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16 Ways to Be a Smart Yosemite California Trip Planner

Use These Tips to Plan Your Yosemite Trip Like a Pro


people taking pictures at yosemite tunnel view

Taking Photos at Tunnel View

© Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Too many Yosemite visitors fall into the common time-wasters and fun-busters that can ruin their trip. They're sleeping in their car because they can't find a hotel room, stuck in summer gridlock - or standing dejectedly at the door of the Ahwahnee Restaurant because they can't get in for Sunday brunch. We're here to help you keep from joining their ranks and enjoy your trip without having to learn the pitfalls the hard way.

To be a smarter Yosemite trip planner, enjoy your vacation more and spend less of your hard-earned money doing it, try these tips:

16 Ways to be a Smart Yosemite Visitor

  1. Stay in the Right Place for You: Lodgings are inside and outside the national park and some hotels with the word "Yosemite" in their names are actually quite far away. Use the Yosemite lodging guide to find out about each area, its pros and cons.
  2. Reserve Ahead for Camping: All the ways to reserve and how to do it are in the Yosemite National Park Campground Guide. It's a little-known fact that only half of the Yosemite camping sites require reservations. If you want to stay in a campground that operates on a "first come, first served" basis, get there early. On busy days, they fill up as early as 9:00 a.m.
  3. Know the Weather: To know what to expect during your visit, check the Yosemite climate and weather.
  4. Bring the Right Stuff: Judging from the items we found for sale in Yosemite's shops, visitors often need earplugs, motion sickness remedies, lip moisturizers, blister remedies and insect repellent.

  5. Sightseeing Savvy: The most popular stops are Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, Mariposa Grove, Tunnel View and Tuolumne Meadows. They're prettiest in early morning and late afternoon light, and they'll be less crowded then, too. See where they are on the Yosemite map.

  6. Don't Drive in Traffic: If you're staying along Hwy 140 between Mariposa and Yosemite, use the Yosemite Area Transit buses to get into the park. It won't actually keep you out of traffic, but someone else will have to deal with it - and you'll save on gasoline.

  7. Avoid Gridlock Inside the Park: No matter how you get there, once you're inside the park, use the free shuttle buses to get around and try inexpensive buses and trams to reach Mariposa Grove, Glacier Point, and other sights.

  8. Gas Up Before You Get There: It will not only save you money, but will also prevent a last-minute panic when you check the gauge in Yosemite Valley and realize you've got only drops left and there are no gas stations. Where to buy for lower prices on any Yosemite-bound route are in the how to get to Yosemite guide. Use the shuttle in the valley once you're there and one full tank should get you in and out.

  9. Take a Bike Ride: Yosemite Valley is quite flat and you can tour it by bicycle on 12 miles of paved trails. Not only is it an environmentally friendly way to get around, but you'll have time to get a good look at El Capitan instead of having a National Lampoon's Vacation moment pointing to it out the car window as you speed past. You can rent bicycles at Curry Village and Yosemite Lodge, spring through fall.

  10. Beware of Bears: All the talk about bears in Yosemite isn't just a lot of fuss over nothing. A hungry bear can tear your car door off in minutes if they think there's food inside. To keep your stuff safe, check these tips for bears at Yosemite.

  11. Don’t Go Hungry: Yosemite Valley restaurants close fairly early and only larger groups can make advance reservations. Check their closing times at the beginning of your visit and try to arrive at least an hour before closing time to be sure you get in.Reserve ahead for Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee, especially during summer, holiday weekends and school breaks.

  12. Days Are Shorter Than You Think: Days at Yosemite aren’t quite as long as the official sunrise and sunset times may lead you to believe. Because of high mountains on its west side, the Yosemite Valley falls into shadows about two hours before the sun sets. Light will linger, but it starts getting cooler and things start winding down as soon as the sun’s last warm rays are gone.

  13. Money Matters: The Yosemite National Park entry fee is charged per vehicle and is good for seven days. If your vacation plans include more than two national parks in a year, ask about an annual pass. During National Parks Week (held in April), entry fees are waived in more than 100 parks nationwide, including Yosemite National Park. Get more information at the National Parks Week website. Entry is also free on selected other days that vary by year. You'll find the current year's list here.

  14. Another Way to Get in Cheaper: Find someone aged 62 or older to take along. They can get a lifetime Senior Pass for a lower price than one regular admission.

  15. Traveling With Your Pet: It may be best to leave Bowser home. The park has so many restrictions that having one along could hamper your ability to enjoy the place. A full list is at the National Park website. If you decide bring your dog along anyway, the kennel at the Yosemite Valley Stable is open from Memorial Day1 through Labor Day2. You'll need written proof of immunizations, dogs must weigh at least 20 pounds or for smaller one, they may board them if you provide a small kennel. Call 209-372-8348 for more details.

  16. Get High Safely: Elevation at Yosemite varies, but can be up to 10,000 feet. For tips to stay well and comfortable, take a look at the high elevation checklist.

1 Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of May.
2 Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September.

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