The three most popular entrances to Yosemite (there are five total) are Big Oak Flat (via Hwy. 120), the west entrance, 88 miles east of Manteca and the best passage in from San Francisco; Arch Rock (via Hwy. 140), 75 miles northeast of Merced and the easiest route from central California; and the South Entrance at Wawona (via Hwy. 41), 64 miles north of Fresno and the best inroad from Southern California. Should you need to reserve accommodations outside Yosemite, it's wise to book a place near the gateway that affords you easiest access to the park.

Towns on the periphery of each gateway are built around the tourism industry, with plenty of places to stay and eat, and natural wonders of their own. The drawback is that if you stay outside Yosemite, reaching any point within the park requires at least a half-hour drive, which is especially frustrating during high season, when motor homes and congestion slow traffic to a snail's pace.

A controversial park plan would restore 180 acres to their natural state and eliminate a 3 1/4-mile section of road to make way for a foot-and-bike trail, but it would do so by cutting the number of day-use parking spots in Yosemite from 1,600 to 550, encouraging bus and shuttle usage, and reducing guest rooms from 1,260 to 981.

The plan is still under debate, but various public transportation options are already in effect, allowing you to leave your car behind. You can enter Yosemite on convenient, inexpensive buses and move around the valley floor on free shuttles. The Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (YARTS; tel. 877/989-2787; runs round-trip transit from communities within Mariposa, Merced, and Mono counties to Yosemite. The Merced route along Hwy. 140 operates year-round, although the winter schedule is limited. Fares for riding YARTS vary but generally range from $7 to $25 round-trip for adults, including park entrance, with discounts for children and seniors. Summer routes originate at Coulterville, Mammoth Lakes and Lee Vining, and Wawona. For information on the Hwy. 120 east service (Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite Valley), call tel. 877/989-2787 from May until it snows (Sept or Oct).