Touring Yosemite without a car

by hjxuan

Can't drive, won't drive or on a budget? You can still have a rewarding trip to Yosemite National Park in California, USA. Here's your step-by-step guide to how to do it...

Who this information is for:

There is of course much excitement to visiting the Yosemite National Park in California. Most people visit USA national parks by car or with tours. Visiting a national park, to me, was daunting because:

  • I do not have an international driving license and prefer public transportations. Car-pooling is my last option and hitchhiking is out of consideration because I’m a girl, in my early twenties, traveling alone and I want to be safe.
  • I am not an outdoor buff so I do not think I could survive camping if I am alone.
  • I travel on a budget and could not afford to stay in the accommodation in the parks.
  • Joining tours is not really my fancy.

However I managed to visit the amazing Yosemite National Park this summer like I visited all other cities - by public transport and staying in a hostel. Huge thanks to Kate from England who I met in a San Francisco hostel for passing on this information to me and I would love to spread it for more travelers out there.


Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort ( is a Hosteling-International (HI) hostel, located at Midpines, nearest to Yosemite. There are different accommodation options and I stayed in a 6-bed mixed dorm-style cabin, which was clean and comfortable. It had two bathrooms and two restrooms in the cabin.

There is a cosy cafe which serves great food all day long, including packed lunch with vegetarian and vegan options. There is also a spa with hot tub, sauna, shower, lounge, tea and a daily yoga class - all included in the $10 day pass. Check out their website for what they have to offer.

Some meals I had:

Blueberry buckwheat pancake $6, California breakfast (toasts, avocado, tomato, eggs) $6.00, Lunch (Sandwich, a bag of trailmix, an apple) $6.50, Vegan ratatouille $10, tea/coffee 1.50.

Getting to the hostel:

Use Amtrak ( The destination is called Midpines, CA.

Trains stop at Merced, CA. Then change to a bus which brings you to the hostel stop. Just tell the driver that you want to get to "Yosemite Bug Hostel". 

Unlike other Amtrak buses, this bus is actually operated as part of YARTS (Highway 140 route) ( (This route operates all year long). Your Amtrak ticket to Midpines is valid on this bus.

From the stop, there is a 5-minute uphill walk to the hostel premises (a warm up to the hikes in the park!). Bring a flashlight - you will need it in the evening, say if you took the last YARTS back to the hostel.

My itinerary:

San Francisco Ferry Building, CA - Emeryville, CA (Amtrak bus): Approx 30 minutes
Emeryville, CA - Merced, CA (Amtrak San Joaquin train): Approx 2 hours 50 minutes
Merced, CA - Midpines, CA (YARTS bus): Approx 1 hour 10 minutes

(In case you are not familiar with Amtrak, the ticket I bought was simply “San Francisco Ferry Building to Midpines”, and vice versa. You do not have to take care of where to change in between, just have to board the buses/trains.)

Getting to Yosemite from the hostel:

The national park itself is big with several entry points. The part where you will stop at on this trip is called the Yosemite Valley.

Take the YARTS. Round trip tickets are $12 and it includes the park entrance fee. The journey time (each way) is about 1 hour 30 minutes.

It is recommended that you get YARTS ticket from the hostel prior to boarding, although it is also possible to get the tickets from the driver. I guess the reason for this is because the driver might not have enough change. Ask for a YARTS schedule - there are 7 runs per day per direction (to and from the park) (between May and October 2009).

(Yosemite Bug Hostel does provide full-day ($70) or half-day ($35) tours to the park on certain days. The price includes entrance fee and lunch.)

Getting around the park:

There are free shuttle buses within the park (year-round shuttles within the valley, seasonal shuttles for other places in the park). There are 3 stops where YARTS buses stop too, i.e. Curry Village, Valley Visitors Center and The Ahwanee Hotel.

There are cycling paths in the valley too.

My activities within a day:

Rented a bike at Curry Village and cycled around the valley for 2 hours. Walked to John Muir Trailhead and hiked. Took the shuttle bus to Mirror Lake stop and walked a mile to get to the serene, tucked-away lake. Took the shuttle bus again to the Visitors Center and watched a theatre performance. Took YARTS (last run at 8.15pm) back to the hostel.

Final notes:

  • There are easy-peasy trails in the park for people like me who are not very outdoor-ish. I survived with a pair of normal canvas shoes, but did hope that I brought sturdy hiking shoes for a further hike.
  • Bring a water bottle. Water fountains are available in the park.