Headed to Yosemite? This might ease your drive

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA - APRIL 11: Yosemite Half Dome dusted with snow and clouds on April 11, 2020. Yosemite National Park is closed to visitors due to the coronavirus, Covid 19. Animals roam the park without having to worry about crowds of people. Madera County on Saturday, April 11, 2020 in Yosemite National Park, CA. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Yosemite National Park's Half Dome is dusted with snow. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

As summer road-trippers ready their cars, SUVs, RVs and Sprinters, driving through Yosemite National Park will get easier beginning Saturday morning at 7.

That’s when the National Park Service plans to open Big Oak Flat Road, also known as Highway 120, the main western entrance to the park and favored route of visitors from the San Francisco area. The road had been closed for weeks due to roadway damage left by the multiple storms of last winter.

Two other crucial park roads (both of which close every winter) have yet to open.

Read more: Melting snow is making Yosemite's waterfalls extra spectacular

The snows have forced many changes and delays as the park gears up for summer. The cables that climbers use to summit Half Dome, for instance, usually are put in place in May, but that hasn't happened yet. (While Highway 120 has been closed, Bay Area visitors have been reaching the park via Highway 140, a detour of roughly 30 miles.)

Though the reopening of Big Oak Flat Road doesn’t change northbound driving directions for most visitors from Southern California — who enter the park by way of Oakhurst and Highway 41 — it is likely to ease traffic circulation in the park. And it means visitors can follow loop itineraries, entering from the south entrance and returning by way of the west entrance.

Today, the park is starting summer shuttle service on Mariposa Grove Road. That service takes visitors from Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza — near the park's south entrance — to Mariposa Grove, home to more than 500 giant sequoia trees. (The road from the plaza to the trees is open only to shuttle buses and private vehicles with disability placards.)

Meanwhile, road crews are working toward summer openings for Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road, but because of lingering snow and construction, dates remain uncertain.

Glacier Point Road is expected to open "no earlier than July, probably later," Yosemite's website reports. This is the seasonal route that gives visitors access to the classic view of Half Dome from Glacier Point, about 7,200 feet above sea level and 3,200 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley. Glacier Point Road was closed all last summer for construction. Even after reopening, rangers say, 30-minute delays are likely at first.

The opening date also remains unknown for the park’s most popular seasonal route, Tioga Road, which connects Yosemite to the Owens Valley near Lee Vining and Mono Lake. Tioga Road, snowbound in winter, often opens in May or June after mild winters, June or July after snowy ones. But this year’s heavy Sierra snowpack — 244% of normal on April 1 — has rangers reluctant to make any prediction for this summer.

Another factor for summer travelers to weigh: Yosemite Valley may be unusually crowded this summer, especially on weekends. This is the first time in four years that the park hasn’t required advance booking for summertime day-tripper visits to the valley.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.