Securing a Yosemite camping spot can be tricky, it’s the fifth most popular park in the USA and campgrounds fill up quickly. If you’re not from the USA, or if you’re new to camping, knowing how the National Park campgrounds work can be confusing.
We’re here today to tell you everything there is to know about camping in Yosemite National Park.
Featured Image © Juliana Renee
Why Is It So Popular?
Out of the 419 National Parks in the USA, Yosemite currently ranks at the fifth most popular, attracting 4-5million people every year. But why is it so popular?
Well, Yosemite is an area of stunning natural beauty, spanning 3,027 km² with over 750 miles of trails to hike and breathtaking views to observe.
Yosemite Valley is the area where many guests spend all of their time, an iconic glacial valley that is a whopping 3000-3500km deep. Surrounding it are impressive granite peaks, a destination for keen rock climbers, including Half Dome and El Capitan. Cascading down some rock faces you will find stunning waterfalls such as Vernal and Bridalveil Falls.
The further you go from Yosemite Valley, the wilder it becomes, with fewer people and more free space. Out here you can enjoy backpacking, climbing, water activities, horse riding, stargazing and so much more.
If you are visiting California, then Yosemite needs to be on your list. But where can you stay?
Places to Stay
To get closest to nature, camping or staying in your RV is the best way to experience Yosemite. Yosemite National Park is home to 13 different campgrounds, nine of which allow campervans.
The campsites are spread throughout the park, and reservations are essential throughout the peak season.
Campgrounds That Allow RVs
While RVs are permitted in many of the Yosemite camping grounds, be aware of the length limits. Yosemite is not suitable for huge motorhomes; the maximum limit is 40ft but varies depending on the campground.
If you have a compact camper van you will probably be fine, but be sure to double-check before booking. No campgrounds have electrical hookups so you will need to be able to be self-sufficient for your stay. All prices correct as of 2020.
North Pines is located in Yosemite Valley, the most popular region in the park so reservations are required. This campground is open for peak season from mid-April to mid-September, specific dates vary from year to year. RVs are permitted on-site with a maximum size of 40ft.
All amenities are accessible to all and include drinking water, flushing toilets, fire rings and a shuttle bus. Pets are allowed. North Pines has 79 sites and costs $26 per night.
Lower Pines is located next to North Pines and is also open throughout peak season only, with booking essential. Amenities and 40ft RV length limit are the same and are also accessible to all. 73 pitches are available, and nightly fees vary between $26-$36.
Upper Pines is the last Yosemite camping ground, allowing RVs, in the Yosemite Valley. It is the largest of the three campgrounds and is open all year round but only allows RVs up to 35ft.
Upper Pines is much larger with 238 sites available. However, booking is still essential. Facilities are the same, and there is a nightly fee of $26.
Tuolumne Meadows is situated in the centre of the National Park and allows RVs up to 35ft. Facilities are similar to those in Yosemite Valley, although there is no shuttle bus service here. You can, however, bring your horse and camp at an equestrian site!
This large campground is open from mid-July to mid-September. Half of the campsites can be booked in advance with the other half being released on the same day. Booking is recommended, and same-day spots still fill up daily. Fees are $26/night.
Crane Flat Campground is located in the North West of Yosemite National Park and allows RVs up to 35ft. Facilities are similar to Tuolumne Meadows with drinking water and flushable toilets.
Open from mid-July- mid-September all 166 sites are available for advance booking and cost $26/night.
Hodgdon Meadow is located near to Crane Flat and is open from mid-April to mid-September. Facilities are the same with RVs up to 35ft allowed. 102 sites are available, and fees are also $26 per night.
Bridalveil Creek campground operates on a first come first served basis, unless you require a group or horse site. It is open from mid-July to mid-September and has 110 sites with an RV limit of 35ft. Facilities are similar, and fees are $18/night.
Wawona campground has three loops. Loop A is open year-round while Loops B and C are only open from mid-April to mid-September.
Though this season pre-booking is essential and costs $26/night, from October- March the 20 sites in Loop A are available on a first come, first served basis and cost $18/night.
93 places are available in peak season with a 35ft RV limit. Facilities are similar to other campgrounds.
White Wolf Campground is open from mid-July to mid-September and is open for tents and RVs up to 27ft with 74 sites available.
This site operates on a first come, first served basis but will still fill up each night. Facilities are the same, but there are no accessible sites available at this Yosemite camping ground. Fees are $18 per night.
Campgrounds That Don’t Allow RVs
There are four campgrounds that don’t allow RVs and would be an excellent option for anyone tent camping. Facilities here are more basic, and vehicles are not allowed into the campground, nor are you allowed to sleep in your car on the parking lot.
Camp 4 is the only tent-only campground in Yosemite Valley. Getting a reservation is difficult and is made through a lottery system. Applicants must register at 10 am the day before they wish to have a camping site if successful they will be notified by email.
This is the only campground to use the lottery booking system.
Camp 4 is a shared site. Each site accommodates six, so if your group is smaller than six people, expect to share the space. Drinking water and toilets are available. 36 sites are available, and fees are $6 per person per night, plus a $10 lottery fee.
Tamarack Flat is located in the North West of the park and is open late June – September. 52 tent sites are available for $12 per night on a first come, first served basis. Vault (non-flushing) toilets are available and stream water that you must treat (e.g. by boiling) before drinking.
Yosemite is located in the centre of the park and is open July – September. 75 tent sites are available for $12 per night on a first come, first served basis. Vault (non-flushing) toilets are available and stream water that you must treat (e.g. by boiling) before drinking.
Yosemite is located in the centre of the park and is open July – October. 52 tent sites are available for $12 per night on a first come, first served basis. Vault (non-flushing) toilets are available and stream water that you must treat (e.g. by boiling) before drinking.
Making a Reservation
During the peak season, getting a Yosemite camping reservation can be extremely difficult. The first time I tried, I was unsuccessful, and I was on the page the moment they were released.
Reservations are available in blocks one month at a time and are released five months in advance on the 15th of each month at 7 am Pacific time.
Reservations for May through to September are filled almost instantly, so make sure you set your alarm for the correct time. You can also fill out the first few reservation steps before 7m for a higher chance of getting a spot.
If you are going in a group, then make sure everyone is ready to book when reservations are released. If more than one of you get lucky, you can always cancel one booking; you only lose a small fee.
First Come First Served
For the first come first served Yosemite camping grounds, sites fill up daily. Throughout the peak season these sites still fill up daily, and spots can fill by midday, or earlier.
If there is a space available, you may claim it for multiple nights in a row, not just one night. To request a spot you will either need to go to the registration desk if the campground is staffed or take a look yourself.
If the campsite isn’t staffed, you will need to claim a camping spot and then head back to the kiosk to fill out a self-registration envelope.
First come first served camping is a great way to see Yosemite if you didn’t manage to get a reservation. However, you will want a backup plan just in case there are no sites left by the time you get to your chosen campground.
If you fail to get a camping spot in Yosemite National Park, you can still camp just outside. Luckily, Yosemite is surrounded by National Forest land, which means you can camp in a tent or campervan for free.
If wild camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of campgrounds outside Yosemite that might have space.
One thing to note if you do decide to camp outside the park is that to reach Yosemite Valley is still a pretty long drive, around two hours or more and parking spaces are limited to 150 in Yosemite Valley.
In August, in particular, you will want to reserve a parking space to avoid waiting in queues, which you can do online. To avoid driving in the park altogether, park outside and get the bus in. This way, you don’t have to worry about asking and can enjoy the scenic views.
Yosemite should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is a breathtaking piece of natural beauty; you could spend weeks exploring and enjoying the land.
Camping in a tent or RV is, in my opinion, the best way to take in the park. It allows you to spend plenty of time in Yosemite without having to drive in and out every day and will enable you to be close to nature.