Yosemite National Park: a Camping Guide

Yosemite National Park – a priceless natural beauty of sculpted granite mountains, glacier-carved valleys, rushing streams, shimmering lakes and tumbling waterfalls.

The magnificent Yosemite vacation site is located in the central Sierra Nevada of California about 150 miles east of San Francisco. Yosemite Park’s 750,000 acres, 1,200 square miles contain thousands of lakes and ponds, 1,600 miles of streams and creeks, 800 miles of hiking trails and 350 miles of roads. Two picturesque rivers, the Tuolumne and the Merced, flow westward from the Yosemite into the Central Valley of California.

Yosemite National Park is open 365 days a year, 24 hours each day. Upon payment of an entrance fee, visitors are permitted to drive in and through Yosemite Valley without any requirement for reservations. There are five main entrances to the Park:
1. The South Entrance – Highway 41 North from Fresno.
2. Arch Rock Entrance – Highway 140 West from Merced.
3. Big Oak Flat Entrance – Highway 120 West from Modesto and Manteca.
4. Tioga Pass Entrance – Highway 120 East from Lee Vining and Highway 395.
5. Hetch Hetchy Entrance – Hetch Hetchy Road from Evergreen Road
west of the Big Oak Flat Entrance.
Current road conditions should be checked prior to travelling and visitors are advised that chains may be required anytime from October through April. Public transportation to the national park is also available. Check commercial airlines, bus and train services for schedules.

It is possible to enjoy a short Yosemite vacation of two to three days touring some of the Valley’s main scenic attractions by automobile or shuttle bus. But to really experience this magnificent natural sanctuary, visitors should take full advantage of Yosemite camping and lodging facilities. Visitors can choose three basic types of accommodation – a concession-operated Yosemite lodging facility, a Yosemite national campground , or wilderness camping.

DNC Parks and Resorts operate Yosemite lodging facilities under contract with the National Park Service. These Park lodging facilities range from simple tent cabins to luxury rooms in The Ahwahnee to the High Sierra Camps. For online reservations for Yosemite park lodging, prices and descriptions, check out the DNC Web site. Reservations are available 366 days in advance and are recommended for the peak summer Yosemite vacation months.

Yosemite National Park camping , either by RV or tenting, is by far the most popular way to experience the remarkable beauty and scenic variety of this world heritage site. Yosemite Park has 13 campgrounds of which seven are on a reservation-only system. Yosemite campground reservations are absolutely essential during the busiest season from April through September.

However, the growing demand for Yosemite campgrounds means that even the campgrounds on a first-come, first-served basis are already filled as early as noon from May through September. Visitors are advised that there is a limit to the size of recreational vehicles and/or trailers permitted on Yosemite campgrounds. The maximum length is 40 feet. This information should be confirmed when making Yosemite camping reservations. Sites are rented on a “per person” basis up to a maximum of six persons per campsite, regardless of the number of people in your party.

The following Yosemite campgrounds require reservations:
• Upper Pines: Open all year.
• Lower Pines: Open from March to October.
• North Pines: Open from April to September.
• Wawona: Open all year. Reservations required May through September.
• Hodgdon Meadow: Open all year. Reservations required May through September.
• Crane Flat: Open June to September.
• Tuolumne Meadows: Open July to September. This is the only Yosemite campground where reservations are required for only 50 percent of its campsites. Tuolumne Meadows also has 25 walk-in sites available for backpackers and other visitors without vehicles.
Six Yosemite campgrounds are on a first-come, first-saved basis and do not require reservations. Visitors should be advised that these campgrounds are usually filled by noon of each day during the peak summer months.
• Camp 4: Open all year.
• Tamarack Flat: Open from June until early September
• Bridalveil Creek: Open from July to early September.
• White Wolf, Yosemite Creek: Open from July to early September.
• Porcupine Flat: Open from July to early September.
Yosemite campground reservations are available in blocks for up to a maximum time of one month per calendar year, and must be made as early as five months in advance on the 15th of each month through the National Park Reservation System (NPRS). Camping fees may change from year to year. It should be noted that the majority of Yosemite campground reservations are filled by noon hour on the designated reservation dates.

Very occasionally, cancellations might still make it possible to obtain a reserved campsite. Visitors are advised to check the first-come, first-served Yosemite campgrounds. However, during the month of May these camping sites are generally difficult to obtain. If crowded conditions would mean an uncomfortable camping Yosemite experience, visitors are cautioned that Memorial Day weekend is the most popular Yosemite vacation weekend of the year.

Online reservations can made through http://reservations.nps.gov/ from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time. Yosemite campground reservations may be made by telephone: 800-436-7275 within in the United States; 301-722-1257 outside the United States; 888-530-9796 for TDD users. Alternatively, requests can be made by letter to NPRS, P.O. Box 1600. Cumberland, MD 21502.
Since written requests for reserved Yosemite campgrounds are not processed until the fifteenth of each month, the same day telephone and online requests are also being processed; the following information should be included:
• name of the Yosemite campground
• camping equipment to be used (RV, tent, etc.)
• method of payment.
Be advised that written requests for Yosemite camping reservations must be made so that they are received no sooner than two weeks prior to the fifteenth of each month. It is important to note that this is the reservation date, not your planned arrival date.

For example, if you would like to camp anytime from June 15 to July 14, the first day to make Yosemite campground reservations is February 15. If you plan to camp anytime from July 15 to August 14, the first day to make reservations is March 15, and so on. In other words, if you plan a Yosemite vacation and wish to stay in one of the Yosemite campgrounds, reservations can only be made on the 15 of each calendar month, five months in advance of your planned arrival date.

When is the best time for a Yosemite vacation? Is weather an important factor for you? Do you prefer a quieter vacation experience? Which areas of Yosemite National Park do you wish to see?

The summer season (June through September) is the peak Yosemite vacation period. Some of the more popular places to visit include the large, open sub-alpine Tuolumne Meadows along the winding Tuolumne River, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, the breath-taking outlook at Glacier Point and the Half-Dome, and the silvery mists of Bridalveil Fall. The Yosemite Valley offers endless opportunities to explore its world-renowned spectacular waterfalls, granite cliffs, and unusual rock formations. Hetch Hetchy, the lesser-known twin to Yosemite Valley, is home to equally magnificent scenery, as well as the starting point for many of the less-used wilderness trails.

The fall season (October and November) has fewer visitors, but still permits access to large areas of the park during the month of October, and sometimes into November. Since most of the trees in Yosemite are evergreens, the park is not known for its spectacular fall colors. However, if the weather remains seasonable, a Yosemite vacation still presents ample opportunity to explore the Park’s exquisite scenery at greater leisure. Short-term closures may occur because of weather conditions although Yosemite Valley and Wawona remain open all year.

The winter season (December through March) is a Yosemite vacation opportunity for those who enjoy skiing and solitude. While Yosemite Valley and Wawona remain accessible year-round, the Tioga Road and roads between Crane Flat and Tioga Pass, including the Tuolumne Meadows are closed. From mid-December through early April, the Glacier Point/Badger Pass Road is plowed to permit access to the popular downhill and cross-country skiing areas.

The spring season (April and May) is the best time to view the park’s spectacular waterfalls. As warmer weather begins to melt the snow, creeks and streams are rushing with water, and many unnamed waterfalls and cascades can be seen all along the rim of Yosemite Valley. Roads closed during the winter season remain inaccessible.

About 95 percent of Yosemite National Park was designated as wilderness in 1984. Wilderness camping is a viable alternative Yosemite vacation. Camping permits are required year-round for all overnight trips into the park’s wilderness country. However, unlike other Yosemite campgrounds and lodging facilities, these wilderness camping permits are free. For those who prefer to spend a Yosemite vacation day-hiking along some of the park’s 800 miles of trails (without an overnight stay), no permits are needed. A trailhead quota system limits the number of hikers beginning from each trailhead per day.

New information is available and updated regularly on the park’s Web site at www.nps.gov/yose. For more detailed information about different areas of the park, consult the Yosemite Guide newspaper. For schedules of current activities, facilities, fees and services check Yosemite Today. Both publications are free and can be obtained at the park’s entrance stations, at visitor centers, and are also posted on the park’s Web site.

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