Ride the Rails to Yosemite National Park

Take the train to Yosemite this summer. Amtrak photo.

Train travel is a throwback back to a more romantic era in the United States, a form of transportation that often was the easiest way to traverse long distances. Today, with rising gas prices, it can also be an affordable way to travel to some national parks.

In California, a number of Amtrak routes lead to Yosemite National Park. While the trains don't run directly to the park, they can carry you to Merced, where a motor coach will take you to a number of destinations in Yosemite.

Here's a look at the options:

Fresno to Yosemite

$54 roundtrip, $27 one-way

Depart: Fresno Train Station

Arrive: Merced; Depart Merced via Motor Coach

Arrive: Yosemite (Lodge, Visitor Center, White Wolf Campground, Crane Flat Campground)

Los Angeles to Yosemite

$106 roundtrip, $53 one-way

Depart: Los Angeles Union Station via motor coach

Arrive: Bakersfield.

Depart: Bakersfield Train Station

Arrive: Merced; Depart: Merced Via motor coach

Arrive: Yosemite (Lodge, Visitor Center, White Wolf Campground, Crane Flat Campground)

Sacramento to Yosemite

$70 roundtrip, $35 one-way

Depart: Sacramento Train station

Arrive: Merced via motor Coach; Depart Merced via motor coach.

Arrive: Yosemite(Lodge, Visitor Center, White Wolf Campground, Crane Flat Campground)

San Diego to Yosemite

$140 roundtrip, $70 one-way

Depart:San Diego

Arrive: Los Angeles

Depart: Los Angeles Union Station via motor coach

Arrive: Bakersfield. Depart: Bakersfield Train Station

Arrive: Merced; Depart: Merced Via motor coach

Arrive: Yosemite (Lodge, Visitor Center, White Wolf Campground, Crane Flat Campground)

San Francisco

$70 roundtrip, $35 one-way

Depart: San Francisco via motor coach

Arrive: Emeryville

Depart: Emeryville train station

Arrive: Merced; Depart: Merced via motor coach

Arrive Yosemite. (Lodge, Visitor Center, White Wolf Campground, Crane Flat Campground)

Quoted fares include the bus ride to Yosemite. The listed rates are for adults. There are family plans available. To check on those rates, log onto the Amtrak website for details. Generally, I'm told the average family plan for two adults and two kids is under $100 one way, under $200 round trip for the rides to Yosemite.

Naturally, how long you spend en route to Yosemite depends on where you start your journey. That said, unless you're really close to the park, say in San Francisco, Sacramento or Fresno, these options might only make sense if you're heading to the park for several days.

For instance, from Fresno, it takes 1 hour to get to Merced and 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to Yosemite. From Sacramento, it takes 2 hours to get to Merced and 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to Yosemite. Starting out from San Diego or Los Angeles can turn the one-way travel into a half-day, not a good option for a day trip.

As for baggage, here's a rundown of Amtrak's policies:

Carry-On Baggage

50 lbs., 28" x 22" x 14"

*Carry-on baggage is limited to 11" on Pacific Surfliner trains. Checked baggage is not available on all trains or in all stations.

Checked Baggage

50 lbs., 36" x 36" x 36" 30 minutes prior to departure

*Carry-on baggage is limited to 11" on Pacific Surfliner trains. Checked baggage is not available on all trains or in all stations.

Guidelines for Carry-On Baggage

Two-Piece Limit: Each passenger may bring aboard no more than two pieces of carry-on baggage. Not included in this limit are personal items such as purses, briefcases, laptop computers, baby items such as strollers, diaper bags and car seats, and equipment required for a passenger's medical condition such as breathing assistance devices and oxygen tanks.

50-Pound Limit: Each carry-on bag may weigh no more than 50 lbs.

Size Limit: Each carry-on bag may not exceed 28x22x14 inches in size. Carry-on baggage is limited to 11 inches on Pacific Surfliner trains.

Visible Tag Required: All carry-on luggage must be visibly tagged with the name and address of the passenger. Passengers may use their own personal identification tags, or may obtain free Amtrak baggage identification tags at station ticket offices, or onboard trains from a member of the train crew.

Special Items: Ski equipment, snowboards, golf clubs and bicycles may generally only be handled as checked baggage on Amtrak trains, and not as carry-ons. Items are permitted onboard when they can be safely stowed in the exterior lockers of Superliner equipment, or onboard equipment that is specifically designed to safely and securely accommodate the storage of the items.

Guidelines for Checked Baggage

Amtrak offers checked baggage service at many stations and on many trains and Amtrak Thruway motorcoaches throughout the country. Not all trains and stations offer checked baggage services.

Three-Piece Limit: Each ticketed passenger may check up to three pieces of luggage at no charge. Up to three additional pieces may be checked upon payment of $10.00 per piece.

50-Pound Limit: Each checked bag may weigh no more than 50 lbs. We will not accept heavier pieces.

Size Limit: Each checked bag may not exceed 36x36x36 inches in size.

Check-In Time: Check all baggage at least 30 minutes prior to departure, and longer for special items. Baggage checked less than 30 minutes prior to departure may be delayed.

Baggage Tags: Attach your name and address to each item. Free identification tags are available at stations or from crew members, or you may use your own.

Claiming Checked Baggage: Checked Baggage will be available for claiming generally within 30 minutes of arrival. However, some items may require additional handling and therefore may take up to 60 minutes. Be prepared to identify your baggage by the claim check numbers. Storage charges apply to baggage not claimed within two days of arrival.

ID Required: To check baggage, you must have a valid photo ID. For more information about ID requirements, please see our Passenger Security and ID page.

Special Items: Amtrak accepts a number of special items such as baby strollers, bicycles, golf bags, musical instruments, snowboards and skis (one board or set per bag/container). In most cases there is a handling charge of $5.00 per special item.

Bicycles

On many Amtrak trains, it's easy to bring your bike along. See more information on Amtrak's website about bringing your bicycle aboard the train.

Prohibited Items

The following kinds of items are prohibited as both checked and carry-on baggage:

Any type of gun, firearm, ammunition, explosives, or weapon.

Incendiaries, including flammable gases, liquids and fuels.

Large, sharp objects such as axes, ice picks and swords.

Corrosive or dangerous chemicals or materials, such as liquid bleach, tear gas, mace, radioactive and harmful bacteriological materials.

Batteries with acid that can spill or leak (except those batteries used in motorized wheelchairs or similar devices for mobility-impaired passengers).

Club-like items, such as billy clubs and nightsticks.

Fragile and/or valuable items, including but not limited to electronic equipment. (Laptop computers and handheld devices may be carried onboard; however, Amtrak accepts no liability for damage.)

Animals (except service animals).

Oversized and/or overweight items.

Please note: This is not an exhaustive list. Any item similar to those listed, even if not specifically mentioned here, is prohibited from being carried onboard or checked as baggage.

Comments

Thanks for the information Kurt. I learned to love train travel while in the Navy (down in Long Beach before the base was closed). I would travel up and down the coast. Much less crowded than buses (except during commuter hours), more comfortable, and more of a view (especially in the upper view decks).

National Geographic just had a interesting inside history on Grand Central Station (Inside Grand Central Station) and part of it touched on the change from train travel to our love of cars.

Executive Director,
Crater Lake Institute
www.craterlakeinstitute.com
Robert Mutch Photography

I used Amtrak to get to Yosemite last summer. I thought it was wasteful to rent a car because it would be sitting at a trailhead for nearly 2 weeks. I had no problems with ticketing or planning the trip. The train station in Sacramento is at the end of its light rail line (which unfortunately does not go to the airport). Once in Merced, I took a YARTS bus into the park, and it let me off at the lodge in the Valley.

On the way back, I took Amtrak to Richmond and rode the BART into San Francisco. I was ticketed on an Amtrak-chartered bus from Oakland to San Fran but chose to take the BART because of a "police incident" in Berkeley. All-in-all, it was a big money- and worry-saver over taking a car into the park, struggling to find parking, and dealing with the other drivers.

Back to the Future! In 1961, my wife and I traveled across the country by train ending up in Seattle. It remains one of our fondest travel memories. Rebuilding and expanding our national rail system is essential if we are to successfully adapt to a future of energy constraints.

Hi,

I see there is a train from LA to Yosemite, but I'm wondering if there is a train from Yosemite to LA? And where does it drop off in LA?

Thanks!

Dissaya T.

This trip can be taken in both directions between LA and Yosemite. You'll find more details at the following link:

http://www.amtrak.com/take-train-to-yosemite-park

Be sure you note that part of the trip is by "motor coach" (i.e. bus). Trains don't run all the way into Yosemite, and the leg from Bakersfield to LA is also by bus.

The Amtrak site says the last leg of the trip ends at Union Station in LA: 800 North Alameda Street.