Yosemite Camping is an unforgettable experience. The very first tourists ventured into Yosemite National Park in 1855 but it didn’t become an official National Park until 1890. Today, the 127-year-old park is estimated to receive upwards of 3.8 million visitors each year.
Yosemite camping is something you could do dozens of times and still have so much left to see and uncover. The park covers an impressive 1,169 mi2 (761,000 acres) of beautiful wilderness and has so much to offer, including well-maintained campgrounds, jaw dropping waterfalls, rock climbing, a variety of hikes, and so much more.
Let’s look at some tips to help you make the most of camping Yosemite National Park, be it your first time or your 5th time:
Tips For Camping Yosemite
1. Make Reservations at Your Yosemite Campground Way Ahead of Time
There are 13 popular campgrounds in Yosemite National Park. The park is busiest between April and September, during which time even first-come, first-served campgrounds typically fill up before noon. To avoid issue, the park recommends booking your campsite way in advance.
Blocks of campsites for the next 4-5 months become available on the 15th of every month at 7 am PST. You can book campsites online (http://www.recreation.gov/) or via phone, but online works best. Before the clock strikes 7 am, select your preferred campsite and fill out the online form. Then, right at 7 hit “Reserve Now.”
If you maintain a Wilderness Permit, there are Backpacker’s campsites located in the park that you can use the night before your permit is valid.
What if everything is all booked up?
Call the reservation line (801) 559-4884 exactly one-week ahead of your scheduled arrival. The park maintains a 7-day cancelation policy, and so they tend to get random openings 7-days ahead of time.
There are US Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and private campgrounds located outside of the park.
Here’s a list of available campgrounds and additional information about what each site offers: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm
2. Get There Early
Arrive as early as possible so you don’t get caught up in the chaos that ensues as the afternoon ages, especially on the weekends and during popular visitor times. If you get there early enough, you can set up camp and have the whole day to explore while other visitors battle through the masses to enter the park and set up camp. It is especially important to arrive early if you are banking on first-come first-served Yosemite campgrounds.
3. Escape the Crowds!
Certain parts of Yosemite are more crowded than others, but the farther your footsteps fall from paved surfaces, the better your chances of finding solitude. According to lifelong Yosemite explorer John Flinn, some of the best least-populated trails include:
Valley Loop Trail
A 13-mile flat trail that wraps around the base of the cliffs and around the valley.
As soon as you leave popular Glacier Point for the start of Pohono Trail, located along the southern rim of Yosemite Valley, you’ll find yourself in serene solitude. Plus, the overlooks offer stunning views of Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan and other well-known landmarks.
Tenaya Creek Trail
Keep going past the popular 1.2-mile road that leads to the stables and you’ll be rewarded with a mostly flat trail that weaves through a fragrant cedar and ponderosa pine forest sitting directly below Half Dome.
4. Be Ready For Some Good Ol’ Yosemite Weather
What you pack can make or break your Yosemite camping adventure. Even in June, temperatures can reach freezing levels, but temps can also be boiling hot. Add somewhat unpredictable rain to the mix, and you’re in for an adventure for sure! Pack properly & the weather won’t get in the way of your plans. Leave important items out though, and you could be regretting it by the end of the week. Our suggestion is to plan on wearing lots of layers on your Yosemite camping adventure. This allows you to adjust based on those dramatic swings in weather that people talk about so much. Other things to think about bringing are:
- An air mattress/comfortable sleeping arrangements that can accommodate hot or cold weather.
- A cook stove, dishes and utensils to prep, cook and serve food. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water.
- Toilet paper, even if your campsite has bathrooms it won’t necessarily be stocked with TP.
- A bear locker is essential to keep bears out of your food. If you use a cooler to store food, it must fit in a bear locker.
As we mentioned, the weather can be unpredictable. Make sure that after you’re unpacked that your gear can still be easily put away in case rain comes into the area. Many of our fellow adventurers like using our waterproof roof bag to give them a bit of extra storage space that is impervious to the rain. Combined with our roof rack it provides a lot more cargo space on your drive to Yosemite. It can also be taken off your roof after you arrive & simply used to keep your gear dry.
5. Don’t Try To Do It All
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they are visiting Yosemite campgrounds is simply trying to see too much, too fast. Nothing ruins a vacation faster than rushing around trying to cram two weeks worth of activities into a single weekend. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to get to every attraction, see every waterfall, & hike every trail in the park in a single week. This area is millions of years old, so it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Take your time and enjoy yourself & the company you’re with while you’re Yosemite camping!
Our Favorite Yosemite Campgrounds
Crane Flat Campground – Yosemite Campgrounds
Open: Weather Dependent, Roughly July through October Cost: About $26/Night Reservations: Available Here Crane Flat Campgrounds is one of the largest campgrounds for Yosemite camping. Operated by the National Park Service & located near the junction of Oak Flats Road & Highway 120/Rioga Pass Road, you can easily reach some great things to do in Yosemite National Park. Tuolumne Meadows is also just a 45 minute drive, making this a great, centralized Yosemite campground. Since we like getting away from the crowds, our personal preference is to treat Crane Flat campground as an overflow Yosemite camping site. In other words, if the less crowded Yosemite campgrounds are full, this is one of our top options. Expect well-shaded campsites with not much lower foliage to provide privacy, although you can expect granite boulders to sometimes help you feel more secluded. With 166 sites divided among five loops, Crane Flat Campground in Yosemite Valley can definitely feel a bit claustrophobic at times. If you end up staying here, be prepared to meet your neighbors! If you’re in search of Yosemite RV campgrounds, Crane Flats Campground is a decent option. The sites can accommodate RV’s up to 35 feet long, but there aren’t any hookups or dump sites on the campground. Every site in the campground has a picnic table, fire pit, and nearby storage containers to keep from attracting critters into this Yosemite campground. Within every loop, there is easy access to water & restrooms. While you can bring your pets, they must be on a leash at all times. While Crane Flat Campground doesn’t fill up quite as fast as other Yosemite campgrounds, you should still do your best to make reservations as soon as they become available. You can reserve your Yosemite camping site through NPS here.
Upper Pines Campground – Yosemite Campgrounds
Open: Year Round Cost: About $26/Night Reservations: Available Here One of only two Yosemite campgrounds open year-round, Upper Pines Campground is a pretty good option if you want to go outside of peak season. It’s also the only winter option that is open to car, trailer, & RV camping. Offering 238 sites spread out over six loops, you can again expect to be camping next to other people enjoying their own Yosemite camping trip. If you want to visit Upper Pines campground from March through November, you will need to make a reservation in advance. You should expect this Yosemite campground to be completely full during the spring & summer months. If you’re looking to visit from December through February, the Yosemite camping sites at Upper Pines are given out on a first come, first serve basis. If you’re looking for a bit more space we recommend that you book sites along the outer edge of the fourth, fifth, & sixth loops from the Ranger Kiosk & entrance booth.
Lower Pines Campground – Yosemite Campgrounds
Open: April through October (Approximately) Cost: About $26/Night Reservations: Available Here Falling just west of Upper Pines Campground, Lower Pines Campground has 60 campsites situated near the southern banks of the Merced River. Many people consider Lower Pines Campground one of the best campgrounds in Yosemite National Park due to the incredible views of Half Dome & its riverside location. It offers paved roads & parking spurs, flush toilets, drinking water, & an amphitheater. Each campsite contains a picnic table, fire ring, & a food storage locker. Campsite reservations should be made as far in advance as possible. Lower Pines Campground has three double campsites that accommodate 7-12 people each. The maximum RV length is 40 feet, while the maximum trailer length is 35 feet. Keep in mind, however, that not every campsite at Lower Pines Campground can accommodate equipment of this size. Be sure to check particular site information before booking on the reservation page. Much like other Yosemite camping locations, there aren’t any RV hook-ups available at Lower Pines Campground.
North Pines Campground – Yosemite Camping
Open: March through October (Approximately) Cost: About $26/Night Reservations: Available Here Situated right in the heart of Yosemite Valley, North Pines Campground is a great Yosemite camping spot when you’re looking to enjoy everything the park has to offer. There are 81 campsites at North Pines Campground, and you should note that they are pretty densely situated so you’ll definitely need to get along with your neighbors. This campground is located directly across the Merced River from Upper Pines Campground, so it offers a nice Yosemite camping spot right along the river. Each campsite contains a picnic table, fire ring, and a food storage locker. If you decide on North Pines Campground, you should do so as early as possible. Campsites are rarely available even a few days past the 5-month reservation window, so you’ll need to make sure you reserve this Yosemite campground as early as you can!
Wawona Campground – Yosemite Camping
Open: Year Round Cost: About $26/Night Reservations: Available Here Camping at Wawona Campground is a bit of a catch-22. While it is one of the more secluded Yosemite campgrounds in terms of campsite density, it is also situated quite a ways away from what most people would consider the best things to do in Yosemite National Park. There aren’t any sheer cliffs or huge waterfalls, rather just a large rolling meadow. With that being said, Wawona campground is very close to some of the largest sequoia trees in the world. Words truly can’t describe the view of these absolutely massive Sequoia trees. Wawona Campground is home to 93 campsites, with many of them being distributed along the banks of the South Fork of the Merced River. It is located about 25 miles from Yosemite Valley, which is about a 1 hour drive. Near the park is also the Pioneer History Center, a collection of historic buildings, and the Victorian-era Wawona Hotel, which has a 9-hole golf course.
Hodgdon Meadow Campground – Yosemite Campgrounds
Open: Year Round Cost: About $26/Night Reservations: Available Here Hodgdon Meadows Campground is one of the more vanilla Yosemite campgrounds. It is a ways away from Yosemite National Park’s main attractions, but that could also be something that is appealing to you since you can avoid the larger crowds. It definitely isn’t right in the heart of Yosemite Valley, but the surrounding countryside, filled with green foliage, is quite beautiful. Hodgdon Meadows Campground is the closest Yosemite campground to San Francisco, which adds a bit of a convenience factor for those traveling from there. There are a total of 105 campsites at this Yosemite camping destination. Each campsite contains a fire ring, picnic table, and a food locker. While Hodgdon Campground probably isn’t our first choice for Yosemite camping, it’s not a bad choice.
Tuolumne Meadows Campground – Yosemite Campgrounds
Open: Year Round Cost: About $26/Night Reservations: Available Here Compared to other Yosemite camping locations, Tuolumne Meadows Campground is absolutely massive. Boasting 304 campsites, it is almost triple the next largest of the Yosemite campgrounds on our list. It is also the highest campground in terms of elevation at 8,600 feet. Tuolumne Meadows Campground offers excellent access to a large amount of hikes, lakes, and some of the most incredible views in the Tuolumne Meadows area. As you’d expect from the largest campground in Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows Campground gets a lot of traffic. However, the park has done a pretty good job of spreading the campsites out so you don’t feel too crowded. Despite it’s size, the campsites are actually a bit less densely packed than a few other Yosemite campgrounds on our list. Half of the campsites are available for advance reservation (which we highly recommend), while the other half is first-come, first-served. If you don’t have a reservation we highly recommend getting to the campground early to give yourself the best chance at grabbing a campsite. The campsites at this Yosemite camping destination can accommodate RV’s & trailers up to 35 feet in length. There aren’t hookups available, but the nearest dump station is just west of the campground on Tioga Road.
Bridalveil Creek Campground – Yosemite Campgrounds
Open: June/July to late September (weather permitting) Cost: About $18/Night Reservations: No Reservations Available Bridalveil Creek Campground is located halfway along Glacier Point Road at an elevation of about 7,200 feet, or 2,195 meters above sea level. It’s about a 26 mile, 45 minute drive from Yosemite Valley. This is one of the six campgrounds on our list that actually don’t allow for reservations, so the only way to snag a campsite is to show up early, especially during peak season. With 112 campsites in the campground, this is a pretty good sized campground. If you’re looking to go Yosemite camping in your RV, you should note that the maximum RV length is 35 feet. The maximum trailer length is 24 feet long.
White Wolf Campground – Yosemite Campgrounds
Open: July to Mid-September (weather permitting)
Cost: About $18/Night
Reservations: No Reservations Available
White Wolf Campground is located halfway between Yosemite Valley & Tuolumne Meadows and lies at an elevation of about 8,200 feet or 2,440 meters above sea level. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Yosemite Valley, with about a 30-minute drive to the popular Tuolumne Meadows. This is another one of the six campgrounds on our list that actually don’t allow for reservations, so the only way to snag a campsite is to show up early, especially during peak season. Often times the campground is full by noon, so make sure to plan accordingly.
White Wolf Campground offers 74 campsites, this is a decently sized campground. With the higher elevation, you should definitely expect temperatures to cool off quite a bit at night. If you’re looking to go Yosemite camping in your RV, you should note that the maximum RV length is 27 feet. The maximum trailer length is 24 feet long.
Tamarack Flat Campground – Yosemite Camping
Open: July to Mid-October (weather permitting)
Cost: About $12/Night
Reservations: No Reservations Available
Located at the end of a 3-mile unpaved road, Tamarack Flat Campground has 52 campsites for your Yosemite camping trip. The campsites are perfect for tent camping, but we wouldn’t recommend bringing an RV to Tamarack Flat Campground. The campground is about a 45 minute drive from Yosemite Valley, and lies at an elevation of roughly 6,300 feet above sea level.
High Sierra Camps
True to our nomad theme, we here at Vault Cargo Management like to get away from it all & camp in more remote locations. When it comes to Yosemite camping, you simply can’t beat the group of five outfitted “High Sierra Camps”. These Yosemite camping sites are approximately 5 to 10 miles apart, spaced out along an absolutely incredible 50-mile loop. This loop runs along some of the most beautiful terrain in Yosemite’s high country. Open to both hikers & those wanting to travel via horseback, this loop is something that truly needs to be on your bucket list.
The High Sierra Camps themselves allow for a catered backcountry experience. You’ll be staying in wall-tent style accommodations, and your breakfast & dinner will be provided during your Yosemite camping adventure. These camps are a great opportunity to camp throughout Yosemite National Park while carrying less weight. With other backpacking-style Yosemite camping trips, you would have to bring your tent, food, & cookware along. With the High Sierra Camps, all this is provided to you.
The High Sierra Camps along the trail are:
- Vogelsang High Sierra Camp
- Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp
- May Lake High Sierra Camp
- Sunrise High Sierra Camp
- Merced Lake High Sierra Camp
The High Sierra Camps book up well in advance, so you should make sure you reserve your Yosemite Campgrounds well in advance.
Yosemite Camping – Backcountry Style!
If you’re looking for something even more remote than the High Sierra Camps for your Yosemite camping trip, you should definitely look into backcountry camping. Spending a night or two away from the hustle & bustle of the crowds can allow you to truly relax & unwind. With 1,100 square miles of Yosemite National Park designated as wilderness area, you’ll be able to seclude yourself & really get away.
In order to take part in Yosemite backcountry camping, you’ll have to obtain a wilderness permit first. You can book your wilderness permit 24 weeks in advance, and unreserved permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Permits are specific to the trailhead that you’re starting your Yosemite camping trip on, so make sure you have a plan prior to obtaining a permit.
Things To Do In Yosemite National Park
What’s the point of going camping in Yosemite National Park if you don’t have anything to do!? While this is in no way an all-encompassing list of things that you can do throughout the park, these are some of the most popular attractions in the area:
Embark On Some of The Best Hikes in Yosemite National Park
There are plenty of beginner trails for hikers of all levels, including kids. Some great options include Mist Trail, Valley Loop, Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, Pothole Dome, and Sentinel Dome. Slightly more advanced hikes that are doable for hikers and kids with a little more endurance include Upper Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Lakes, Lembert Dome, and Sentinel/Taft Loop.
Go Check Out Some of The Great Yosemite Waterfalls
There are lots of waterfalls worth checking out while Yosemite camping including:
At 2,424 feet tall, it is the highest waterfall in North America.
A 617-foot waterfall that’ll take your breath away.
An afternoon hike starting at Happy Isles trailhead rewards you with views and a cool mist from Vernal Fall.
This 594-foot waterfall is the closest waterfall to the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
Get in on one of the incredible Yosemite tours
This will come as a shock to exactly zero people, but Yosemite National Park is an excellent spot to go hiking. While your options are almost limitless, we’ll run through our list of the best hikes in Yosemite National Park:
Take In The Views
You can enjoy some of the best views of the park via:
A 2.8-mile roundtrip hike that’ll take you to the top of the granite rock formation known as Lembert Dome. From the top, enjoy breathtaking views of Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows situated 800-feet below.
Located along State Route 41, Tunnel View offers the perfect vantage point over Yosemite Valley and its most famous attractions, including Bridalveil Fall waterfall, Half Dome and El Capitan.
This is another great spot for views, it is located on the south wall of Yosemite Valley at an elevation of 7,214 feet. It offers stunning views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls and Nevada Fall.