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Yosemite Camping - Campground Guide and Yosemite Camping Reservations

Yosemite Camping Fundamentals

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Joe Walker was the first white man known to have gone Yosemite camping. His tombstone in Martinez, CA, reads: "Camped at Yosemite Nov. 13, 1833." Things have changed a lot since Walker camped here. Back then he didn't need Yosemite camping reservations. There are a lot more amenities today, but there are a lot more people, too.

Yosemite Camping Reservations

March 15 through November, you need a reservation for drive-in campgrounds in Yosemite Valley and you need them summer through fall for Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat, Wawona, and part of Tuolumne Meadows. The maximum total days for Yosemite camping is 30 per year. Between May 1 and September 15, the limit for one stay is 7 days in Yosemite Valley and 14 days elsewhere.

Some helpful hints for using the online Yosemite camping reservation system:

  • Housekeeping Camp and the tent cabins at Curry Village are managed under a different system than other Yosemite Campgrounds. They're the only Yosemite campgrounds that have showers, too. You can reserve for them online with fewer restrictions than those described below.

  • You can reserve Yosemite camping telephone at 800-44-6777 or 518-885-3639 from outside the United States and Canada. You can also make Yosemite camping reservations online. In our experience, the online reservation is more than frustrating - we recommend an old-fashioned phone call instead.

  • If you use the online system and are having trouble finding a spot, you may be able to cover your whole trip by using a different campsite each night. Even if you want to stay several days, start your search for just one night. Enter a one-night stay and enter a date range and see what comes up.

  • Yosemite camping reservations are released one month at a time, five months in advance, on the 15th of each month. For example, reservations for July 15 through August 14 can be made starting on March 15. If that's too confusing, you can see a reservation calendar on the Yosemite website. Reserve on the 15th promptly at 7:00 a.m. for the best selection.

  • Use the campground guide to decide where you want to stay before you go into the reservations system, picking two or three campgrounds you're interested in. Look over the maps in the guide to figure out which campsites suit you best. Once you get into the reservation system, less information is available and being prepared will help you get through a phone reservation faster, too.

  • Figure out how many sites you need. The maximum per Yosemite camping site is 6 people (including children) and 2 vehicles. You can only make two reservations per phone call or online transaction, so if you need more, find a friend to help.

  • Smaller campgrounds fill up first, and they are also more pleasant and less smoke-filled in the evening. If one of them is your top pick, reserve it first.
If you arrive late on the first day, you will find your campsite assignment posted at the entry kiosk. If you're really late and arrive the following morning, your reservation will be cancelled at 10:00 a.m. For example, if your reservation starts on the 5th and you arrive at 11:00 a.m. on the 6th, you're too late. If you know you'll be late, try calling 209-372-4025 to make arrangements.

Yosemite Camping Without Reservations

Many people erroneously believe that Yosemite camping reservations are needed for all spots and far in advance. Not true. In summer, about 400 Yosemite camping sites are available on a "first come, first served" basis with no reservations needed, and in winter, only half of the 500 open Yosemite camping sites require reservations.

If you want to try for a first-come, first-served campsite, get there early. The Park Service recommends arriving by noon on weekdays and mid-morning on weekends from spring through fall, but you'll have to be there even earlier for Camp 4 or Tuolumne Meadows. It's particularly hard to find first-come, first-served campsites in May and June until Tioga Pass Road opens and more spaces are made available. You can get recorded availability information at 209-372-0266. Get more details at the Yosemite website - including a list of all campgrounds that don't require reservations.

From fall through early spring, it's much easier and you can often find open sites even at the campgrounds that require reservations, but if you're driving from a long distance away, don't risk it.

Yosemite Camping Tips

  • If you want to stay in a campground that operates on a "first come, first served" basis, arrive early. Yosemite camping sites can fill up as early as 9:00 a.m., although there are sometimes sites available until about noon. Your best bet on a busy day is to show up around 10:00 as other campers check out.

  • Drinking water is available at water spigots throughout the campgrounds, but not at each site. Bring a big water container to minimize the number of trips you have to make.

  • If you will be washing dishes, you have to carry your dirty water to the restrooms to dispose of it. A small bucket is ideal.

  • There are no lights in the restrooms. Bring a flashlight or two; ones that can stand on their own are best.

  • You don't have to own a tent to sleep in a Yosemite campground. You can sleep in your car if you want, but only in a proper camping spot.

  • Campsites are quite dusty and campfires can create a lot of smoke in the evening. If you have allergies, take precautions.

Elevation

Campgrounds in Yosemite are at 4,000 to 8,600 feet (1,200 to 2,620 meters). If you are susceptible to altitude sickness, plan your Yosemite camping at a lower elevation. Campgrounds in Yosemite Valley and at Wawona are the lowest elevation, about 4,000 feet.

These high-elevation tips may help you have a more comfortable camping trip.

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