A picturesque National Park and a must-see for any high-country nature lover. This well know landscape is home to some of the tallest waterfalls, sheerest cliff faces, and most beautiful wilderness. I want you to learn from my mistakes and misgivings so that you may enjoy Yosemite National Park to the best of your ability. Continue reading for information that most of the visitor guides won’t tell you…
- Fill up your gas tank, and even some gas cans if you have room, BEFORE you enter the park. There are a few gas stations in the park, however, gas will cost you nearly a dollar more a gallon than just a few miles out from the park entrance. Also, many of your points of interest will be multiple miles (and probably hours) deep into the park. Also, know that many of the main points are quite a way from each other. For example, when we drove from our campsite at Tuolumne Meadows down to the Valley Visitor Center it took us an hour and thirty minutes, minimum, but often more with camper and RV traffic! So chances are you will need to get gas in the park at least once.
- Public Transportation inside the park is a good way to save on gas, parking struggles and occasionally, traffic. In the valley the shuttle is free and if you take a look right HERE, you can see which lines stop where at what time of year! In much of the valley there is a bus only lane which is helpful for traffic purposes, however, be warned that in the summer months you may wait for 2 or 3 busses to load and/or drive by already full before boarding a bus to your destination.There is also a Tuolumne Shuttle that runs between Tuolumne Meadows and Olmsted Point every half hour between 7 am and 7 pm. This shuttle is not free, it can cost anywhere from $1 to $18. For someone with a “gas-guzzling” vehicle such as a diesel truck or a camper/RV, you could certainly benefit from taking the shuttle around Tioga Road in place of driving it! There will be times when public transportation is the only way to get to a point; for example, when we tried to go to Glacier Point they were only allowing buses. We wanted to hike Taft Point and Sentinel Dome before driving over to Glacier Point, however, so after speaking to the right people we were allowed to drive ourselves to the trailhead.
- The campgrounds have fire pits, bear ‘lockers’, and picnic tables at each site. Any of the fire pits that experienced also had a grate for grilling on it. I wish I could have been more prepared for cooking over the fire (tin foil, BBQ tongs, etc.); I love myself a good s’more and I didn’t get to eat one on my entire trip because I didn’t know that I would have been able to. Also, know that the bear lockers are large and provide more than ample space to conceal all of your scented goods. Bringing some kind of item to organize your belongings in the locker might make your stay even more enjoyable and efficient.
- Traffic patterns in Yosemite can be a pain in the butt. The loop around the valley, mid beautiful summers day, is bumper to bumper with people trying to pull into parking lots that are full and zipping in and out of potential spots on the side of the road all while gazing off in awe of the beauty surrounding them. So needless to say, it’s a shit show, but you can pretty much avoid it if you travel to the valley at or before 8AM. Find a parking spot central to where you want to explore and leave your car right there for the day. We left Tuolumne Meadows before 6 AM on the morning we wanted to hike Vernal and Nevada Falls and it was STILL jam packed when we got to the valley.
- Have a plan for some days but leave a few days open to explore places you stumble upon or hear about from people you meet. The plan is a necessity for big driving days such as heading from Tuolumne Meadows to Glacier Point or Yosemite Valley but after talking to people on our travels I am so glad we left days open to suggestions or to simply just explore what we found off the side of the road.
- Want to secure a campsite or a wilderness permit? Know where you’ll be staying and for how long with no hassle? Make sure you do so 6 months in advance to the day. Have everything ready to be submitted and send it over at midnight to greatly improve your chances of having exactly what you want during your stay. We tried for a wilderness permit about 4 and a half months in advance and we were turned down; we also wound up having to rely on first come first serve camping which turned out just fine, but not without a few bumps in the road (read below, #7)!
- First come first serve campsites can be tricky. We learned this first hand. Do not expect to arrive at noon on a summers day and still be able to snag a space; if you do you just might be one in a million. After just missing a spot on Thursday, I arrived at the Ranger Station at 4:45AM to be met with a line 5 groups deep already! Isn’t that nuts? Bring a camp chair or a crash pad because I was the only unprepared individual sleeping on the blacktop, in my camp blanket with my head on my backpack for a pillow; everyone else was comfortable and warm. Bring breakfast, light reading, snacks, trail maps for planning, etc. because you will sit there for a long time. At 9 AM the ranger(s) will show up and give away available sites to the first groups. Anyone who didn’t make the first cut will place their name on a list to return at 2:00 PM for any sites that become available throughout the day and don’t fret, this is a majority of people. Make sure you show up by 1:45; once your parties name is called you have about 30 seconds to respond before the ranger moves down the list. Also remember that not all campsites are open all year-round, or even a majority of the year! There were 3 different campsites that we had expected to be open that were still closed due to snowthe second week in August!
- Night time in Yosemite (Tuolumne Meadows especially) is COLD in the summer. Considering you can spend your daytime sweating through a tank top and shorts in early August, in night time we bundled up with all we had. Being from the North East, we are generally very prepared for cold weather, especially chilly summer nights but didn’t think to pack for nights in the high 30Fs. For example, I would wear my warmest camp socks, sweatpants, a t-shirt, flannel, vest, and raincoat with my headband over my ears for warmth at night, and if I wasn’t near the fire, I was cold. Bringing a packable down coat wouldn’t be a bad idea!
- Swim. After a hot day of dirt and hiking, find a stream, river or lake to cool off and defunk in. We spent each of our four nights ‘bathing’ in Tenaya Lake, a short 20-minute drive from the Tuolumne Campgrounds. We would often set up our hammock, or bring our Jetboil for dinner and enjoy a beautiful sunset while freshening up before a much-needed nights rest. If you park in the pull off on the road on the North East side of the lake and walk along the beach back through the woods you can easily find a more secluded section of the beach to set up at for a swim and dinner with a view.
- Utilize the parks employees! At each welcome center, there are knowledgeable individuals just oozing information. Tell them what you’re looking for and they can provide you with a number of ideas for your best day yet. At many of the popular trailheads during the busy season, PSAR (Preventative Search and Rescue) volunteers can be found as well; although they’re there to prevent illness and injury they are also full of pertinent information so ask away.
- Don’t be afraid to hitchhike if your happiness and well-being depend on it. We saw plenty of bilaterally abducted thumbs, signs, you name it! We helped out two guys after a long day of climbing who needed to return to their car and they were great conversationalists; just be cautious!
If you’re looking for accommodation information or trail suggestions you can find them here.
If you have additional questions about this stunning natural wonderland, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below!