Winter Driving Info

Winter Driving and Tire Chains

Yosemite is beyond compare in its winter season. Fun snow activities in the high country are paired with resplendent scenery. You haven't seen Yosemite until you have seen it decorated in a coat of white. In order to help you fully enjoy the season, we've put together some useful information on getting around.

Tire Chains
Road Conditions
Recommended Winter Car Travel Supplies

A friendly reminder about snow chains from Sean Costello at Badger Pass Ski Area.

 

Tire Chains

Winter conditions in Yosemite National Park may require the use of tire chains on any vehicle navigating park roads. This condition is entirely weather-dependent and determined by the National Park Service in Yosemite. You are required by federal law to carry tire chains in your vehicle if entering a designated chain control area, even if your vehicle is equipped with snow tires and/or four-wheel-drive. Chains can become mandatory on any park road at any time. Tire Chain Control is administered on park roads by law enforcement park rangers who will deny entrance to the park if you do not have tire chains for your vehicle. Tire chain requirements are strictly enforced in Yosemite. You will be subject to a citation and fined up to $5,000 if you fail to install chains when required.

There are three categories of chain requirements: R1, R2, and R3.

R1: Chains or snow tires are required on the drive axle of all vehicles except four wheel/ all wheel drive vehicles.
R2: Chains are required on all vehicles except four wheel/ all wheel drive vehicles with snow-tread tires on all four wheels.
R3: Chains are required on all vehicles, no exceptions. Including those with four wheel/ all wheel drive

Chains should be the correct size for your tires. Chains must be installed on drive wheels, either front or rear wheel drive. For cars with four wheel or all wheel drive chains must be installed on one axel. Cable-type chains are acceptable, but they may not provide as much traction as traditional chains.

Control areas can change rapidly from place to place because of changing weather and road conditions. You must install tire chains when highway signs indicate tie chains are required. You can be cited and fined by the California Highway Patrol if you do not comply.

For current road information inside Yosemite call 209-372-0200. Select 1 and then 1 again. Current Conditions in Yosemite National Park
For current road information outside of Yosemite National Park, call CALTRANS at: 1-800-427-7623 (1-800-GAS-ROAD).
Yosemite’s gateway towns – Oakhurst on CA Highway 41 and Mariposa on CA Highway 140 – offer tire chain purchase and rental services:
Oakhurst Tire Chain Information
Mariposa Tire Chain Information

Additional Information:

  • Mud and Snow tires are typically designated with a "M+S" on the side of the tire, and must have a minimum tread depth of 6/32 of an inch to be legal.
  • Tire traction devices (chains) can be link chain, cable chains and/or spider straps
  • Studded snow tires may be used if the tires are also rated as snow tires, if not, the tires must be chained up as studs do not replace chains.
  • Any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds must chain up - typically this applies to large vans and trucks.
  • All vehicles towing trailers must have chains on one drive axle of the vehicle, even with 4-wheel drive and snow tires.
  • If the trailer has brakes, it must also have chains on one axle.

An alternate option for accessing Yosemite in winter when tire chains are required is to park your vehicle on CA Highway 140 outside Yosemite in the town of El Portal at the public transportation bus stop and use the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System to travel into and out of Yosemite. See the Public Transportation page for more information.

Road Condition Information

For the latest road conditions inside Yosemite National Park, call (209)372-0200, select 1, then 1. General information can also be found on the Park Service site.

For road conditions outside the park, contact CalTrans (800) 427-7623 or visit their site for information on specific highways.

  • From Fresno, LA, Monterey and other points South: Highway 41
  • From Merced / Mariposa Highway 140
  • From San Fransicso, Manteca, Sacramento and other points North Highway 120

You are required to carry chains for your vehicle when you enter a chain control area.  Additionally, when driving in Winter conditions, it is wise to use caution, carry and know how to use your tire chains and to keep warm, dry clothing and extra water in your vehicle - see our recommended list of winter car travel supplies. Plan ahead to get the most out of your Yosemite winter experience.

Winter Car Travel Supplies

  • Map and directions
  • Tire chains
  • Flashlight with a set of extra batteries
  • Extra clothes (throw in a few jackets, long underwear, gloves, hats and a pair of boots for each member of your party)
  • Bottled water and some food (but don't leave food in your car unattended!)
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Reading material
  • First aid kit
  • Matches in an airtight container
  • Check spare tire for good condition and air pressure. Also make sure that your jack is in good working order.
  • Small tool kit, with pair of pliers, Phillips and straight screwdriver, hammer, pocket knife and some other small tools, set of jumper cables
  • Small bag of sand or cat litter (for weight in a rear wheel drive car and/or to place on road to give more traction)
  • Something brightly colored that can be used for flagging
  • Small shovel
  • Ice scraper and small broom for snow removal 
  • Cell phone
  • Never let the gas tank in your vehicle fall below 1/2 for winter driving