass as one of America’s top 10 Most Epic Bike Climbs.


*Though e-bikes are allowed in Yosemite, they must be less than 750 watts. Bike helmets are required for children under 18, and though electric scooters are allowed, motorized scooters are not. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.