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Information about Public Transportation to, across, around, and in the High Sierra

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By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 18 May 2017

Information about Public Transportation to, across, through, around, and in the High Sierra


This is the index, or center of various tidbits of information about High Sierra Transportation.


Quick Links to Sierra Transportation Resources


YARTS Merced to Mammoth Schedule



San Joaquins: Sacto to Bakersfield train connecting AMTRACK to YARTS

California Zephyr: AMTRACK across North Tahoe Basin

Capitol Corridor: AMTRACK across South Tahoe Basin



Yosemite-Tuolumne Meadows
Transportation Services Available-Accessible from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite

Tuolumne Meadows Topo Trail MapClick Red Dots for Trail Guide Entries

Golden Triangle backpacking trip around the Heart of Yosemite


East Sierra Transit: Highway 395 Lancaster to Reno


Reds Meadow-Mammoth Shuttle


Bishop Creek Shuttle
Lake Sabrina and South Lake atop the branches of Highway 168 from 395 in Bishop.



The center of High Sierra Transportation is Yosemite Valley

I say this because Yosemite is typically the main destination for the vast majority of visitors into and out of the High Sierra every Summer. The traffic into and out of Yosemite is HUGE.

(2016 Yosemite Stats).

That degree of traffic inspired the creation of YARTS, the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System.

Since our hike to Mount Whitney starts South out of the Tahoe Basin we will examine our public transportation options into and out of the Tahoe Basin first.



Desolation in the Tahoe Basin

As with Yosemite, the Desolation Wilderness in the Tahoe Basin is also "crazy busy." The main difference is that the road network serving Desolation is much better suited to accommodate heavy use than the road network serving Yosemite.

The Tahoe Basin is now an, "Urban Center," with a sophisticated road system (Highway 50 & eight lanes of Highway 80) that blows away the total, combined capacites of all the highways serving Yosemite.

Yosemite has the YARTS-Amtrack "connection" directly serving it. Though Desolation Wilderness is also an ultra busy wilderness area, and Amtrack passes East and West through both ends of the Tahoe Basin, there is no transportation service directly linking the Amtrack routes to Desolation Wilderness Trailheads.

That's a critical omission. The (Blue Dot?) line coming down from Tahoe City only goes to Tehoma, while there is nothing coming North from South Lake Tahoe.

Although the North Sierra communities in the Tahoe Basin are served by some degree of public transportation, its trails are not, nor does the remainder of the Northern Trans-Sierra Highways (88, 4, & 108) have any public transportation South of the Tahoe Basin until we get down to YARTS across Highway 120.

South of YARTS there are no trans-Sierra Highways, let alone public transportation, excepting East Sierra Transit running up and down the East Flank on Highway 395.


Da East Flank

Yosemite's overwhelming traffic patterns make it clear that virtually all the public transportation available on the Eastern and Western flanks of the Sierra either should go to Yosemite Valley, or connect with with a system that does. And that's the way it is. 

YARTS connects the East and West flanks of the Sierra across Yosemite National Park.

This make YARTS not just the main public access to Yosemite National Park for tourists & backpakers, which it is, but makes YARTS the main, most direct line of public transportation to the Bay Area for the whole population of the East Flank from Bridgeport, South, to (say) Lancaster?

We are running a multi-trillion dollar foreign empire (our global military is not just standing around) while our own country-folks here at home are isolated, broke, squeezed, and being forced to transportation desperation

The road to the world starts when we fix the roads and transportation here.



We have two Public Transportation Services crossing the Sierra 

We have two systems crossing the Sierra East & West. Amtrack in the North Sierra, and Amtrack connecting to YARTS in Merced, where YARTS begins its trans-Sierra route to Mammoth Lakes.

YARTS, the Yosemite Area Regional Transit System, crosses the Central Sierra from Merced to Mammoth Lakes running through Yosemite Valley and across Tuolumne Meadows on Highway 120 along its route.

AMTRACK runs a train from the Bay Area around North Lake Tahoe to Reno and runs another line composed of trains and buses out of the Bay Area up to South Lake Tahoe and Reno. Both lines come East & West over the Sierra Crest out of their respective Reno & Sacramento train stations.



South of Tahoe
As Southbound backpackers down the High Sierra crestline out of the Tahoe Basin our next access to public transportation will be when we encounter the YARTS route when we see Highway 120 when we get down to Tuolumne Meadows n Yosemite. 

We'll see the big busses rolling in and out, with each incoming bus expelling a load of clean backpackers, and sucking up a batch of well-dirted outgoing backpackers

Northbound hikers through the High Sierra first encounter public transportation at Reds Meadow, where they find the shuttle to Mammoth Lakes. The Mammoth Shuttle can hook us up with East Sierra Transit to Reno, or with Yarts to Yosemite. and on to Amtrack in Merced.

I typically begin hitching out of Mammoth Lakes.


Reds Meadow-Mammoth Shuttle


Personally, I've always felt that YARTS was unnecessary traveling East from Mammoth Lakes and West from Yosemite, generally. Once I've taken the shuttle East out of Reds Meadow to Mammoth Lakes I've never had a bit of trouble hitch-hiking North to Lee Vining and then West into Yosemite.

Heck, rides up to Reno on Highway 395 are easy to get.

That's, like, the easiest hitch-hike in the world. I've ended five Tahoe to Whitney backpacking trips in Lone Pine, hitching North on Highway 395 as the first leg of the trip home. I look forward to that part of the trip. I have met the nicest darned Americans along those roads bracketing the East Flank of the Sierra Nevada.

Very cool folks. There's some drunks and speed freaks, like everywhere else. But, both of these demographics are, typically, many degrees of quality higher than their urban, city counterparts. Everything's better in the country.

I am a very tolerant person. I have real intense values that I apply to myself. Despite my personal code,  I give my fellow Americans the same right and lattitude in determining their own personal values as I take for mine.


Bishop Creek Shuttle
Lake Sabrina and South Lake atop the branches of Highway 168 from 395 in Bishop.


Long Distance Utility
The Bishop Creek Shuttle is what backpackers bailing out to resupply along the long section of the John Muir Trail between Muir Ranch and the Whitney Portal would use to resupply.

Access to the North-South Lakes Loop utilizing the heart of the John Muir Trail.

Backpacking Map: North-South Lakes Loop


Three of the last five times hitching West out of Tuolumne Meadows I got a ride to my doorstep twice, the third a block away. The other two rides brought me to BART stations, where I can easily get home from.


High Sierra Transpo
Thin but Adequate

So, the High Sierra public transportation situation is sparce, providing access to the North Sierra through AMTRACK to both ends of the Tahoe Basin, and across the center of the Sierra through Yosemite via YARTS.

There's no public transportation serving the 88, 4, or Highway 108 corridors. Hitching across 88 is the hardest.


On Highway 120 we encounter YARTS running East & West across the High Sierra via Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows on its way connecting the Amtrack train station in Merced in the hot flatness of the San Joaquin Valley to the cool mountain airs in Mammoth Lakes.

Anywhere to Yosemite
The greater Amtrack system can pick you up in almost any part of America and get you to the Merced train station, where YARTS will put you into the heart of Yosemite Valley, or will carry you up to Tuolumne Meadows. In Tuolumne Meadows you can observe, consider, and enjoy its unique positioning between the crestlines of the Cathedral Range and the Sierra Crest.

See It Now
Tuolumne Meadows Topo Trail Map: Click Red Dots for Trail Guide Entries


"Road" Culture
I enjoy traveling, and have found that the roads, trains, and busses moving towards the Sierra Nevada start to fill up with backpackers and "Nature Tourists," as the Summer season grows. Thus travelers on the AMTRACK-YARTS system will find lots of other backpackers and kindred spirits to engage on the way. It's a fun group we find on the busses and trains heading to Yosemite.

Hitch-hikers will find lots of backpacker-friendly rides, once we get out of the cultural and physical hell that is hitchin-hiking across the San Joaquin Vally. I have suffered there.

Half the rednecks in the Valley flip me off, the other half pick me up, and say, "where you going, bro," while inspecting my pack. Oh, and I like cowboys and rednecks. They like me too, once they figure out that long hair does not a "hippy" make.

Surprise! A long-haired, "redneck?" Hi-larious! Once people, "give life a chance," they find out it is not at all what they thought it was. We should always be testing our assumptions against reality.

That's one important aspect of the backpacking experience, bringing reality and our assumptions about reality into alignment. The deeper the engagement, the deeper the alignment.


Tuolumne Meadows Resupply Page
Our TM resupply page also describes available transportation and links to YARTS, to the shuttle-bus system within Yosemite, to AMTRACK, and to East Sierra Transit.

East Sierra Transit runs buses from Lancaster to Reno up and down the Highway 395 corridor.

Tuolumne Meadows Resupply Page 
Transportation Services Available-Accessible from Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite

 The TM resupply page will also show you the, "lay of the land," in Tuolumne Meadows. The location of the backpacker camp, the car campground, of its services and denizens.


Are you sitting in an American City, thinking, "I need to backpack Yosemite?"

OK. On this page we strive to figure out how to get you to Yosemite National Park on public transportation. The Next Logical Question would be, "what do I hike when I get there?"
Have I got a trip for you!

On this page we can plan our
Golden Triangle backpacking trip around the Heart of Yosemite.


The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is a 50+ mile hike circling around the center and "core" features of Yosemite National Park. It is composed of essentially two legs, the first being our departure off the Sierra Crestline from Tuolumne Meadows to follow the route of the John Muir Trail "backwards," down to Yosemite Valley.

After hiking down to, and checking out Yosemite Valley we're going to follow the JMT back up to Little Yosemite Valley from Yosemite Valley, but continue from there off the John Muir Trail following the Merced River up to Merced Lake. From Merced Lake we'll climb out of the grand canyon of the Merced River over the Cathedral Range via Vogelsang High Sierra Camp.

From Vogelsang High Sierra Camp we can hike Northwest across Tuolumne Pass to descend directly into Tuolumne Meadows, or Northeast to descend into Lyell Canyon, where we again hook up with the John Muir Trail, to again follow it "backwards," to end our Golden Triangle hike in Tuolumne Meadows, where we began.

If you can't pull the whole 50 mile length of the Golden Triangle, we can cut off one leg and hike the other leg. We can drop like a bomb from Tuolumne Meadows down the JMT (or associated trails) to Yosemite Valley.

Or we can hike from Tuolumne Meadows to the Valley via Vogelsang, descending rather than climbing that particular leg of the Golden Triangle.


My point is we can pull-off an excellent Yosemite or North Sierra backpacking trip using only public transportation and our feet.


The only trans-Sierra public transportation services are:


North Sierra
Amtrack train across Highway 80 to North Shore Tahoe, Reno, & Points East

SF to Reno Train: California Zephyr

This line runs across the North end of the Tahoe Basin, via Truckee. The train is also considerably more expensive than taking the Capitol Corridor's busses into South Lake Tahoe.


North Sierra
Amtrack Buses out of Sacramento cross Highway 50 through South Lake Tahoe to Reno

SF to Reno via South Lake Tahoe: Capitol Corridor

The train feeding this line ends in Sacramento, buses finish the route over Highway 50 into South Lake Tahoe on the way to the end of the line in Reno.


Center of the Sierra
YARTS across Highway 120 from Merced to Mammoth.

YARTS Merced to Mammoth


USA to Yosemite
Amtrack runs the San Joaquins from Sacramento to Bakersfield, connecting its Bay Area stations, and its whole national rail system with YARTS to Yosemite in Merced.


East Flank
East Sierra Transit up and down the Highway 395 corridor, in the Shadow the East Sierra Flank. Lancaster to Reno. Great views of the East Sierra are had running this line up and down the Highway 395 corridor. Very beautiful.

East Sierra Transit


Limited Utility
Using these available forms of public transportation may or may not bring us exactly to our starting trailhead, or pick us up at our selected finishing trailhead. Thus we can find ourselves hitch-hiking to, across, and around the Sierra on a regular basis.


Hitch Hiking in the Sierra
Hitch-hiking can be necessary for accessing resupply spots along much longer backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada, such as hitching down to South Lake Tahoe from Echo Summit along the PCT, or to Kennedy Meadows Pack Station from Sonora or Saint Marys Passes on Highway 108 from both the PCT & TYT.

No Problem!

I wrote a litte bit about hitch hiking in the sierra, but marcskor has penned a masterpiece over on High Sierra Topix that every backpacker should read. I can't agree more with marc.

 You'd think he'd spent considerable time hitching around the Sierra... like decades...


Markskor, High Sierra Topix, April 9, 2017.


Post up your High Sierra transportation tips, trips, and tell the stories of the remarkable folks you've met getting to and from the trail. That can be an adventure in itself!

 I have met the coolest folks of all types while hitch-hiking to, from, and especially across the Sierra. And I'm sure I've amazed some of the folks who dared to pick me up!

Good times were had by all.


Happy Transportation to the Trails and Back, Hikers!




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